On Its 50th Anniversary, SDCC Cements Itself As A Pop Culture Behemoth—And A Vehicle For A New Era Of Inclusive Fandom

It’s been officially one month since the 50th Anniversary of San Diego Comic Con, and I’m still reeling from the magnificence that surmounted this year’s event. It happened to be my first San Diego Comic Con, and after years of anticipation and watching from afar, the event certainly did not disappoint.

As a female “Blerd” (Black Nerd for those unfamiliar with the term) spaces such as comic cons, anime expos, or even e-sports tournaments have not always been welcoming. There’s a double-take effect that happens, and a condescending “Are you really into this type of stuff?” air that surrounds me at each event I attend. It does not matter whether I am in cosplay, hosting a panel, or—heck—just minding my own business: there’s always the sense of being a minority within a minority space.

After several years of dealing with this, my wariness seems a bit justified. And San Diego Comic Con, having grown to be the absolute pinnacle of nerddom, seemed an intimidating venture. How would I be treated in the space? Would it be welcoming—not only to me, but to nerds and “noobs” of all creeds alike? As a first-time attendee, I could only wait with nervous, cautious hopefulness.

And you know what?

San Diego Comic Con delightfully surprised me. From the moment I entered the brightly decorated Gaslamp Quarter (not even having reached the convention center itself), I felt a sense of…hospitality. Of friendliness, and even more so, of acceptance.

And frankly, could it be helped? All around me were nerds of all ages, all races, all gender expressions and all creeds: adorned in cosplay or casual clothing. In large groups and families or walking solo. Absolutely unabashed in their excitement to let their geek flag fly and connect with other kindred spirits. It was not only enlightening—it was positively refreshing.

Since it’s become “mainstream”, nerd culture has had a big problem with gatekeeping. So called “OG Nerds” have put great effort into creating arbitrary markers to determine whether someone is a real nerd, or whether they’re just jumping onto the bandwagon. With the recent pushes for representation and inclusivity in the fandom sphere, this gatekeeping has taken a darker turn.

Suddenly, anything in fandom that pushes to reflect the diversity of our own society is considered PC/SJW baiting. Characters like IronHeart, America Chavez, and Ms. Marvel are reduced to being “pathetic attempts to be PC and special snow-flakey”. Recasting characters—such as Valkyrie and Domino—to be played by actresses of color have erupted entire political debates where there need be none.  Even myself on many occasions, have been scrutinized for not “looking like a geek”. Which begs the question: what does a geek even look like?

On it’s 50th anniversary, San Diego Comic Con made sure to answer that question:

 

Black Heroes Matter Flashmob

From the moment I’d entered the convention floor, I’d seen many con attendees wearing these eponymous shirts. One of my companions for the weekend donned one himself in fact, and while navigating the con it was inspiring to see attendees of various races and ages donning the T-Shirt with the important message that “Black Heroes Matter”.  Rather than my previous experiences of feeling iced out and isolated within a nerd space, I felt seen, respected, and celebrated, just for being me. And so when I heard that “Black Heroes Matter” was not only an awesome shirt, but an actual bonafide Comic Con event, I had to attend. And what a great experience it was.

Created by fellow Blerds and Comic Creators Uraeus (Jaycen Wise) and David Walker (Number 13, Bitter Root, Naomi) the Black Heroes Matter flashmob is an event that celebrates the effort to promote “support and community for diversity, representation, and inclusion in pop culture”. And on its 4th year, the event truly embodied the pinnacle of what fandom culture has become, especially in such a space like San Diego Comic Con.

As has been stated repeatedly in Hollywood, comics, and the the entire fandom industry as a whole, representation matters. And in this tense political climate, it’s important to celebrate marginalized identities and emphasize the fact that anyone can be a hero. Everyone deserves to have someone to look up to, and—in this case—Black Heroes matter, and have always mattered.

As an attendee participating in this event for the first time, it truly felt cathartic to meet fellow nerds who shared my passion for inclusivity in fandom, and who most of all were creating a community where everyone felt safe to participate without fear of exclusion or discrimination. More than anything, this event illustrated how the nerd climate had changed over the years into something decidedly less toxic, and intentionally more productive. Which was truly wonderful to see.

