Universal Fan Con, on the surface, may seem like any other fan convention, with the addition of having a “woke” (read: socially conscious) bent to it.
It’s much deeper than that.
The origins of Universal Fan Con trace back years ago, to a time when creative minds in the Blerd (Black nerd) community, decided to be a voice for those feeling more and more isolated in fan communities. You see, a phenomenon was happening in pop culture, where nerd and geek culture was moving more into the mainstream. This was occurring with blockbuster movies such as The Avengers, Spiderman, Iron Man, and so on, yet, fans of color were still being marginalized.
Topics that were once relegated to jokes about nerds and geeks who hung out at hole in the wall comic book shops or “nerd conventions” are no longer relegated to a niche market. Thanks largely to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Nolan Batman Trilogy, HBO shows like Game of Thrones and True Blood, video games and more, those who never identified as nerds or geeks, or even read comics, are now consumers and part of geek culture. Geek culture morphed into popular culture, yet the isolation felt by the marginalized simply became more mainstream.
This was of course, not met with complicity, but with resistance. Many marginalized and often overlooked groups, from various backgrounds, took to social media to have their voices heard. They created blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and prolific Twitter threads that shed a light on the isolationist trend and lack of inclusion. They also showed support to studios and creators who got it right when it came to inclusion as well.
This resistance continues today.
The reason there are popular hashtags such as #Blerd or #BlackGirlMagic in the first place, is because historically oppressed communities are trying to change the narrative in fandom and beyond. There is a push to point out that yes, there is a such thing as Black and POC (people of color) excellence, and it is unapologetic in its display. But make no mistake, this struggle goes beyond color. It’s not just people of color who aren’t recognized often in fandoms. LGBTQ, disabled, and women in general, are neglected as well. And while a hashtag like #Blerd doesn’t explicitly suggest it, you’d be hard pressed to find a Blerd who doesn’t also advocate just as hard for the aforementioned communities.
When I brought together like minded friends in order to create The Black Geeks (TBG) our purpose from day one was, and remains, to build a platform for all those communities that lack representation in fandom. The mission is to not only bring attention to when fandom, the media, the world even, falls short, but to also highlight when these same areas get it right.
It isn’t about how much melanin you have in your skin, your gender, sexuality, capabilities, or religion. It is about bringing awareness that there is a need for equity in fandom and equity in America in general. This is why our discussions have always been at the intersection of entertainment, politics, and religion. Images in pop culture have the ability to influence perspective. Misrepresentation, or lack of representation, in fandom can cross over and are capable of shaping opinions, beliefs, habits, and ultimately policy. You don’t need a degree in sociology or psychology, to understand that what you think is largely influenced by what you see or don’t see.
That cop harassing a group of Black youth may have never seen any examples in any mediums that inspired them to see that Black youth are just as capable of excellence as other teens. This is why it’s a big deal when Marvel makes a Black Spider-Man, Captain America, or Iron Man. Maybe that cop grew up reading comics or watching television that never showed Black teens as the heroes, or the everyday citizen that deserved protection from evil.
Maybe the person picketing outside the local mosque never got the chance to read a story like Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan. A story in which Khan’s Muslim family is shown not to be that much different than anyone else’s.
Otherness isn’t a bad thing to be feared, but something to be embraced.
Whether you’re a Latina LGBTQ member headlining a new Marvel comic book, or an Arab Green Lantern, the ability to influence is real, and it’s imperative that groups like TBG, our esteemed partner Black Girl Nerds (BGN), and so many others, continue to exist, speak out, and keep up the good fight until equity in fandom is normalcy.
This is at the heart of Universal Fan Con.
Something big is coming with this con. There are still many challenges ahead. To think of Universal Fan Con as just another con with a slight hint of social justice “keywords” to get attention (as some critics have tried to claim) would be a mistake. This convention is an outgrowth of years of work. It builds on the foundation, and narrative that so many have laid in the fight for true inclusion, and a realization of the most expressive kind of art. The kind that expresses the entirety of the human race, and not just certain sections.
In the aftermath of 2016, many have realized we cannot go quietly. We must reject narratives that don’t value the lives of the disabled, that don’t see immigrants as valued members or our society, that refuse to accept Muslims as fellow citizens, that continue to stigmatize and deny rights to the LGBTQ community, that continue the same bigotries against people of color, and ignore the rise of anti-Semitism.
Universal Fan Con is exactly that—UNIVERSAL. It speaks to the very real and authentic human desire to be accepted, not just tolerated or seen as a token.
Yes, this con will be just as fun as the cons we all know, love, attend, and support. There will be our favorite artists, celebrities, panels, guests, activities, and parties. All the things one expects at a con. Yet, we will make it our mission to bring attention to what we all see but rarely have a forum or platform to express. Universal Fan Con will hopefully help to serve as a stepping stone for many moving forward.
Personally, Universal Fan Con will be a reflection of my Muslim beliefs, Marine Corps values, and geeky credentials. Universal Fan Con will be a reflection of YOUR experiences, values, and beliefs as well, so long as you accept that others are just as valuable as yourself. Universal Fan Con will be fun, it will be serious, it will be over the top, and it will be a great experience.
There will be serious panels, there will be fun panels, and there will most definitely be parties.
I hope you all will support Universal Fan Con. We are putting our all into this con and can’t do this without you. It is only with your support that this can happen. We’re looking for anyone who can help in any capacity from Sponsors, Investors, and Volunteers. Universal Fan Con is what so many of us hoped for and dreamed about from the moment we first wondered why our favorite comic, novel, TV show, cartoon, anime, game, movie, etc. didn’t have characters who look, love, believe, or experience like us.
Let’s have the conversation. Let’s bring significance to this movement for inclusion.
Thank you, and see you in 2018.
Editorial Note: The views and opinions expressed by Robert Butler (Darth Geekonius) do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Fan Con, The Black Geeks or Black Girl Nerds, their partners or affiliates.