Syfy Wire Fangrrls Presents: Badass Women of Sci-Fi

Rosilyne Bean writes for Bleeding Cool,

At NYCC this year SYFY Fangrrls’ managing editor Cher Martinetti hosted a panel to discuss the work and experiences of several women who work in sci-fi. Martinetti first explained the origins of SYFY Fangrrls, stating that, “It was born out of necessity. The genre needed a space driven by women about issues relevant to women.” Speakers included Frankie Adams (Bobbie Draper from The Expanse), Emily Andras (creator and executive producer of Wynonna Earp), Yetide Badaki (Bliquis from American Gods), Fiona Dourif (Bart from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), Sera Gamble (co-creator and executive producer of The Magicians), and Gail Simone (Writer of Red Sonja, Batgirl, and more).

Kicking things off, panelists were asked about their current work in the genre. Andras’ favorite thing about science fiction is that it tries to show things as they could be, not as they are. This led to a discussion about diversity in the field. One thing Andras is proud of is that there is a lot of gender diversity within her writing staff, but she would like to see more of this in the field. Andras explains that producers have to be willing to include diversity in their writing and casting, and be committed not to bend or compromise once they make that choice. She has been asked several times to change the sexuality or gender of her characters, but she always sticks to her vision. In addition to this, creators need to be willing to show authentic and diverse content.

One creative choice Andras has been frequently asked about was the Wynonna Earp pregnancy storyline, in which Wynonna has an unplanned pregnancy and ultimately makes the choice to give up her baby. Andras says it’s important to show Wynonna making the in-character and responsible decision to give her child a better life. This isn’t a story line we would typically see depicted because it goes against society’s view of women and motherhood. Andras gave a shout-out to the SYFY network for being supportive of both the storyline, and actress Melanie Scrofano’s (Wynonna Earp) real-life pregnancy. It was important that they worked with the actress instead of trying to hide her pregnancy, which we see often in TV.

Actress Dourif is proud of her character Bart, who was originally penned as a man. Max Landis decided to change her written character to a female, but didn’t change anything else. She describes her character as a feral and gross assassin, but thinks it’s refreshing to play something so different. Plus she doesn’t have to wear heels all the time. Adams told us about her character on The Expanse, who is also breaking female stereotypes. Adams, who is a boxer in real life, plays an extremely tough marine who is considered to be one of the best. Adams found inspiration for her character from Mad Max’s Furiosa, as well as her own mother and sisters.

Adams also feels that it is a privilege to be able to represent Polynesian people, and hopes to bring awareness to the lack of representation of Southeast Asian people in film and media. In regards to representation in media, Badaki of American Gods expressed strong feelings about the subject. She observed, “The way things are today I feel that people are being isolated and getting further away from each other. When they see themselves represented in media, they know they aren’t alone.” When Badaki saw Viola Davis accepting her academy award she was moved to tears because it was such a pivotal moment.

Gamble also emphasizes the responsibility of show creators to include representation and diversity in their work, as well as content and characters that people find distasteful. With her work in particular she tries not to participate in bullying about her decisions. Many fans have questioned the showrunners’ decisions surrounding The Magicians character Julia’s rape, subsequent pregnancy and struggle to have an abortion. The pregnancy was a huge diversion from the book, and many fans questioned whether or not the addition was truly necessary. Gamble defends their position, saying, “We wanted to get as inside her experience as we could. What is the most scary outcome of rape? Pregnancy. The story is about what happens when abortions aren’t easy to get, and she has complications after as a result.” Gamble says they wanted to make the audience uncomfortable and that she wants to create characters who are distasteful so that people can talk about important issues.

Simone is another woman who will not bend, she strongly affirms that she has never tempered her work because of complaints or boycotts. She makes sure that she always writes from an honest place. She shared a story about when she first started writing Birds of Prey for DC. Simone had asked a male staff member how many female readers they had, and his response was, “We don’t know, we don’t care. Girls don’t read comics, we aren’t targeting them.” In the next conversation she had with them she asked, “Why are you guys cutting out 50% of your audience before you even write your book?” She then dared the audience or convention staff to count how many women are here at New York Comic Con this year. She stresses that it will take stubborn work, but it’s possible to get better because it’s already gotten better. Simone urges fans and creators to support people who are already celebrating diversity because it paves the way and makes it easier for the next person to do the same. She says she is tired of hearing people say that change will come in time and that decisions will not happen organically. People need to just make the choice and be supported.

As the panel concluded, panelists were asked to provide quick answers to some very important questions. If Simone had to choose between Princess Leia or Wonder Woman she would pick Diana because Wonder Woman has the whole package: royalty, an awesome island, and she is a compassionate general and warrior. If Andras had the same choice she would pick Leia because she’s tiny and does everything with no superpowers, she wakes up early and does her hair in those buns every day, and she’s a strong woman and general. Badaki was more diplomatic with her decision, choosing both princesses because they are equally badass.

When asked to chose a character to be on their “Badass Team,” Adams said she would Pick Tulip from Preacher. If Dourif had to pick a character for her team she would choose Chuckie because he’s her dad (actor Brad Dourif). Andras decided she would pick Ripley because she is good at rescuing people. And finally, if Adams could be trapped in space with any character she would choose baby Groot.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.