This summer, when SNL writer and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones faced criticism for starring in an innocuous reboot of a mediocre but beloved 1980s franchise, her website was hacked, nude pictures leaked without her consent, and an onslaught of vile racist comments were sent her way on Twitter. It isn't a coincidence that Jones faced scrutiny in ways her more established white co-stars did not: Jones was targeted for being a dark-skinned, "unconventionally" attractive black woman moving through a geek fandom that white men consider their own.
This phenomenon extends far beyond actresses to even the women who cover these films and TV shows. Look through the mentions of any female journalist who covers geek properties and you will find an onslaught of vile responses no matter how mild her coverage. For black women this dynamic is even worse. I never had to block so many people on Twitter until I covered Suicide Squad this summer. I wrote about the film extensively including a , an editorial for Nylon about the played by Margot Robbie in the film and an essay for The Atlantic that used as a jumping off point to discuss the toxic masculinity behind modern method acting.
I'm open to criticism and discussing my writing with those who respectfully don't agree with my opinion, but in covering comic properties, I've dealt with everything from people as if I had no idea what I was talking about to being told I was by acknowledging certain issues in the film. The worst were the very pointed attacks calling me an "idiot" or a "bitch" and far worse epithets from people I blocked. I won't even go into the Reddit threads about my article that I was once tauntingly sent screenshots of. It's something I've grown almost numb to as a critic. But what was more interesting to me was the level of hurt coming from these men and their routine way of doubting my comic knowledge—a .
I have been reading comics obsessively since I was about ten years old. I can probably quote from John Ostrander's original Suicide Squad run in my sleep, I've watched all of the Star Trek series more times than I can count, and I often whip out Klingon when I'm nervous. But I've found that the love and knowledge I have on these subjects never seems to be good enough for the people who grow furious at a black woman writing about these properties. White male fans often don't want to face how their beloved properties often have troubling racial and gender politics. (Just peruse the comments on my review of X-Men: Apocalypse for RogerEbert.com: "The author feels like the X-Men series in general has failed its female characters—ignoring the fact that Mystique is elevated to a leadership and relevance level well above the source material." Many didn't want to face a critique coming from a woman, and a fan, who knows them better than they do.) You can only delete emails and block people on Twitter for so long until you feel burnt out. The reason why we don't see more black women writing about these subjects with such visibility isn't because we haven't been interested in them, it's that publications rarely give us the opportunity, and when we do write, we often find ourselves facing personal scrutiny that has little to do with the actual writing. At times, I've been left to wonder, why do I love these stories so much when they rarely care about people who look like me?
In recent years, as people of color have become more visible as creators and characters within geek properties, white male fans have felt that the mediums that so often acted as power fantasies for them no longer cater to their every whim. In a piece for the Guardian, that "despite still persistently experiencing much better outcomes when it came to income, employment, home ownership and health, white Americans felt that as black Americans had gained in rights over the second half of the 20th century, white Americans had experienced a mirror decrease in rights."
So much of the genre trades in metaphors for people of color—what is the X-Men without the language of the Civil Rights Movement?—but having experienced the bigotry within this fandom, it's clear that the idea of championing those without power is somewhat misplaced. This vocal minority of geek fandom isn't interested in dismantling the structures of oppression, but becoming the oppressors themselves. In many ways the company's whose work fuel the geek community created a fantasy for primarily white men in which their voices, opinions, and desires matter above all else. Even when heroes of color were depicted, white people were still the primary creators and audience. As times are changing, white audiences are having to face this privilege and are forced to reckon with the fact that the geek community has far more diversity than they are willing to acknowledge. Black women have loved these genres for a long time—we're just becoming more vocal than ever.
Science fiction and fantasy are nothing without the presence of women who look like Leslie Jones, Candace Patton, and Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura on the original Star Trek, inspiring women of color for generations. Is it possible to find safety in these communities? Websites like have found considerable visibility and champions partially because they offer a safe haven for geeks of color who love these works but not necessarily the scrutiny they face in more mainstream parts of the fandom. But for black actresses and journalists, isolation isn't an option. We have to engage with communities that often don't have our best interest at heart. But I like to keep in mind that's it the voices of black women and other minorities that often power these stories whether white audiences want to realize that or not. As Junot Diaz wrote, "Without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as People of Color, nothing about fanboy or fangirl culture would make sense. We're the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible, yeah. In the Green Lantern Corps, we are the oath. We are all of these things—erased, and yet without us—we are essential."