In Fandom, Now in Color: A Collection of Voices, editor Rukmini Pande brings together a wide-ranging group of authors offering an equally wide-ranging set of essays considering the intersection of fandom and race from a variety of perspectives. They focus on a variety of fans around the world, some of whom are possibly not even fans at all and most of whom are not the usual fan studies subjects. The result is a collection that, while slightly uneven at times, meaningfully expands the definitions of “fans,” “fandom,” and “fan studies” in a way that is both necessary and a logical progression of Pande’s prior scholarship on fandom and race.
Defining race, racism, and racial identity for the purposes of this edited volume, Pande emphasizes that the essays in it “approach these categories as contingent, shifting, and localized” even as they are “structured by a hierarchy of power in the Global North that is progressively being allied with the logics of a globalized white supremacist identity politics” (p. 1). The collection’s definition of “fandom” is similarly situated, acknowledging both the ways in which fandom and fans have been contested by fan studies but also insisting on recognizing the fact that fan studies has constructed white Anglophone fans, particularly those in the United States and United Kingdom, as the unmarked default. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of fan studies scholars have been white, further reinforcing the whiteness of the discipline and relegating scholarship about fandom and race to its sidelines, rather than “making an impact on the foundational texts of fan studies” (p. 4).
The volume is divided into four parts: Methodologies, Otherness, Affirmative/Transformative, and Identity/Authenticity. Methodologies calls for, and demonstrates, the use of tools such as critical race theory and postcolonial theory, not just when considering fans who are marked off as racialized or postcolonial but for any fans, including white ones. Elizabeth R. Hornsby’s “A Case for Critical Methods: Sense Making, Race, and Fandom” uses sense-making methodology to explore “the intersection of racial discourse and the sense-making process of Sleepy Hollow’s fans, most located in the United States,” and finds that “fans from diverse ethnicities brought their experiences, prejudices, and ideological lenses to the fan experience” (p. 19). Sam Pack’s “The Intended vs. the Unintended Audience: Deconstructing Positionality in Fandom” unites reception studies with anthropology by taking an ethnographic approach to the reception of movies about Indigenous people, specifically comparing how two films about forced Navajo relocation (one by a Native filmmaker, one by non-Natives) were received in a college classroom by Anglo students and by a group of Navajo informants, and by examining the reception of two films about Navajo children adopted out to white families among a group of Navajo viewers in an informal setting. As well as actually doing ethnography, Pack’s examination of his Navajo informants as what he calls “an unintended audience” challenges the concept of “fans” and who counts as one. Katherine Anderson Howell interrogates her own attempts to bridge the gap between her privileged position as a white instructor and that of her students of color in “The Absence of Race: Teaching Practices and Inclusion in the Fandom Classroom,” detailing ways in which she succeeded and failed in constructing fandom classrooms informed by antiracist pedagogy, drawing heavily on conversations with students in the courses. Speaking especially to fellow white fan studies scholars, Howell concludes that “our field, our teaching, and our students are better off when we all take on some discomfort” (p. 61).
Otherness considers the ways in which racialized bodies are differently received by fellow fans and others in fandom spaces depending on the ways in which fans’ embodied selves are othered (or not). In “Raceplay: Whiteness and Erasure in Cross-Racial Cosplay,” joan miller examines the possibilities and the problems of cross-racial cosplay, arguing that “at its strongest [it] functions as a Ranciéran moment of politics, prompting a change in the dialogue surrounding race and serving to break the silence of colorblind racism” (p. 67). On the other side of the coin, however, white fans cosplaying as characters of color harkens back to the long history of blackface and fails to make visible “the invisible subject,” the Black and Brown body, thereby failing as a moment of politics. Miranda Ruth Larsen explores the meaning of the K in “K-pop” and other “K-prefixed” media in Japan in “But I’m a Foreigner Too: Otherness, Racial Oversimplification, and Historical Amnesia in Japan’s K-pop Scene.” Larsen examines “the frequent pattern where race is oversimplified within fandom in Japan” (p. 80) in the racial ideology of Japaneseness versus non-Japaneseness, whereby everyone is either Japanese or Other, in what Larsen sums up as “dismissive essentialism” (p. 84). Larsen argues that the ideology of Japaneseness which collapses nationality with race and “ignores the complexity of racial, ethnic, and national identity of individuals—including Japanese citizens themselves” is particularly visible in the transcultural space of Japanese and global K-pop fandom, which has “created a space for changing attitudes, cultural awareness, and transnational connections.” Nevertheless this space cannot be reduced to inherently positive or negative, and deserves to be complicated within fan studies (p. 91).
