Representation

fandoms as social movements

Fandoms As Social Movements

One of the biggest impacts fandom has had on my life, besides the amazing friends I’ve made along the way, has been becoming a driving focus for doing good.

At the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel at Denver Comic Con moderated by sociology professor Tanya Cook and clinical psychiatrist and professor Kaela Joseph, panelists Riley Santangelo, Anita Moncrief, and Charlotte Renkin commented on the amazing things fandom has done and continues to do with charities and as unique groups making impacts globally and within their local communities.

Wayward Daughters

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Riley Santangelo is a graphic designer who is one of the women behind Wayward Daughters, which started as “Wayward Daughters Academy” with the objective of showing The Powers That Be the fanbase’s desire for better female representation on the CW show Supernatural and has taken off due to the Wayward AF t-shirt campaigns, raising money benefiting charities such as Random Acts and New Leash On Life.

Wayward Daughters has openly discussed the need for dynamic female characters and realistic depictions of female relationships in media, but as a group, the Wayward Daughters community has become much more.

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Kim Rhodes for the first Wayward AF campaign. Photo by Studio56k.

 

Like most social movements, it started a conversation. Members of the community on twitter, spurred on by Supernatural actresses Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster, started sharing their stories on what made them wayward. Taking ownership of the word, fans started viewing aspects of themselves or their lives that are dismissed or simply not talked about as a symbol of strength. Overcoming body image issues and eating disorders, fighting cancer, leaving an abusive relationship, and winning over addiction were deemed #WaywardAF, a hashtag that conveys a sense of pride and overcoming adversity. The actresses opened up with their own struggles with life such as overcoming drinking problems, troubles and joys of motherhood, and dealing with impostor syndrome, which created an open dialogue regarding societal pressures and working toward becoming your best self.

 

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Briana Buckmaster and her little one for Stands’ New Leash On Life campaign.

In May of 2015, Wayward Daughters had designed pre-made postcards to be sent to the producers of Supernatural asking for a spin-off including the characters Jody Mills (played by Kim Rhodes) and Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster). Then in March 2016, Wayward Daughters asked Supernatural fans how interested they would be in a Wayward Daughters spin-off. An overwhelming majority,  88% of respondents, voted “Heck yes!”  When a backdoor pilot called “Wayward Sisters” was announced in 2017, you could practically hear the excited screams across social media.

 

The Supernatural fandom was told it was being listened to, and that meant something. Santangelo felt the Wayward spin-off was a “direct result” of the Wayward Daughters campaign – and she’s not alone. After current Supernatural show runner Andrew Dabb spoke on the long-time coming of this spin-off at San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), fans and pop culture news sites continued to congratulate the grassroots movement of fandom for making the possibility of a Wayward Daughters show a reality. “I’m in awe every single day with Wayward Daughters and the fan community that has been created,” Santangelo said in June at the Always Keep (Nerd)Fighting panel. Talking with friend Betty Days, Santangelo recognized the importance of this emerging social movement. “Large companies try to capitalize on fandom more and more,” Days told Santangelo. But fandom is grassroots – something companies just don’t seem to grasp. “We’re gonna use our fandom for good we want to see.”

Santangelo partnered with Stands, Rhodes, and Buckmaster to put out the first shirts. “As individuals we feel like our actions don’t mean very much,” Santangelo said. When people start to come together in something like Wayward Daughters, they feel like they’re making things happen. “The fervor just increases,” Santangelo said with a smile.

Fan Fic 4 Flint

fanfic4flintAnita Moncrief was astounded as the media moved on from covering what was happening in Flint, Michigan. “They thought the crisis was over,” Moncrief said. A community organizer for over 17 years, Moncrief went into Flint as a consultant and now goes in monthly for water drops “to let the people know they aren’t forgotten.”

After seeing the 200th episode of Supernatural, the setting of which was in the disparaged city, she had the idea to link fandom with Flint. Moncrief started Fan Fic 4 Flint, a contest for writers and artists in the Supernatural fandom to raise money and awareness for Flint residents. After synopses are submitted at $10 each, a writer will be given the opportunity to produce a script for Supernatural: The Play, inspired by the one depicted in the 200th episode, to be performed in Flint as a benefit for the community. Artists will have a chance to have their work featured on social media, t-shirts, posters, and other merchandise – the sales of which will go directly to the citizens of Flint.

