The Power of Black Women in Fandom

When black women in fandom speak, directors and networks listen

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(l-r) Nicole Beharie, Candice Patton, Meagan Good and YaYa DaCosta are actresses who have a loyal following on the Web

Black Americans watch TV more than any other demographic[1], yet are often overlooked. Black women also tend to be heavily involved in the fandoms of their favorite TV shows. The Flash, The Walking Dead and Sleepy Hollow are just a small list of shows with large black women fan bases.

Black women were so invested in Sleepy Hollow that they campaigned against it being cancelled and won.

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Black women fandoms are more likely to promote their favorite shows on social media. The Iris West Defense Squad, a huge contingent of black female fans of The Flash, have campaigned vigorously to get the show awards and nominations–and succeeded. Oftentimes they’d spend time voting and promoting endlessly. They’ve held all-night voting parties, during which those fans get little to no sleep. They spend more time promoting the show on social media than the interns that the CW pays to do the same.

Since black users use Twitter with greater frequency than their white counterparts[2] black female fans are more likely to interact and open up a dialog between fans and the show’s cast and crew. The Iris West Defense Squad started a twitter meme, #DoYouHaveADaughterJoe that quickly caught the cast’s attention, starting yet another dialog between this fan base and the producers, actors. In fact, The IWDS interacts with the producers, cast and crew, more than any other contingent of The Flash fandom.

When the second season of Sleepy Hollow was airing, black female fans were dismayed when the show’s black leading lady, Abbie Mills, was sidelined in favor of a white supporting character, Katrina. Katrina dominated every plotline, leaving Abbie as a glorified sidekick. As time went on, fans became more and more disgusted. #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter trended for days. Fans wanted her to have relevance in the story she was supposed to be a lead character in. Ratings tanked as they tuned out. The Sleepy Hollow executives thought they’d keep watching as long as Abbie was still on, surely her screen time was irrelevant? They were wrong. As the show teetered on the brink of cancellation, executives promised their black women fan base that in the coming episodes Abbie would regain her lead status and be included in important plotlines again. The fans rallied behind this promise and campaigned heavily to get Sleepy Hollow renewed. They succeeded.

Just having a black female lead isn’t enough though. Characters who are black women often fall into many negative stereotypes. They are often written as fat, sassy, aggressive, angry, self-indulgent, hypersexual, and gold digging single mothers. Rarely are they portrayed as vulnerable, desirable, loving, carefree, silly, elegant, soft or genteel.

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  • Megan

    I can relate to this on a spiritual level. But we aren’t going to remain silent anymore. Thanks for shedding some light on this very real topic.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Megan! We are the change we want to see.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s true that black women especially have a hard time, because they are sidelined both by teams of writers withou black representation and then by fandom who aren’t used to seeing black women uplifted. Those of us fighting for more representation have to do our part to protect and defend the precious few characters we are given in order to ensure that they get better treatment and that future generations get more characters like them.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Myrcellasear: We appreciate your feedback.

  • Darla

    thank you for writing this. this sums up my feeling perfectly.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Darla! We feel the same way.

  • What Other Girls?

    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you What Other Girls?: glad you enjoyed it.

  • Nola

    This article is PERFECTION. Thank you so much for your thoughts! Hopefully, studios will begin to see the value in engaging with their black viewers. It’s no coincidence that some of the most popular shows on television are shows with a diverse cast (Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Blackish, Jane the Virgin, Fresh Off the Boat, Sleepy Hollow season 1)

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Nola! Your support is appreciated.

  • MPaule77

    Thank you sooooo much for writing this article. Hope that TPTB of the TV shows will pay attention to it and correct their wrongdoings. They still have time to fix their mistakes.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks MPaule77! Your opinion matters, we appreciate your feedback.

  • impossiblesouffle

    This is really good. So many people don’t realize (or don’t want to realize) that representation is important, but bad representation is worse than no representation at all.

  • Perfect! It’s about time that someone enlightens the world of a true fandom. Thank you who ever wrote this and keep writing more.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Dacer Skavaneers! You can reach the writers on Twitter: @technicolorgal and @kerritweets. Send them a hello!

  • Kaz P

    This article is amazing. It sheds light on the the struggle for black women in fandom, and the tirelessly effort they pour into black female characters on TV who are constantly mistreated. Also the curious double standard, as the support of black female characters in seen as “aggressive” and “bullying” whereas the support of a white female characters such as Nina Dobrev and Emily Bett Rickards is seen as being devoted and passionate.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Kaz! Your support is appreciated, let the networks know.

  • Madison

    This was a great article! One of the problems that many of these shows have is that there’s not enough representation on the writing, directional, producers, etc staff. When you have WOC in your cast there’s usually no one who knows how to write for them and it shows. Even the best show runners can have the best intentions but it doesn’t translate well on screen. All shows need to reevaluate how they do business and incorporate people who actually know how to portray WOC.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Madison! As a viewer, you have power.

  • Karin

    “The writers who understand that not only is representation important, but that what you do with that representation that matters.” THIS!! You can have all the representation you want but if you’re not using it in the correct way then it doesn’t do anyone any good.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Karin! Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Kennedy

    And…it is so important that POC with a broad base of followers who tweet, blog or publish reviews, use their platform to champion and support these actresses. Mainstream media proudly publish weekly articles and podcasts calling for WOC to be written off, replaced or sidelined. It saddened me to see the lack of support and sometimes even joining in from POC who could otherwise use their platforms to demand better and show support. It is awful that these talented women have to fight and defend the very existence of their roles. But it is even sadder when they can’t even feel the encouraging embrace from the people who SHOULD understand their struggle.

  • pammy

    Absolute perfection! Thank you for voicing what we have known in our hearts for decades. This “only 1 dimension of a black woman can be shown” has infiltrated every genre of television/entertainment. Good on us black women for taking our image back
    and demanding a fair and well-rounded characters.

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  • Barbara White

    Thank you so much for this article. It rings true for far too many shows. Hopefully, in the years ahead, we can look forward to shows that represent human black and female characters! Thank you again!

  • Nikki M

    Great article! It’s so important to see women who look like me being uplifted on screen. TV, film, books and news media shape so much of the societal beliefs and negative stereotypes that persist in our culture. I hope that Hollywood will start to include more women of color behind the camera as well, to insure that more well rounded stories are told.

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