Affirmative/Transformative expands on and interrogates a typology of fandoms originally articulated by fans themselves and subsequently taken up by fan studies scholars. Angie Fazekas’s “Alpha/Beta/Omega: Racialized Narratives and Fandom’s Investment in Whiteness” argues that “despite claims of progressiveness, there is a significant tension in transformative fandom between its unmet potential to be a space of gender subversion and radical sexual politics and the way it often ends up falling short and falling back on racist narratives,” examining omegaverse stories in general and the subset of them set in slavery alternate universes, which overwhelmingly divorce the institution of slavery from its historical and racial context (p. 96). Fazekas concludes that “The transformative potential of fan fiction is not enough” (p. 107). Indira Neill Hoch looks at the relatively unexamined phenomenon of video game fandom, specifically fan fiction about a canon original female character (OFC) in Dragon Age fandom, in “Fill in the Blank: Customizable Player Characters and Video Game Fandom Practice,” arguing that “OFCs in subcultural fandom practice always constitute a potential threat, particularly in the writing of fan fiction” and that “avoiding any physical description of the OFC serves to mitigate this threat” (p. 109). The legacy of fandom discourse about the Mary Sue character type takes on a particular nuance when the OFC is not white. Samira Nadkarni and Deepa Sivarajan tackle fandom juggernaut Hamilton in “Waiting in the Wings: Inclusivity and the Limits of Racebending,” examining the ways in which its lauded racebending and postracial casting impacted the fandom for the show, producing “a complicated space wherein race bending is employed to erase the importance of acknowledging raced identities and lived experiences, particularly in American contexts” (p. 135). Thus, evidently, “racebending and postracial casting are, by themselves, still not equal to the task at hand” (p. 135). Carina Lapointe looks at the evolving portrayal of race in Dungeons and Dragons in “Understanding Good and Evil: The Influence of Fandom on Overcoming Reductive Racial Representations in Dungeons and Dragons,” examining ways in which players and game contributors have grappled with the racial thinking embedded in the game’s core structure: “Asking these questions has led some players to restructure their own fantasy environments to encourage a more inclusive world and thus work to overcome the racism that has permeated the genre” (p. 148).
Identity/Authenticity examines, in Pande’s phrase, “the kinds of anxiety being articulated in these spaces around fan identity, notions of belonging and communities, ownership of media texts, and ideas of representation” (p. 11). In “Whose Representation Is It Anyway? Contemporary Debates in Femslash Fandoms,” Pande and Swati Moitra look at three current femslash fandoms (The 100, Black Lightning, and Supergirl) and the reception of characters of color and queer characters of color in these spaces, arguing that while “representation matters” it is by no means enough, particularly when the experience of fans of color in fandoms structured by the logics of white supremacy is centered rather than neglected: “These logics are highlighted only in moments of conflict but must be seen as a constant context within which fans of color have to operate even as they seek modes of contingent and tenuous representation” (p. 158). In “Jane the Virgen or Virgin? The Dis-United States of (Latino) Fandom,” Jenni M. Lehtinen examines the disjunctures in reception and media access in Jane the Virgin fandom, specifically predominantly English-speaking Latino fans in the United States and Spanish-speaking fans elsewhere in Latin America, arguing that the fandom fractures along lines of language and ethnicity, leaving the latter group at a disadvantage, and that fan communities “also mimic conflicts in the wider society or even create new ones” (p. 166). McKenna James Boeckner, Monica Flegel, and Judith Leggatt put the familiar anti-diversity grievances of comics fans under the microscope in “Not My Captain America: Racebending, Reverse Discrimination, and White Panic in the Marvel Comics Fandom,” which the authors succinctly summarize as “an alignment of fandom with the divisive political culture in the United States, one that has seen a rise in white supremacist activity since the election of Donald Trump in 2016” (p. 182). Finally, Al Valentín looks at YouTube and its culture of Let’s Plays, in which gamers record themselves playing a video game, along with their commentary, arguing that “discourses of gamer authenticity have gendered and racialized underpinnings that reinforce gamer hegemony and shape gamer humor,” to the detriment of women, POC, and queer and trans gamers who are by definition not the stereotypical straight white male gamer and whose authenticity as gamers is therefore always already in doubt (p. 197). As Valentín notes, “while authenticity may be valued, it is a restrictive way to measure one’s inner feelings of love or affinity with a group” (p. 198). Ultimately, Valentín echoes Pande’s earlier work in calling for in-group membership based on sincerity rather than authenticity, destabilizing the exclusionary hegemonic paradigm.
All in all, this collection packs a punch. Although a few of the essays could do with more extended analysis of their findings, the findings are relevant, and all of the authors who do make more explicit arguments do not shy away from describing things as they are, repeatedly calling out the ways in which the logics of white supremacy continue to structure fandom spaces both online and off. A little more historical context would have been appreciated at a few points—scholars such as Ramzi Fawaz have demonstrated that anti-diversity Marvel fans ignore the spirit and practice of the company’s first several decades; ancestors of Zainichi Koreans in Japan did not all come as forced laborers during the 1930s, and in fact some of them emigrated even before annexation, meaning that their descendants are now sixth or seventh-generation Zainichi—but these are minor quibbles in a collection that ably fulfils its mandate to challenge fan studies as a discipline and demonstrates a myriad of ways in which to move beyond its default whiteness in terms of research and teaching.
In many ways, the collection as a whole is aimed at fan studies scholars, many of whom should perceive some gaps or deficiencies in their previous scholarship (or even pedagogy) as a result of these essays, this writer included. However, the book is certainly relevant and readable for people who aren’t in the field; individual essays would certainly make for thought-provoking course assignments, and individual fans would also do well to read it, whether they are already convinced of fandom’s default whiteness and seek ways to contest it, or whether they are one of the many white fans who either do not see that whiteness or who do not see it as a problem. (One presumes those fans engaging in harassment campaigns against fans of color, and scholars including Pande herself, are beyond the help of an academic essay collection.) All in all, Fandom, Now in Color belongs on shelves besides the classic fan studies texts which its authors interrogate, demonstrating the value of expanding the discipline beyond its previous defaults in terms of authorship, subjects, and methodological approaches.