Review by Weasel
[Editor's note: In the spirit of reading multiple things as texts—video games, music, TV, and film—FBR decided to host and publish this review even though it's not a "book" per se.]
The Fandom: A White History
If Joe Strike’s “Furry Nation” had a film adaptation, this would be it. Granted there are bits and pieces that aren’t in Strike’s book; the film is very close to it. “Furry Nation” is an in-depth look at the history of the furry fandom, told through the lens of furry historians and people who’ve been in it since the beginning. Although the book wasn’t terrible, it didn’t do much in the way of being racially diverse. At the end of the book, Strike sees in the fandom individuals with a common interest “no matter what their genders, no matter what their species, no matter who or how they love.” An issue that has stayed constant within the furry fandom is colorblind racism. It’s easier for us to discuss sexuality and gender as part of our identities and part of our characters’ identity, but the moment we start approaching race, it gets ignored. I’ve heard explicitly from members of this community that, “You’re a furry; race shouldn’t matter.” Meaning, the moment we create our “fursona,” the color of our skin is stripped away. So for me, as a furry, it seems as if I’m supposed to escape something that has been a part of me since birth. But that’s what white people like to do. They like to erase. They take things and believe it’s leveling the playing field, when in reality, they’re hurting and ignoring People of Color. I can’t peel off the skin I was given. It’s brown, and it’s not getting any lighter.
So what does this have to do with the documentary? At first glance, “The Fandom” is an interesting movie, talking about the furry fandom’s history, its roots in scifi and anime. We’re taken back to the 70s and pushed through time, giving us an in-depth look at where this subculture started out. It’s well made, and outweighs the other documentaries made by fandom film directors. It’s engaging, and you’ll find yourself learning more than you imagined.
But there’s also a problem. I understand that People of Color may not have been as active at the start of this subculture, but Furries of Color were still fundamental to our fandom’s creation and evolution, such as the creation of the first fursona. Ken Sample, a Black creator did that, and it was talked about for all of a few seconds in this film. We didn’t get a chance to learn more about him, his art, or hardly anything. It was, “Ken Sample had this character and we wanted characters too.” As a Person of Color, that’s a monumental detail for me. It tells me that Furries of Color are important, are necessary, yet the treatment of this detail also tells me it doesn’t matter to furries’ perceived self-history. Ken Sample set up a key component to the fandom, but not even the white people who mentioned him said more than “he did this thing and we wanted it.”
Uncle Kage gets more airtime than Furries of Color. And I get how much he has done for this fandom and how he has become the face of furries for the media. I don’t want to downplay his contributions, but this documentary has put white people at the forefront. It only takes a few minutes before we forget Ken Sample and the rest of the documentary plays out. It’s just the same old white guy we’ve been getting in the past few documentaries.
The furry fandom is a subculture rich with diversity, but it’s not often talked about. Talk of bringing Furries of Color into any aspect of the fandom is mostly ignored, maybe getting some light applause from white people. Although the documentary has a handful of Furries of Color, the movie glances over them for a small portion of this film. “The Fandom” had a handful of Furries of Color; the fact that they weren’t given just a few more minutes to talk is disheartening.
As a Person of Color, that tells me the fandom isn’t interested in any voice of color, that they would rather give a Person of Color scraps than actually be supportive. Because of this treatment, “The Fandom” is moreso an attempt at white-washing than a story that needed to be told.
I talk about making diverse voices more prominent in large projects such as this, and one of the biggest pushbacks I get from white people on this is “People of Color don’t come to us, so we can’t give them proper representation.” That’s not an excuse; that’s fuckin’ laziness.
The director, Ash Coyote, later published an apology video on her YouTube channel. And I don’t feel she’s learned anything about inclusivity. In the video, she says, “[W]e received criticism that was very valid. Criticism about inclusion and diversity. Which are things that I’m trying to learn from.” Ash said she is trying to learn, and then started venting about how hard it was to make a movie. And I know it’s hard. Film is an art where everything can go wrong all at the same time, and I feel how frustrating that is. When she started going through her day of filming, and how her crew slept, and what conventions were like for her, I felt how much of an effort she threw into this documentary. And the craft alone is simply amazing. But lecturing us on the difficulties and on your own struggles does not negate the lack of diversity in “The Fandom.” Mentioning that you wanted to learn about and grow when it comes to inclusivity without having a plan on how to approach the topic doesn’t show us you’re learning. It shows us you’re just responding to criticism and saving face, being more reactionary than proactive. And though her statements might sound promising, she had nothing else to say on the matter aside from offering up a possible expansion on future projects, prioritizing diversity as an after-thought or a specialized topic, rather than one integral to fandom history.
Scheduling people for interviews is excruciatingly difficult. As Ash says, “People don’t want to be on camera.” However, what her words and process shows is that diversity was not at the forefront of that film-making process, suggesting colorblind racism on her part as a film-maker. Although the efforts Ash Coyote put in are not without merit, finding ways to give more air time to People of Color would have changed the dynamics of “The Fandom” in a hugely positive way.
Ash mentions trying to get SonicFox, a nonbinary Black furry gamer, for the documentary. “SonicFox was guest of honor that year. We had talked to Anthrocon about trying to get them on camera.” She talks about how it didn’t fit into their schedules. And though it’s disappointing it didn’t work out, I wonder how much of an attempt was actually made—if one was even made—to reach out to SonicFox personally. I would argue that a person like SonicFox has done and is doing as much—if not more so—for the fandom as Uncle Kage. A voice like theirs would have been so useful for this documentary and would have shown both trans furries and Furries of Color that they are integral to this fandom’s makeup.
White people often look back to the history of the fandom often with a sense of the lack of acceptance of the fandom or the lack of any sex positivity back then. They say, “You don’t know how hard it was to be furry back then.” Even straight furs associate being furry with “coming out,” and it’s like...you can’t know what that means. And think to what it would have been like for a Black, queer furry at the time. And I hear people think of the history of the fandom in terms of anime fandom. Do you know how important People of Color are for the anime industry, especially in America? This fandom is so rich and diverse, particularly in its history, and yet “The Fandom” is a tale of white experience.
Furries of Color deserve to talk about their experiences, their characters, their art / writing / dancing / etc. We deserve to be seen too, and this documentary essentially told us that the fandom doesn’t care and that People of Color were not integral to the evolution of the fandom. White people don’t care. Just as we are marginalized in real daily life, so too are we thrown into the margins of history through this cursory representation. I feel there’s some good representation of trans and queer people in the documentary, but the lack of time given to People of Color is disappointing. If you want a good look at how diverse, colorful, and welcoming our fandom is, this ain’t it. But if that’s not a priority, then I’d definitely recommend it: “The Fandom: [A White History].”