Moncrief hopes that the collective voices of the Supernatural fandom can return attention to the on-going crisis happening, not only in Flint, but in towns and cities across the nation. She stresses that this is bigger than the city that inspired the movement – it’s an infrastructure problem. “It starts in Flint, but it doesn’t end there.”

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Volunteers involved with Fan Fic 4 Flint’s water drop in May 2017. Photo from their instagram.

Fan Fic 4 Flint is delivering water, toys, diapers, and other necessities to Flint residents and reports news regarding updates to the water crisis on their website.  It’s not only adult fans who are helping out; fandom social movements call out to the young fans and local community youths to get involved as well. Younger teens have a difficult time getting started in activism because they don’t know where to start. Earlier this year, she had 15 kids in Flint doing water drops. They “want to get involved, but don’t know where to look,” Moncrief said. It starts with social media, but Moncrief says these movements go from “online to offline engagement.”

 

Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance

Charlotte Renkin is a filmmaker and cosplayer who is a member of Nerdfighteria and the Harry Potter Alliance. These two groups are the embodiment of mixing nerds with community action. Members of Nerdfighteria are fans of Hank and John Green, the Vlogbrothers who have extended their YouTube footprint to educational videos in their Crash Course series, SciShow, The Art Assignment, and Sexplanations. No matter what you’re interested in, chances are, Nerdfighteria has a place for you. Renkin describes the group as “close knit” and “the size of a small country.”

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Nerdfighteria’s iconic hand gesture.

Renkin wasn’t exaggerating when she said, “Fans are a force to be reckoned with.” Nerdfighteria’s goal is to decrease world suck, and how they are achieving that goal is through widespread education and activism. On YouTube, Project For Awesome raised over 2 million dollars for charities in 2016. The lending site Kiva has been a platform for Nerdfighters wanting to help small business owners get on their feet in an effort to stimulate local economies around the world since 2008.

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The Harry Potter Alliance strives for literacy education and social activism.

Harry Potter has taught us many lessons, but perhaps the most relevant is that standing by and being complacent in the face of ignorance and tyranny is unacceptable. The Harry Potter Alliance is a similarly global group wanting to engage young people in activism and increase access to books by building libraries, and implementing book drives with the hope to make literacy education services possible. Why are Harry Potter fans so interested in creating global change? Renkin says that the reason these fans are so invested in the social and political climate is that they can see the parallels in Harry Potter to our world and want to help make the world a better place.

Unstoppable Forces

How could these relatively small groups cause so much good to be put out in the world? Santangelo explains that we’re looking at an extremely proactive community. “Fandom represents the marginalized of society.” These fandom movements are made up of women, LGBTQA, neuroatypical, and minorities who band together in order to help not only each other, but anyone who is disadvantaged.

Being a part of something bigger than yourself is something a lot of people want to accomplish, and fandom is a conduit for this kind of action. “It’s really about acceptance,” Moncrief said. The shared interests and values that members of a fandom share are what keeps the fire going to fight for the rights of others. “It takes courage to step out there – to take that leap of faith and say I can do this.”

Fandom isn’t one movement – it’s many. The actions of fans and actors on these shows alike stir up involvement in a way that continuously moves toward betterment of families and communities. “It’s not just one superstar,” Moncrief said. “It’s regular people….it’s going to start showing up in our neighborhoods and our school boards.”

Underestimating a group of people who are, well, fanatical in their beliefs is short sighted. They’re an inspirational force of do-gooders whose efforts are paying off and starting to get noticed. Not only are these fans writing academic papers regarding their shows and fandoms, blogging about representation in media, and kicking ass in Geeks Who Drink trivia, but they are out there on social media and in the community actually making a difference and leaving a positive impact on the lives of others.

Maybe one person really can change the world. Especially if they have a few fandom friends.

 

 

 

A Personal Take On Wonder Woman

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Wonder Woman. After the movie, I decided I was going to have to sit in the bathtub and cry about how awesome it was while I thought about what I wanted to say about this movie, since a lot of why I loved it so much wasn’t about the movie itself.