 

Warner Bros. Blerd & Boujee Boat Party

This invite-only party was certainly one of the most memorable of the weekend. Produced by Warner Bros. TV Publicity, Comic Con’s “Blerd & Boujee Boat Party” was an immersive event designed to “celebrate the Blerd community and the black talent that’s both in front and behind the camera across various fandoms”. The entire Black Lightning cast, along with several other big names from WB/CW’s various network shows, made an appearance throughout the night, creating a vibe that felt very much like a family reunion for all the geeks and blerds you wish you’d known growing up. 

When I arrived, it was without a doubt an enthusiastic gathering “for the culture”. From the swag to the music to the attendees, WB’s Blerd & Boujee party certainly elevated the fact that inclusion in these spaces is important, and only just getting started. Diversity—especially in fandom culture—is not a trend, and characters of all types are necessary to this community’s existence. What I especially appreciated was the fact that this event didn’t feel pandering or inauthentic, but rather exuded a genuine, unabashed appreciation for this aspect of the community.

 

Rally For Rose Parade

See Also

Another important event produced by Nerds of Color and CosLove, the 2nd Annual Rally For Rose parade was an inspiring march by cosplayers and attendees alike in support of Kelly Marie Tran, who famously experienced severe backlash for her character Rose in the Star Wars Franchise. The Rally For Rose parade brings to light the importance of tolerance and respect in the fandom space, as oftentimes fans and characters who don’t fit the “default” white gaze demographic find themselves battling toxic environments and harassment, with no support.

The promising growth of this past year’s Rally For Rose parade yet again illustrated the changing tides of fandom culture, and the hopeful trajectory towards empathy and maturity in nerd spaces that prevents such things like the Rose Tico debacle from occurring again. I’m certainly excited to see where this event will go in the years to come.

The Rally For Rose parade also sold Rose t-shirts, the proceeds of which will go to the National Asian American Women’s Forum.

 

Hall H and MCU Phase 4:

                                                                                                                                                                    Honestly, what wasn’t there about Hall H to be excited about? On top of the exciting development news surrounding such franchises Star Trek, The Walking Dead, and the DC Universe, Marvel finally unveiled Phase 4 of its MCU plans, which did not disappoint.

In no particular order, we found out about:

  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: To be released February 12, 2021, this Marvel film is the first Asian-led superhero film of this time. Boasting an impressive cast featuring Simu Liu, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, and Akwafina, Shang-Chi is gearing up to be one of Marvel’s most highly anticipated films for sure.

 

  • Mahershala Ali officially taking on the mantle of of Blade in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: A Marvel character that fans for years have been lamenting to bring back, Ali’s casting hints at a new era of the MCU that’s sure to breathe life back into fan-favorite and highly dynamic characters.

 

  • Natalie Portman stepping up as Thor In the new film Thor: Love and Thunder (with the bonus of an LGBTQ love story featuring Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie): Arguably one of the biggest suprises of Hall H during Comic Con weekend, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster deeming herself worthy of wielding Moljnir (and Odinson’s impressive title) speaks to the drastically dynamic shifts that are rocking fandom and the comic world alike to bring about new stories that illustrate that anyone can become a hero. 

 

Final Thoughts

Just as our society today is multi-faceted and beautifully dynamic, so is fandom and the characters that inspire it. Long gone are the days where all superheroes and fans are homogeneous and exclusively straight, white or male as a default. And long gone are the days where people should feel shut out and discriminated against in these nerds spaces.

It was refreshing to feel such a sense of community during this convention, and to see San Diego Comic Con be intentional in its standing as a nerd powerhouse to be a vehicle for diversity and inclusivity in the industry. No matter your age, race, or creed, you are #WhatAGeekLooksLike, and you are worthy of being a hero worth admiring.

 

Needless to say, between the events, panels, and attendees themselves, San Diego Comic Con certainly exceeded my expectations and made an intentional statement on its 50th year that a diverse and inclusive fandom is the only type of fandom that matters. 

As it should be.

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