Here’s a damming indictment of the world we live in if ever there was one. What do you expect from a movie called “Geek Girls”? Maybe something like Morgan Spurlock’s “Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” or Zak Penn’s “Atari: Game Over”, celebrating the costumes, stories, props and artists of pop culture and the people who love them. Instead it’s about rape and death threats.
Men, as those other movies celebrate, are free to indulge their love of comics, games and superheroes and embrace their essential misfit nature without fear of judgement, their gender never bought into it. For women, yet another (sometimes violent and scary) gender politics issue is forced on them, and they must be thoroughly sick of it.
Years after the horrors of gamergate, the fact that women have to deal with this kind of thing not just in this day and age but worse than ever because of the schoolyard-like shouting match nature of the internet should make us all deeply angry. That’s especially the case when the people featured in this documentary are trying to take part in something that should have the least bit to do with their sex, and even more so when the women who share their experience are as credible, talented, knowledgeable and exuberant as any man.
Born in Hungary and living in Canada, writer/director Gina Hara explains how she always loved the trappings of geek culture, but because of both the country she was raised in and wider society’s tendency to proscribe roles and interests for women, she grew up feeling slightly guilty and guarded about it.
So “Geek Girls” is her attempt to meet people with similar interests and see how they dealt with the isolation of their passions – or how they’re dealing with the online abuse and hatred they face when they try to express their devotion to games or cosplay.
Hara starts in Japan where she’s startled to find an immense groundswell of geek culture (it’s the home of cosplay, after all, much of it outrageously sexualised), but finds a deep thread of national embarrassment about it despite the staggering numbers of people involved, women in particular singled out if they show their geekdom to the larger world.
Instead she talks to pro gamer Stephanie Harvey, cosplayers Mia Moore and Elisabeth Fallen, African American women’s geek love webmaster Jamie Broadnax and more, all of whom tell her variations of the same disgraceful story. Talking about their particular corner of fandom they light up, swept away with enthusiasm for the tropes, accoutrements and elements. But their faces inevitable fall a little as they talk about the anxiety of their home address being broadcast to legions of haters, message boards full of misspelled, infantile vitriol and more.
In some cases they keep their devotion to geekdom completely separate from their ‘real’ life. Costume enthusiast Elisabeth Fallen explains how nobody she works with knows of her interest for Victorian-era Gothica, having to hide it like a scary terminal disease or criminal record.
The film’s not perfectly structured, skipping back and forth between cons and the private spaces of the subjects with little apparent rhyme or reason. It doesn’t split itself into chapters of a sort that deal with the many issues it tries to unpack, but that slightly lilting quality of drifting throughout the world and lives she showcases was probably Hara’s intent.
The Japan stuff in particular feels like a bit like a DVD extra, not exactly out of place but kind of dropped into the running time in pieces along with the other interviews and ideas. It suits Hara’s thesis about the aberrant treatment of women who love pop culture because it’s a whole country that does so, but it’s a bit like a short film in itself mixed in.
However, “Geek Girls” as a whole couldn’t be a more urgent salvo in the ongoing battle we all have to fight to make everyone feel respected and included in something where other facets of their character – from the colour of their skin to the number of chromosomes they have – should have nothing to do with it.
In reminding you that 80 percent of content online is ill-considered garbage from people who shouldn’t have access to a keyboard, “Geek Girls” will make you slightly regretful the whole internet exists because of the damage it’s caused, but it’s also kind of a call to action. Even if it’s a disagreement, make sure your next online interaction is as polite and respectful as it would be in real life and you’re part of the solution.
Better yet, get in touch with those who took part (Hara explains in the film how the interviews took a huge amount of time to organise and plenty more refused or dropped out at the eleventh hour for fear of further abuse), and congratulate them on their passion, talent and bravery;
writer/director @ginahara_ and subjects https://www.facebook.com/fallenXprincess, @MarikoMcDonald, @missharvey, @JamieBroadnax, http://www.instagram.com/xomiamoore and more.