How Fandoms Can Support Black Women

Aleksandra Syniec ‘18, Clarke Forum Columnist

Professor Kristen Warner from the University of Alabama delivered a lecture about race representation in film and TV entitled “Black Women Squads in Online Fandom.” The event took place on Thursday, March 2 and was hosted by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues.

Warner’s work mostly focuses on the casting methods of producers and the representation in movies and television shows of characters and actors of color. In her lecture, she described her work with fandoms, online communities for fans to connect and share art and fanfiction.

In her talk, Warner analyzed the two hit CW television shows, Vampire Diaries and The Flash. She studied the shows’ fan bases on Twitter and Tumblr that support Bonnie and Iris, two African-American female characters on each show.

Warner explained that these fandoms have the power to occasionally influence the writers and producers of a show. According to Warner, fans have won battles over the direction of plot lines and developments. In this way, fandoms represent a type of activism in their attempts to push for the representation of African-American women in main roles in television shows.

During the question and answer session, the audience asked Warner to speak more about the idea of blind casting and writing. Blind casting, explains Warner, is when a role is written without a character’s race in mind. Warner explained the nuance of this process, and expressed that since the writing and production world is so white, it is usually black actors who bring black culture to their lines and characters. She gave the example of Viola Davis from How to Get Away with Murder introducing her nightly ritual of removing her wig and putting on a hair wrap to the script. This scene was her own proposition to the directors.

Warner says the overall mission should be to keep actors of color, especially black women who are in fandoms, on the screen. She stated that audiences have the power to demand casts that reflect the diversity in the real world. According to Warner, the power of fandoms may seem small, but they have a definite influence on the trajectory of shows. 

The event was sponsored by the departments of English and sociology, and the film studies program.