Before heading to the theater, I’d been warned on all social media that I was going to cry. As with most movies that seem to promise this, I put on my best eyeliner and told myself I was not going to cry in public – I couldn’t ruin my makeup. It’s a tactic, so don’t judge me. It works. Mostly. The truth of the matter is that Wonder Woman was so incredibly different and amazing in so many ways that I struggled to keep the tears from falling. Whether or not you got a little emotional re: Wonder Woman, let me break down to you why this female viewer’s eyes were leaking.

Spoilers possible below.

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Ghostbusters is Just Awesome Fun

I was witness to some pretty wonderful things this week, and some not so wonderful things. But that’s nothing new; between my outdoor excursions and having access to the internet, I’m exposed to a great deal of what humanity has to offer, which unfortunately includes some pretty disappointing things.  This week, I’m glad to say that Ghostbusters was not one of them. 

It’s hard to put aside personal feelings and expectations when seeing a highly publicized movie. The backlash began as soon as the all-female cast for the reboot of the 1984 and 1989 films was announced. This was unsurprising, considering the outrage over the direction and focus of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, an amazing reboot that won six Academy Awards and broke barriers in the film industry. An impressive feat of writing and cinematography (as well as every other aspect of the film), Mad Max: Fury Road did great things for the female audience. Misogynists came out of the woodwork again for Ghostbusters, this time throwing a fit even bigger than the ones they threw over Fury Road and The Force Awakens (I patiently await the epic Star Wars tantrum to continue after Rogue One releases in December). Although done in a completely different genre in a completely different way, Ghostbusters managed to give female movie-goers a taste of how females can be positively portrayed in movies as, to the shock of everyone, human beings. 

I know it sounds like I’m reaching, but let’s break this down. Given the usual movie tropes, what do we normally see out of female characters? The reason the Bechdel test (the bare minimum that any human can ask for re: female characters interacting with each other) and the Mako Mori Test (the bare minimum that any human can ask for re: a female character’s existence and development) are even a thing is that there are so few films that manage to produce female characters and stories that treat them as people with their own ambitions. The Ghostbusters reboot is exactly that – a reboot. It’s its own entity, and the mistake many members of the potential audience made going in was that it would be the female embodiment of the original. Instead of going that route, Sony produced a film that was fun, smart, and entertaining. It wasn’t as raunchy as some may have expected, which was a somewhat pleasant change of pace but may have been disappointing for some viewers, which is so far the only reasonable complaint I’ve heard of the movie as a whole. The most notable thing about the comedy in Ghostbusters was that it didn’t rely on exploiting female sexuality, jokes about the actresses sizes, or any of the other go-to devices used when targeting a male audience. Melissa McCarthy’s character Abby Yates doesn’t receive any jokes about her weight or eating food – a breath of fresh air that may seem like a little thing, but in a body-shaming culture where overweight women are the butt of jokes and are made to feel as if they can’t even eat in public without qualifying it, it really is a big deal. Patty Tolan, played by SNL’s Leslie Jones, isn’t subject to jokes about her size either – 6ft tall to McCarthy’s just over 5ft frame – and is valued for her knowledge of the city as well as her positive “let’s do this” attitude. Kristen Wiig’s character Erin Gilbert is a bit of an unfashionable and awkward academic, but ambitious and earnest. She’s the only one swooning over the idiotic eye-candy Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth, who the others don’t find attractive (looks aren’t everything – sorry fellas) and are reluctant to hire. Kate McKinnon’s character Jillian Holtzmann is phenomenal in every way, and gay (also representative of the phenomenal part). The women are smart and don’t qualify their intelligence by attributing to their fathers. They eat without talking about having to hit the gym later. There’s no romantic subplot (Erin’s attraction to Kevin is shown through awkward interaction that isn’t romantic – or rudely done). And the biggest sexual draw in the movie turns out to not be Hemsworth’s character Kevin, but McKinnon’s Holtzmann – the weirdly sexy engineer who in any other movie might just be “the young, cute, odd one”.

