Despite what some may tell you, the future is most definitely female. It’s also very diverse. That was the topic for discussion at a recent panel Syfy Fangrrls hosted during New York Comic Con. The goal of this “Badass Women of Sci-fi” panel was to talk about how the science fiction genre lends itself to featuring an increasingly diverse slate of women in a variety of roles.
The panel was made up of women with a variety of work and experiences in science fiction, and was held on Friday, October 6, 2017 in New York City. Panelists included Frankie Adams (Bobbie Draper, The Expanse), Emily Andras (Creator and Executive Producer, Wynonna Earp), Yetide Badaki (Bliquis, American Gods), Fiona Dourif (Bart, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), Sera Gamble (Co-creator and Executive Producer, The Magicians) and Gail Simone (author of comics including Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Birds of Prey).
If you weren’t among the lucky attendees of this panel of awesome women, no sweat! The TV Junkies have you covered! Read on for some of our main takeaways and favorite words of wisdom dropped by the women.
What does “badass” mean to you?
The word ‘badass’ gets used a lot when talking about female characters in science fiction, but the panelists were asked what it personally means to them. “I get called badass a lot,” said Simone. However, she was quick to note that for her, badassery doesn’t necessarily mean that “everybody falls over in terror when you walk in the room.” Simone said a badass to her is that “you’ve overcome adversity, and you’ve stood up to something, and you’ve become stronger because of it.” Dourif discussed how she loves that women are being written more and more as “fully formed, vulnerable, strong, interesting, independent people.” Badaki added that she’s fine being called a badass, “as long as it’s not being reductionist.”
Genre makes room for the outsider
Wynonna Earp showrunner Andras discussed how she sees genre as “the playground of the outsider.” By telling stories where people don’t necessarily fit in or aren’t welcomed, science fiction “speaks to a lot of people who are not white, or are women or are LGBT,” said Andras. The other great thing about genre for Andras is that it allows writers and creators to portray what they’d like to see in the world. “Genre at its strongest, strives to portray what things could be instead of what they are. I think some of the best genre carves space for everybody, and I think that’s why it speaks to so many people,” she explained.
Stories that are relatable
Author Simone spoke a lot about how writing in genre and science fictions allows her to tell the stories that really matter to her. “It’s really important when I’m writing stories that I am inclusive and I try to tell stories I haven’t seen before,” she told the audience. In doing so, she said those stories have the potential to then show viewers or readers “something that maybe they haven’t seen in a comic book before or on television.” She said she’s heard many stories over the years from readers who grab onto those stories and apply them to their own everyday lives. Simone noted it’s the motto of “if this character can do it, then I can do it.” She told a story of a reader thinking “if Batgirl can do it, and go out and try to save Gotham, then I can cook dinner for somebody.” That’s the true reward for Simone, who said that she loves “when anyone can take a character that they read, and use that to go out and do something they wanted to do.”
“On so many levels I’ve been seeing more and more that representation matters,” said Badaki. The American Gods star went on to note that “sometimes all it takes is seeing someone go through something on that screen and you go ‘Oh my goodness, I’m not alone.’ For that alone, I continually say that representation absolutely matters.” The Magicians’ Gamble also noted that “no one person can represent a whole group of people,” and that the responsibility for diversity is “on the studios and networks that put shows on the air to make sure that diversity is real.”
Inclusivity is a decision that needs to happen
It’s very clear that representation, diversity and inclusivity on stories is important and necessary, but how can we get better at it? “There are a million compromises you have to make every day when you are showrunning,” said Andras, before adding that “once you become a decision maker, this is a decision you’re just not going to bend on.” In her case, Andras said “I just want more women on the show, so I just keep putting women on my show.” However, at the end of the day, it’s about putting your money where your mouth is. “If you want to cast diversely you have to be ready to walk and put your foot down with it. We can make the change, but we have to be willing to do it,” Andras said.
Simone added that it’s very important that fans then support the work where diversity and inclusivity is happening. “It makes it easier for the next person,” she said. Simone added that she gets “really, really upset when people say things like ‘let it happen organically,’” when referring to diversity. “These decisions have to be made. If you make a decision to not cast someone with a diverse background, you’ve made that decision. It’s not an organic happening,” Simone explained.
