OTW Guest Post: Annalise Ophelian

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Interviews by Fans
Title: OTW Guest Post: Annalise Ophelian
Interviewer: James Kruk
Interviewee: Annalise Ophelian
Date(s): October 19, 2018
Medium: online
External Links: "OTW Guest Post: Annalise Ophelian". Archived from the original on 2018-12-24.
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OTW Guest Post: Annalise Ophelian is a 2018 interview done as part of a series. See OTW Guest Post.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Looking for Leia (LookingForLeia) a docuseries about girls and women in Star Wars fandom
  • changing fan platforms and generational differences in communication
  • cosplay
  • empowered fangirls
  • "Fandom, I think, represents one of the most unique facets of human nature, which is our capacity to love a story, and to utilize story to help us organize and understand ourselves and the world around us."

Some Excerpts

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

My first contact with fandom was definitely through participating in it. I saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977, loved sci fi and fantasy genre throughout my childhood and adolescence, became a big ST:The Next Generation fan during the “dark period” in the early 90s when we didn’t have new Star Wars, attended conventions, did some low grade collecting. So the landscape of fandom has always been personally familiar to me.

And fanworks have always been a part of that, although in the 90s and in the pre-internet days we found visual art at cons and in comic book shops, and fanfic in paper zines. I always experienced a gender divide in fandom. Comic shops felt like decidedly male domains and I always felt an extra level of scrutiny or testing stepping into those space, although that has happily diminished somewhat over the past few years. The language of fandom and fanworks is largely new to me, and something I’ve learned about in my research for Looking for Leia.

And I love this process, there’s something wonderful about realizing your personal, private experience that you’ve had in relative isolation for most of your life actually has a codified descriptive language and a community of others who share your interests. So in many ways learning more about the history of women’s fan spaces and fanworks has also been about learning about my fan foremothers and understanding what was going on around me in the 80s, 90s and early aughts that I wasn’t aware of.

Your upcoming docu-series, Looking for Leia, focuses the perspective of “fangirls” in a fandom that is often depicted as a boy’s club. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of women in the Star Wars community, and what inspired you to make a documentary about them?

I conceptualized Looking for Leia after attending Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in 2015. It was my first Celebration, and I went there with the same expectations I had of most cons, which was of being sort of adrift in a sea of fanboys. And there were so many more women there than I expected, and so many different kinds of women occupying different spaces than I’d typically seen at other cons. And it left me wondering, who are all these women? Because intellectually of course I knew I wasn’t an anomaly in terms of Star Wars fandom or genre fandom, but emotionally I wasn’t prepared to see anyone else like me. I left that Celebration with a deeper feeling of connection, of finding my people, than I’d had at any other time in my adult life — it was on par with coming out as queer in 1987 and finding my community for the first time.

So I embarked on Looking for Leia out of this initial curiosity, who are some of these women and what is their experience of fandom. And from that it developed into a more historical inquiry and a phenomenological inquiry. Early in my research Tricia Barr (of Fangirlblog.com and Fangirls Going Rogue) did a pre-interview with me and suggested I contact Maggie Nowakowska, who was active in fanzine communities in the 1970s and came to Star Wars fandom from Trek fandom, as many many women did at that time. Maggie had me and the crew over to her house and spoke with me for hours, showed me around her incredible fanzine archive, and that is where I first learned about the breadth and depth of women’s fanwork contributions.

The idea that between 1977 – 1983 there were hundreds, upwards of a thousand fanzines in print, and that 95% of these were edited by and written by women, was mind boggling to me. This is a huge, historic body of work, and it’s such content rich work. These stories show incredible immersion in and devotion to story, the writing is incredibly strong, and it’s prolific stuff. I’m just old enough to have done zines and flyers on mimeograph machines and xerox machines, so the technology of these zines also resonated with me. This is a history that, for the women who were part of it, was hugely significant, it defined women’s communities, relationships, senses of self, it generated a massive amount of creative and critical content, and I was unaware of it until I began research on this project.

Most people I speak with who are outside of communities producing fanworks are shocked when they hear about this body of work, it’s a huge cultural contribution. And of course listening to the stories from early conventions, filk groups, hall costumes, these were spaces where women were actively involved, so it’s ironic and odd that public face of fandom and the popular conception of fandom is being homogeneously white, cisgender, straight men. Our histories are much more diverse than this.

Cosplay is a huge part of the Star Wars fandom. What is the importance of cosplaying to the fangirls you interviewed?

I’ve loved getting to talk with both cosplayers and costumers, and like so much of fandom, there’s really a spectrum of involvement, it’s not just one thing. So I’ve interviewed women who are costumiers and do costuming professionally, who were very much influenced into their careers by their love of Star Wars. And I’ve talked with folks from the charitable costuming organizations. And I’ve spoken with cosplayers who spend incredible amounts of time and money creating epic set pieces, and women who cut up yoga mats and use found items and a hot glue gun to create amazing cosplays.

Across it all, women who’ve done costuming and cosplay have all talked about the role of aesthetic expression, how creating and sharing their work is a unique hybrid of their self-expression and of honoring a character. And of course, I think cosplay and costuming are very forward facing expressions of fandom, they’re bold and visible and recognizable, but also it’s not like the majority of women are out there cosplaying. There are barriers to access and people’s personal comfort level with being hypervisible.

But I love hearing the range of stories. Women talking about the emotional significance of wearing Leia, of interacting with fans, especially children, in convention settings, or in hospital settings for the charitable orgs. And I love hearing costumers talk about how they crack especially difficult costumes, especially in the animation where there aren’t real life seams and zippers, making that leap from a cartoon to reality. I’ve loved hearing the stories of how cosplay has represented an edge, particularly for folks who are race bending or doing cross race and cross gender cosplay, what it means to say “I’m entitled to this character, I have the right to occupy this space in the story and make it fully my own.”

Have you noticed any “generational” differences – changes in attitude, outlook, etc. – by fans who’ve come of age with the Original Trilogy, the Prequels, or the currently-unfolding sequel trilogy?

I think it’s true that at this point in fandom, every generation has a Star Wars story, and that Star Wars becomes your Star Wars. And there’s a huge sense of pride in this, as we edge up on the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace I love seeing the prequel generation go to bat for their Star Wars, in wonderful podcasts like Skytalkers: This Galactic Life and the Prequel Defense Squad.

I conducted 75% of the interviews before The Last Jedi was released, and spending time with this footage I’m so struck by how open and pluralistic my interview participants were about their fandom. People love what they love, sometimes with a passionate fervor. But folks were just as easily able to lay down the parts of the story that didn’t resonate with them without trashing them or the people who loved them. Women loved Star Wars and Star Trek and a ton of other franchises, sometimes conversations would veer far off into Lord of the Rings or Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory. This stereotypical zero sum game, this fanboy stereotype of “Batman vs. Superman, who will win??” simply wasn’t present in the interviews I conducted. And after The Last Jedi came out, I circled back around to some of the women, especially those who loved Luke, and asked “hey, not that this is what we’re focusing on in the series, but how did y’all feel about his character arc?” And folks had really thoughtful and varied responses, none of which involved calling people names or calling for a boycott.