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Look at these nerds doin’ WORK.

The best part? None of this is shoved in the audience’s face. It’s just part of the story. Not once in the movie do you have to pause and digest the point being made – it’s simply integrated into the film. Amazing. Finally. In 2016.

In the end, Ghostbusters is a fun movie perfect for the end of summer, full of cameos from original cast members and nods to the original films while creating something new. Unfortunately the innovative aspect of realistic comedic storytelling the script provides will go unnoticed to those who don’t experience misrepresentation or marginalization. Bottom line: the film doesn’t deserve any of the hate it has received. Ironically, the loudest outcries against well-written female content come the same people who already have decades of well-written representation in media – and are vehemently against anyone pointing it out. Outspoken fans of female-driven media are sent hate through social media, threatened with doxxing, rape, or death, and recently actress Leslie Jones was besieged with racist and misogynistic tweets that caused her to take a break from social media. It seems that this Ghostbusters reboot is necessary, not only to organically show the audience what they’re saying about women in film in terms of presenting how female characters can be written in comedy, but also to reveal the vicious nature of misogynistic fan culture. Maybe it’s fitting that the villains in the most bitched about films with female characters (Fury Road, The Force Awakens, and Ghostbusters) are all power hungry white dudes who, oh so shockingly, get really pissed when women stand up to them (#NotAllWhiteMaleVillains). 

Whether it turns out to break even in the international box office market or not (numbers watched carefully by those who are excited to call the movie a failure), Ghostbusters is a fun movie worth your time and money. Especially if you have kids. The hate that has hovered over this movie since the beginning has been unnecessary, with added complaints ranging from ruining someone’s childhood to crying reverse-sexism with Kevin’s dumb-blonde inept secretarial character. Feels like I’ve seen that before though…. It seems like some salty fans and critics just need to go pet a dog. Or actually just settle in and enjoy a movie instead of looking for every reason to tear it down.

Mad Max, Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road kills the Oscars

While the Oscars predilection for genre films, let alone science fiction, has been non-existent, last night George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road performed exceptionally well. One of two sci-fi film nominees for Best Picture, Fury Road (alongside The Martian) joins only a handful of films of this genre to have been recognized by the Academy. The film didn’t win the arguably deserved Best Picture despite a worldwide box office of over $370 million, but it did take home awards for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Film Editing, Production Design, Makeup, and Costume Design – more awards than any other film nominated this year.

But why was its nomination for Best Picture so important? Take a look at the cast and the so-called controversy surrounding the film. As soon as the film was described as a feminist, the backlash began. Max doesn’t speak much during the film, but that makes his presence and actions even more pronounced, and Tom Hardy‘s performance was outstanding. The women featured prominently in the film include an amputee as well as actresses from different nationalities/racial backgrounds and various ages. Charlize Theron commands respect brings the importance of the overall plot to the audience through her character, Imperator Furiosa. The women at the center of the film (portrayed by Zoë KravitzRosie Huntington-WhiteleyRiley KeoughAbbey Lee, and Courtney Eatonare sex slaves escaping the Citadel and the nightmare of Immortan Joe (Mad Max alum Hugh Keays-Byrne). The War Boys that work alongside Furiosa trust her in a way that regards her position with a tremendous trust prior to her betrayal that isn’t overtly obvious to the audience – and that’s the point.

In the end, the arguments of why the film isn’t feminist are unsurprisingly reasons why the film is feminist. The chastity belts the women have locked around them are toothed, threatening to put any potential rapist in peril – but these were placed by a man who wanted to save the raping privileges for himself. The women are owned, kept captive, raped, and called “breeders”, and this denotation is purposeful in the storytelling as the mantra of the movie is We Are Not Things. The weak arguments of a feminist story being shoved down the throats of the Mad Max franchise’s fans doesn’t hold up, and the efforts Miller made in creating a story that was compelling and included female narratives was deserving of the Best Picture nomination – not because there were women, but because it was a great film. The movies, while centered around Max, have always been about the people he interacts with more so than him specifically, and the continuity of specific moments over the course of the films such as Max trying to retrieve his belongings (jacket, boot, his iconic V8 Interceptor) and the fallible shotgun shells and weapons jams were perfection. The War Boys and their worshiping the V8 was a great addition, and Nicholas Hoult‘s Nux was an interesting and wonderful character for the Mad Max universe. The story, visuals, editing, choreography, special and physical effects, and the sound were all outstanding, and the Academy served the film well with the nominations and awards it received. If only it could have received the award it deserved – Best Picture.

