Adam headed off to the MCM Comic Con Expo in London this weekend. This is what he saw.
For the last day of London Comic Con this year I spent a large amount of the day admiring the great art in the Comics Village (and picked up a couple of indie comics that I’ll be reviewing over the next couple of weeks), saw some more excellent cosplay and headed over to a couple more panels.
Who Run the World? GIRLS!!! Panel
The final panel I went to, and the last thing I did at London Comic Con this year, was the ‘Who Run the World? GIRLS!!!’ panel (named after the Beyoncé song, which is terrible but has a decent sentiment). This was another Q&A with a large panel of female actors from various television shows, including Felicia Day (The Guild, Supernatural), Willa Holland (Arrow), Rila Fukushima (Arrow), Victoria Smurfitt (Once Upon A Time), Merrin Dungey (Once Upon A Time), Renee Felice Smith (NCIS:LA), Emily Wickersham (NCIS), Annie Wersching (The Vampire Diaries, The Last of US, 24) and Jadyn Wong (Scorpion), hosted by Yael Tygiel.
The assembled panel went through their various roles and the opportunities they have had to kick ass on TV, and the influences they’ve had such as Buffy, She-Ra and Anne of Green Gables (bit of an odd one). The main thrust of the panel was really towards the strides that have been made in recent years for more strong female characters in genre television and TV in general, no longer the just the “damsels in distress” any more and according to Day “not just dressed in leather kicking a man in the face” but genuinely strong, well rounded characters that could feasibly carry the show on their own, rather than just being in the background as the romantic interest or relation for the lead actor.
When asked about where they think this sea change has come from, it was attributed to there being more women behind the camera as well as in front, having people of the opposite gender actively participant in this change rather than obstructing it (Werching gave the example of Neil Druckmann and Naughty Dog actually having to fight the higher ups to have Ellie on the front cover of The Last of Us, which seems insane to me), and production companies realising that a huge proportion of their audience hasn’t been adequately represented, so if they want to actually keep making money they needed to start rectifying that or allowing writers and directors to rectify it for them. It was pointed out that the success of Frozen speaks to this, a film where the problem is solved without needing to turn to a man for help (I’m told, I haven’t actually seen it as it looks like there is a lot of singing and joy involved), that has become the most successful Disney film and one of the highest grossing films of all time.
They spoke about how in panels they often get asked about the men on their show, for example Willa Holland has to constantly tell people that it isn’t actually difficult working with Stephen Amell or playing the part of his sister. I imagine that must get very tedious, and it reminded me of the Avengers press junket stories where they had Mark Ruffalo answering the questions put to Scarlett Johansson, highlighting the ridiculousness of the disparity between the sort of questions asked towards women and men.
When asked about getting into acting by an audience member, Dungey (who plays Ursula in Once Upon A Time) said that you really need to get a thick skin, because “not everyone is going to like you, and it doesn’t matter”, relating some emails she was accidentally copied into where someone she had to keep working with insulted her, and commenting on the recent Sony email leaked emails from Amy Pascal. She and the rest of the panel also talked about how being a role model to female fans, and how showing off strong capable women can only be a good thing, while making sure those portrayals are nuanced and can have flaws rather than being unrealistic. Her OUAT co-star Victoria Smurfitt (who plays Cruella), when asked about playing female villains and how it works compared with the male villains, stated “You only use your fists when your brain isn’t working love” (which explains why I keep breaking my computer at work) speaking to the more complex nature of her role.
The question about progress for queer and trans characters in television was also brought up, a fair but difficult subject, to which Dungey said that in her opinion it was “all happening, maybe not as fast as we would like” citing a character like a positive character like Laverne in Orange is the New Black as evidence that we are hopefully heading in the right direction. And I certainly agree with the sentiment, we would all like to already be in a situation where the actual make up of our society is accurately and fairly represented in our media, without the need for any extra attention being drawn to it because it is just the reality of things. And we are making progress, with a few speed bumps along the way, but hopefully we’ll get there sooner rather than later.
Finally, the panel was asked about how they deal with their frustrations with the job, be it wine, working out (Holland said punching her male stunt coordinator helped) or making sure they talked through their issues with any member of a production, and they were also asked what motivates them. Holland spoke about the opportunity to play strong roles, Wersching to act in a way that would make her mother proud and to “show up on time and know your shit”, and Dungey said it was for her kids, and to show them how proud she was going out, working hard and making a living at something she loves.
When I got the London Comic Con schedule through this panel jumped out as the part of the weekend I considered unmissable, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was great to see the line up of great women, some of whose work I am more familiar with than others, and see it celebrated on this scale with a huge audience, asking interesting questions and getting impassioned, empowered responses. People spoke about the ‘Golden Age of Television’ and maybe that is true. It looks to me like one aspect that could certainly make it that would be this far better representation of women in our media we are starting to see, and a panel like this that celebrates that can only extend that.