Exploring modern themes in a fantastic world
The pregnancy on Wynonna Earp and Julia’s abortion on The Magicians are just two examples of modern issues for women that were able to be explored in the magical, sometimes fantastical worlds of science fiction. Andras said that the issues Wynonna faced with her pregnancy were very similar to many women in 2017 who saw “so many choices taken away about her own body, and her own circumstances, and what she’s going to do and how people are going to judge her.” In the end, Wynonna’s decision was a very real one that Andras said can be related to the choices many women have to make every single day. She said Wynonna’s story this season was “a very honest story about women.”
On The Magicians, there were many magical and supernatural elements to Julia’s storyline this season with her abortion, but Gamble said once you peel all that back, the story told “was basically about what happens when abortion is not easy to get.” She was thankful for the opportunity to tell a story like that, in a world that also allowed the audience “to witness that where it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable that we would all just want to turn away.”
In telling stories with modern themes, albeit in sometimes supernatural settings, Simone says it works for people “who may not be aware, or may not have thought of something in this way.” She said that this approach actually can help “raise awareness in a way that maybe an actual, set in a real world story might not have.”
Write from the heart, don’t listen to the hate
Simone has a very active approach to social media and was asked how that has affected her career. “People tell me that they are going to boycott my work because I put a trans character in a story or an African American character leading a superhero team. I’m just used to it now,” she said. While there may be that small percentage not liking the stories she’s telling, they haven’t swayed the comic book author. “I have to write from an honest place or I’m just not interested,” she explained before adding that “story is always first. I’m not going to temper a story specifically for people on the internet.” However, Simone was also quick to note the upside to her active social media presence is that it’s “opened up my world and the things I know and learn.”
Learning to say “No”
An audience member asked the panelists about learning to say ‘n as women working in this industry. Simone notes that over the years she’s “said ‘no’ quite a bit,” but Dourif said she’s only recently been in a position where she could finally say ‘no’ to a scene involving gratuitous nudity. Badaki recalled that she’s “had to say ‘no’ to gendered expectations,” and “‘No’ to anyone else telling me what is right for me.” “I have never once created a character who wasn’t straight — both men and women — that somebody took me aside in a position of power and said ‘shouldn’t they be straight? Shouldn’t they not be gay?’” recalled Andras. She said she’s heard it so much that it’s just background noise at this point because “there’s a million ‘Nos’ that I’ll swallow, but that one is the one that I deliver. I always knew that was my own line in the sand, so it’s easy for me to say ‘no’ to that.”
Diversity is still a struggle
When asked about diversity, specifically racial diversity, behind the scenes, Andras said that “my writing staff is more diverse as far as gender, but not race, which is a real struggle.” Wynonna had six women out of eight writers, but Andras said directing is really a position where they struggle to get females and people of color. Why is that? Andras said one reason for that struggle is that it’s still hard “to find people who are diverse, and who have experience to clear gatekeepers who aren’t simply myself.” The same applies in front of the camera where “there have been less opportunities for people who aren’t white, so there’s a lot of gates to clear as casting people who are more unknown or with less experience,” said Andras. One positive she did note though was that “because of social media, people are aware of what’s happening behind the scenes,” and that means viewers can “put your money where your mouth is. Watch the things you feel are doing it better.”
Many ways to be a woman
Finally, an audience member asked about representing multiple kinds of female characters on screen. Simone said that by writing several different comic stories featuring female superheroes — Red Sonja, Wonder Woman, Lara Croft — that she hoped to show “they all have different motivations, different body shapes, different reasons they do things and different ways they go about it, to show that we don’t have a cookie cutter female character.” Andras also joked that because she has so many female characters that “nobody has to be just a bookworm, ninja, sex goddess, baker.” She also added that she’s “really interested in women who are smart. I really like women who aren’t apologetic for loving their jobs and wanting to be good at their jobs.” “We need more of that more than ever,” she said of characters that prove “being smart isn’t a bad thing. It’s really good.”
Were you lucky enough to attend this panel at NYCC? If not, share your thoughts on what went down below! You can also check out the entire panel for yourself:
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.