Moving away from the “strong female” trope and just writing good characters

Over the course of television and film history we’ve watched as generations of women lobbied for female representation. Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman in the 70s has been iconic, as well as the ladies that made up Charlie’s Angels leading into the 80s and Lucy Lawless’ Xena in the 90s. The badass women who were beautiful and beat the hell out of the bad guys were important to lots of girls growing up, but The Powers That Be take these characters as a base for building not so great characters with traits that became a tiring trope – a disservice to the audience, let alone the women behind these characters.  While female characters who dress scantily, are excellent marksmen, and punch assholes in the face are awesome, when the characterization stops there the importance of creating a female role in the first place is lost.

Important steps forward have been seen in characters like Buffy Summers who was feminine, wore makeup, and loved pink while also being exceptionally skilled, allowing girls to see that just because you like things that are typically associated with girls doesn’t make you weak – and that you don’t have to discard femininity or look down on girls who drew hearts in pink glitter pen on their notebooks to be powerful.

Michonne, Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead

Danai Gurira as Michonne [from TWD Wikia]

The Walking Dead‘s Michonne has been a touching example of a fascinating female character as we watch her slice through zombies and enemies alike with a cold and quiet demeanor, only to be shown how vulnerable and nurturing she really was. Her strength was displayed in putting down her weapon when she had the opportunity to and picking it back up again when she was needed. Meanwhile, Bella Crawford on Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal was stubborn and desired to die with dignity and Orphan Black‘s clones display a mixture of science mastery, ability for manipulation, and suburban motherhood among their strengths. Creating female characters with depth that didn’t bust in people’s faces on the regular was also important, redefining “strong women” and broadening the characters we were seeing on screen, both big and small. Showing emotions doesn’t always make you weak, wielding a weapon doesn’t always make you strong, and giving a diverse display of what it means to be a woman reaches and resonates with a broader audience.

We’re seeing a beautiful change in female representation in media overall, but within the shows themselves that are providing this representation, it’s better than expected. While the film industry is still trying to catch up, television (network, cable, and instant streaming) is sprinting away with characters that are dynamic and fully fleshed out with strengths and faults in all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnic groups, and sexualities in shows like The 100, The Walking Dead, Agent Carter, How To Get Away With Murder, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Vikings, and so many more. More than that, we’re getting relationships between women and platonic relationships between women and menI have to pause for a moment in disbelief and joy because those two things make me so incredibly happy. Women are not only being written with characteristics like fierce loyalty, cleverness, ruthlessness, and nurturing love, but we’re also being shown why the pretentions of previous decades are absolutely ridiculous. Recently in an episode of Agent Carter, already noted for doing at excellent job in representation (especially for the time period in which it is set), the male characters scoff at the idea of a larger woman – despite being a trained member of the agency – being able to take on an integral part of a mission that required her to be physical.

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Lesley Boone as Rose Roberts in Season 2 of Agent Carter

This attitude is similar to what the men did to Peggy Carter herself, and while no longer doubting Peggy’s prowess, Sousa doubted this woman’s ability to do her job while scapegoating it on him being able to focus and not be worried about her. Of course she accomplishes her task with a satisfied grin. Reinforcing the same point that Agent Carter made in its first season, this moment added appearances into the mix, giving bigger women such as myself (who had to experience disheartening looks of shock when I told people I did 5ks for fun and was training for a half-marathon) representation and a boost of confidence.

The true heart of these shows is character, and it seems as if creators are realizing just how important these things are to their audiences. Some are understanding better than others by giving us a wide range of female characters that are representative of not just their audience, but the world we live in. What we’re seeing more and more of is a move away from creators struggling to write a “strong female character” in an original way that avoids the cookie cutter trope and just creating female characters – and writing good story lines for them. What an intriguing concept.

