Traditionally, comic conventions have been the domain of white guys. But this year — more so than in past years — San Diego Comic-Con wasn't catering specifically to what is often assumed to be its core demographic.
Take, for example, the Saturday programming in Hall H, Comic-Con’s biggest room. The day opened with DC Comics’ upcoming movies (like Wonder Woman, Justice League and The Flash) before segueing into Warner Bros.’ big-budget flicks like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Kong: Skull Island and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Given that Hall H is a room full of fanatics who literally camped out to learn more about these movies, the response was surprisingly tepid, with Wonder Woman being the only DC movie to elicit any sort of real excitement. Still, it was pretty awesome to see the diverse assortment of directors for the upcoming DC movies, including Patty Jenkins, Rick Famuyiwa and James Wan. The room felt surprisingly apathetic toward Justice League, a movie that should be exactly the kind of thing Comic-Con audiences get amped about, a superhero team-up movie featuring some of the most iconic characters of all time. But the audience response was lackluster, with polite applause but few shrieks of excitement.
Then the focus shifted to reunion panels for Star Trek and Aliens, both of which are stories that are known for featuring diverse protagonists, both racially (for Star Trek) and in terms of gender (Ripley from Aliens, played by Sigourney Weaver, is one of the most iconic action heroes of all time). After that came the annual “Women Who Kick Ass” panel, where strong heroines like Lucy Lawless (Xena the Warrior Princess), Ming-Na Wen (Mulan, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) took the stage and talked about why they love playing complex women onscreen. This was a bridge too far for some of the men in the hall, like my neighbors, who grumbled about how this panel is always terrible and goes on for too long (it ran 45 minutes this year, shorter than any other panel that day).
But the reason everyone stuck around was the Marvel Studios panel, which featured the amazing cast of Black Panther (and a stage filled with some of the best black actors currently working); the diverse young cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming (including The Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori, an actor of Guatemalan descent, playing Flash Thompson, a traditionally white character); a hilarious scene directed by Thor: Ragnarok's Taika Waititi; and the introduction of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, who will be Marvel’s first female character to have a stand-alone movie.
In terms of diversity, the stage of Hall H was nowhere near where it should be in representing women and minorities, but it was clear that an effort was being made, and the audience responded well. The “woos” following the debut of the Wonder Woman trailer were the cheers of thousands of women who were raised on franchises built around men like Spider-Man, Batman and Iron Man, and who are thrilled to finally be getting a movie about a female hero — a movie that looks good.
Still, it wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies. While creators who have been known to have image issues regarding sexism (such as Zack Snyder, whose female characters in movies like 300 and Sucker Punch leave much to be desired) made a conscious effort to use inclusive, nonsexist language (Snyder initially called the Justice League a “fraternity,” but then interrupted himself to call it a “sorority” as well), there were the occasional sour undertones. Despite the presence of a few volunteers with signs reading “Cosplay is not consent,” there were still reports of creepy dudes. Lindsey Cepak, who was dressed as Morrigan from the video game Dragon Age on Thursday, says, “This is the first time at San Diego Comic-Con I've ever had any issues — ranging from someone coming up and just taking a picture of my breasts and walking away quickly, to a male member of the press literally telling me, 'Your breasts look so good.' Luckily no one attempted to touch me, but after the comments I actually didn't allow anyone to take a picture with me, just take pictures of me; I was feeling too defensive at that point.”
That wasn't the only harassment women faced, either — a group of women dressed as characters from the new Ghostbusters movie were called “Slutbusters” to their faces. Also concerning was the chatter coming out of the Batman: The Killing Joke panel, which featured the character of Batgirl being stripped of her agency by being given a romantic subplot with Batman that makes no sense canonically and portrays her as dependent and needy. Things got worse when one of the writers of the movie insulted an audience member by calling him a “pussy.”
Aside from those blips on the radar, it was nice to see Comic-Con making an effort to be more diverse and inclusive. During at least two panels featuring Marvel writers, the fact that Marvel Comics has no black female writers (or at least it didn’t, before the announcement that Roxane Gay will be writing a companion series for Black Panther) came up, and both G. Willow Wilson (the writer of Ms. Marvel) and Sana Amanat (Marvel’s director of content and character development) recognized that that is a problem they are working to solve. It also was great to see the annual Women of Marvel panel move from a small side room into Room 6DE this year, which is one of the bigger rooms at the convention center.
On the cosplay front, women clearly responded to some of the female characters who have risen to prominence recently — hordes of General Leias and Reys from Star Wars: The Force Awakens roamed the halls alongside scores of Harley Quinns from the Batman comics and the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, and there were plenty of women dressed as male characters like Deadpool and the Winter Soldier. The Captain Marvel sweatshirts that HerUniverse sold were spotted anywhere the AC was blasting enough to justify wearing a sweatshirt, and its booth on the convention center floor all but sold out of the jackets by Sunday.
Clearly, there's a huge audience that's hungry for diverse representation in comics and media, and this year, Comic-Con continued its concerted effort to appeal to that audience.