Now that I’m older and can afford a few things here and there, I indulge in Netflix, where I can catch up on nerdy shows, and I was once gifted an entrance to Comic-Con in Buenos Aires.
I’m alive during a time where Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are starring in a Star Wars trilogy, where Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, and Jiang Wen starred in Rogue One, and black boys have someone who looks like them playing Lucas in Stranger Things.
I remember how many of my friends in college loved the X-Files, Star Trek, Anime, and other things it took me years to warm up to because frankly, it’s expensive to be a geek.
I’m a late-blooming geek, in part because of economics. As a kid, I ticked off all the charts. I was always reading, enjoyed biology, mystery, and shows like Goosebumps, but my mom couldn’t afford cable and disapproved of video games. Even if she would’ve been okay with them, I doubt she could’ve afforded a console for me when I wanted one. I was a big fan of Will Smith (I consider him a geek icon because of how many films he’s made about saving us from aliens), Steven Spielberg, and Robert Zemeckis. I loved The Goonies, and bought every LOTR book when my parents were able to afford them.
Growing up few women and men of color portrayed as super heroes with substantial roles, and that’s slowly changing. A lot of discussion occurs around the lack of people of color in Hollywood, and yet women of color have yet to be substantially featured in many series that enjoy the fandom of geeks. Perhaps that’s why it hurt so much when Sense8 was cancelled, because their women of color and LGBTQ characters had depth. One of the main characters wasn’t just a trans actress, but a trans actress who was being directed by someone who understood her journey and significance, and even though much of Nomi Marks’ character arc relied on her background, we were offered a whole person, and not just a stereotype.
The journey to being a geek is an expensive one for people of color. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the sci-fi, anime, and comics that came before us. Could they all use diversity? Yes, but they’re also a hobby for the privileged. The average comic book costs $3.99, and graphic novels or special editions are even more expensive.
When people talk to me and see how much I now enjoy stuff like Marvel films, geek franchises, shows such as Black Mirror, and 3%, they often assume I grew up reading comics and that I’m an avid collector. (I didn’t, and I’m not.)
Buying the merchandise, comic books, posters, film tickets, and cable packages that entitle you to everything there is to know about the geek world is an expensive price. Obviously, having these hobbies isn’t necessary, but representation absolutely is. In today’s polarized era, the only exposure some people get to a person that’s of a different world view is through film, television, videos, or other forms of media.
This is not to say that diversity is the cure for everything. All persons who belong to a historically oppressed group don’t always agree. There are still many women who make a career out of supporting men whose power is detrimental to women, such as Ann Coulter and Kellyanne Conway. There are still Trump supporters who feed into the negative stereotypes white supremacy continues to perpetuate (such as the taco truck on every corner guy).
Latina women earn an estimated 54% of what white heterosexual men earn, and it’s something I constantly bring up in white feminist spaces, because they forget that there’s still a large wage gap between women of color and white women. But it’s also something I have to bring up with fellow geeks, who walk into my apartment and see no posters, comic books, or paraphernalia that would make into their definition of a true geek. I can’t even afford to go to every film screening I want to, and it’s because we basically earn half of what white men earn..
It’s not that I expect the comic book, film and TV industries to drastically decrease their costs, but it would be great if they address economic inequality firsthand in some way. Though many TV stations such as HBO, NBC, and others offer diversity fellowship programs, such fellowships leave us competing for breadcrumbs. Data by Dr. Stacy L. Smith at USC Annenberg shows that women of color, LGBT characters, and women directors are still poorly represented in the film and TV industries.
I know a lot about the history of Stan Lee, George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and the many other geeks who came up with franchises that are profitable, fun, and an important part of understanding the world through pop culture. I just can’t really afford to own the stuff they make, or watch everything that’s inspired by them.
I don’t blame the writers, artists, or filmmakers for these expenses, and consider myself privileged to even be thinking about this, when so many others are struggling to put food on the table. I also don’t blame my background or my parents for not being able to indulge me, since geekdom is great, but not essential.
I do; however, implore the comic, TV, film, and other creative industries to consider that their meager attempts to dole out extremely selective fellowships are not working, and to be involved in more systemic changes. Otherwise, it’ll continue to be expensive to be a geek, and it will be take for oppressed peoples to represent themselves in some of the most powerful forms of communication on the planet.
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