DC’s Dawn of the Justice League: Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad

On the CW earlier this week, the network presented a special hosted by Kevin Smith and Geoff Johns. DC Comics: Dawn of the Justice League gave us sneak peeks at the 2017 movie Wonder Woman featuring Gal Gadot and the first trailer for Suicide Squad that we’ve seen since the sneak peek at SDCC 2015.

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Johns and Smith discussing Wonder Woman on the CW’s DC Comics: Dawn of the Justice League

The Wonder Woman exclusive showed the heroine moving through the ages and basically being a badass. Gal Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life fantastically, and I can’t wait to see the full length feature. Gratefully, Smith and Johns seem excited as I am about Diana Prince coming to the big screen, and described her as a “feminist icon”.  I can’t argue.

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I may be a bit biased when it comes to Wonder Woman.

What Marvel missed in the film department, DC picked up on – women and young girls are so there for leading ladies, and I think we’ll be seeing a shift in representation. Recently in regards to Star Wars, it was pointed out that Disney didn’t push Rey merchandise – or have any. They said they didn’t want to give away spoilers, but many fans were left asking, “Bitch, where?” GQ (the magazine using sexy women asking for your email to get you to sign up for their mailing list) pointed out that looking at The Avengers merchandise from 2012, Black Widow was inexplicably absent from shelves with no spoilers linked to the character. The excuse is weak. My youngest son, who was five years old when Avengers came out, asked the same thing, and again with better diction and genuine concern when Age of Ultron was released. Kids pay attention. Hopefully we’ll get a metric ton of Wonder Woman gear for both men and women – and don’t be going pink on me, DC.

The Suicide Squad trailer seduced us with a little “Bohemian Rhapsody” and had a great look, but I’m hesitant to throw all my excitement into this because of the over-hype regarding Jared Leto’s Joker. Personally, as I’m sure everyone does, I have characters I fall in love with written in one way and when seeing them written/portrayed in another way I squint until I’m sure I can let go and enjoy the incarnation I’m seeing. Part of me is worried that Leto’s portrayal will be a brightly colored Kylo Ren – a character believing they’re a badass and completely intimidating, but in actuality is a whiny brat that everyone just wants to avoid any interaction with, and not just because they might be killed. But, I trust David Ayer and John Ostrander to bring a good story, and that’s where the root of the film lies. Besides my character bias, I’m generally a watch and see kind of person – I’ll wade through the negative reviews and give something a chance to see for myself if the criticisms have merit and then make my opinion. So far from what I’ve seen of Suicide Squad, I’m here for Harley Quinn and Deadshot. Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) and Will Smith (Deadshot) stood out in the initial SDCC first look and the trailer shown during the CW special, and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller seems to mirror her outstanding performance as Analise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder. Those three actors alone have me interested in seeing what this movie brings – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg, and Adam Beach as Slipknot gives me something else to look forward to and I can’t help but do some cheering for a diverse cast. 

I hope that we’ll see more specials like this in the future, and not just from DC. The Marvel look into Captain America was wonderful from a historical perspective and the impact comic book characters and representation have on audiences, and my boys loved watching the Justice League special. Kevin Smith’s never ending enthusiasm for comic books makes him an ideal host for these kinds of shows. More content like this, please.


 

On an adorable note: Kevin Smith cooed over Harley Quinn’s bat at the end of DC Comic’s Justice League special, and later brought the bat home to his daughter – Harley Quinn Smith.

She cried on Instagram, asserting her desire to one day play the role of her namesake saying, “I’m not joking when I say I cried for an hour.”

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Harley Quinn Smith with the Good Night bat Margot Robbie used in her role as Harley Quinn for 2016’s Suicide Squad.

[full story at comicbook.com] If that’s not the cutest damn thing you’ve seen today, at least it’s a great example of how these characters, whether they be heroes or villains, and the opportunity to play them mean so much.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here patiently waiting for 2017 and the Wonder Woman movie, and not thinking about how tiny Harley Quinn Smith was when she played Mini-Silent Bob in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and how I watched that movie in theaters with my friends the beginning of my senior year of high school. I hope all your dreams come true, kiddo. Just stop making me feel old.