Toxic masculinity no match for saber-wielding Leia fan

This has been a summer in which the Star Wars fandom seems more divided than ever. The geek community has been forced to confront an alarming amount of toxic masculinity bubbling up from below the surface, whether in the form of “Last Jedi” haters calling for the firing of Kathleen Kennedy or fanboys actually crying over a “Fanboy Tears” mug.

So I’m kinda overjoyed that the next installment of the Geek Goddess interviews is a two-parter, featuring founders and co-admins of the Facebook group Saber Maidens, a refreshingly fierce, optimistic, and inclusive support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication.

In Part 1, we meet Celeste Joy Greer Walker, an OG, lifetime Star Wars fan who saw “Episode IV” in 1977 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with her parents (who sound amazing). The story of how she cried when the movie ended because she wanted to see it again almost had me in tears, as did many moments in this interview. 

Celeste describes Star Wars as her life’s foundation and she’s immersed herself in the galaxy far, far away in inspiring ways. As a child, she began dressing up as Princess Leia, created her own costumes from thrift store finds, and once crafted a lightsaber from her bicycle’s handlebar grip (much to her Dad’s chagrin).

As an adult, she’s a member of saber dueling organization Saber Legion, is involved in several saber dueling clubs and competes in tournaments, makes her own costumes, considers Carrie Fisher a role model, and also embraces Harry Potter and steampunk. 

Celeste serves up an impressive amount of Jedi-like wisdom when it comes to subjects like misogyny within the Star Wars fandom, a certain Rose Tico quote, advice on raising awesome geek children, and all the “Last Jedi” hate. 

(Next week, come back for Part 2, featuring Celeste’s co-founder and co-admin, Pat Yulo.)

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

You’re an admin and co-founder of the Facebook group Saber Maidens. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, what is Saber Maidens about?

We have a formal definition on our Facebook page that we spent a lot of time debating about. What it comes down to is Saber Maidens is different things for different people. Some fans come to it for costuming support, some for choreography support, some for lightsaber support.

How did the group come to be founded?

Right now, there’s a lot of machismo in Star Wars fandom. That has not always been the case!  But the most macho of machismo is in Star Wars lightsaber-centric groups. A lot of lightsaber fans come from martial sport and there is traditionally still a lot of separation of the genders.

I made my first lightsaber from an old flashlight, my bicycle handlebar grip, and a copper pipe. I was 10. My dad was annoyed that I disfigured my brand new handlebar grip.

My interest in lightsabers ebbed in 2012 … and I began my journey into the Star Wars lightsaber fandom. Even in San Francisco there was not a lot of room for non-heterosexual males. A lot has changed since 2012.

But when I started I was often the only non-male in the class. I was mistaken for someone’s girlfriend, someone’s mother … my saber comrades found it hard to believe that I was a Star Wars lightsaber mega fan! Some were in such disbelief that a creature like me could exist (cis-female hetero Star Wars lightsaber mega fan) that they ignored me entirely, like I did not exist.

Celeste Joy Greer Walker and Saber Maidens co-founder and co-admin Pat Yulo.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder of Saber Maidens?

I post or repost things that I think would be interesting to other lightsaber enthusiasts. I also give a lot of encouragement to those who are first getting into the costuming and choreography aspect of Star Wars fandom.

I’m also working on trying to reinvigorate the martial sport of saber combat dueling for non-male individuals. That’s going to be a slow road because there’s so much stigma even in coed martial sports… Groups like LudoSport and Saberist Academy are making an effort to encourage a coed atmosphere. But there are still a lot of roadblock, often from well-intended men who think they’re being inclusive because they let you be there. That, unfortunately, is not the same as respect.

Saber Maidens has a public page but it’s a closed group with more than 50 members. That’s pretty large for a closed group!

I used to know everyone that was involved. I met them at a convention or at costuming choreography meetups. But now there’s a lot of people from all over the place. And Saber Maidens is maturing into a group to be very proud of.

The Saber Maidens motto is “saving the galaxy one stitch at a time.” What was the inspiration for that slogan?

We had been going back and forth about it for a while. We must have had 200 or 300 ideas. I am probably exaggerating a little. But that came together very organically. I think one of us was cross stitching Star Wars characters and there were some jokes about “A Stitch in Time,” and then it escalate and before I knew it, there it was.

Why a group for just women? I think some men might assume (quite wrongly) that women aren’t interested in lightsabers.

Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaahaha.

Just a minute. I’m almost finished laughing and then I can answer your question.

You said, “some men.” Even men who identify as feminist can become protective of their lightsaber man space with an Imperialistic authority.

And more importantly, we’re trying to be more inclusive than just women. There’s a lot of people who identify in a lot of different ways who get left out of the conversation when it becomes machismo dominant.

Your members belong to a diverse array of Star Wars costuming groups, including Rebel Legion, the 501st, Mandalorian Mercs, and Saber Guild. That sounds so fun! What’s that like?

It is a privilege to have a costume that is accepted by one or all of these groups where you can go out and represent Lucasfilm to the public. I’m very proud of the volunteer work I have been able to do as a member. But we have quite a few Saber Maidens who participate purely for the love of lightsabers and the love of Star Wars and for whatever reason don’t want to be members of the costuming clubs.

Are you a member of any of these groups?

I have an approved costume with Saber Guild. I also served as costume coordinator and  local assistant director for Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. Currently, I’m representing a Saber Guild outpost in the high desert of central California. I’m also working on approval for several costume with Rebel Legion.

But, of course, what’s first on my to-finish list will be the Jedi Leia (costume) from Empire Infinities.

What’s your personal involvement in the “saber arts”?

I first got involved with a little group in the Bay Area. We eventually evolved into the group that is now Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. My first performance with Saber Guild was at the 2012 San Diego International Comic-Con.

Celeste with the Saber Guild at San Diego Comic-Con.

I’ve also been involved in several saber dueling clubs. I was the first woman in the Bay Area Saber Legion Charter. I was also one of two women who competed in the first International Saber Legion tournament. I’m very proud of that. The martial sport of saber dueling is so very, very different than choreography and cosplay.

What I do with Saber Guild dressed as a Jedi librarian is more like dancing with my Sith opponent. Combative martial sports with lightsabers is more like aggressive speed dating.

Celeste sports a Hat for House Elves.

Do you do a lot of costume making? If so, what Star Wars costumes have you built or put together? Where did you learn the skills required for that?

I started putting together costumes and dressing as Princess Leia at 5. As a child, I did Ren Faires. And I had a dress-up trunk in my room. Why wait for Halloween dress-up when you can dress up all year long? A lot of my early costumes were purchased pieces combined with thrift store finds. I didn’t do much original fabrication until that last five years.

I didn’t learn how use a sewing machine until I was in my early 30s. I started making hats and Harry Potter cosplay. In 2015, one of the other founding Saber Maiden’s, Mary Fischer-Boyd, took me under her wing and really showed me the art of Jedi and Sith costuming. Mary and Pat have a panel they do at many of the cons in the Bay Area, “How to Dress as a Jedi.” The both showed me the ways of the Jedi robe making.

Celeste, front row, second from left, at a Saber Legion meetup.

What do you enjoy most about it?

The hospital visits that I have done have been the most rewarding and memorable adventures. Star Wars was an escape for me when I was growing up. Haha … it still is an escape for me. And I think it is for a lot of people. I just really enjoy that I can set all the mundane stuff aside, the real life stuff, and just give myself permission to play. I feel really fortunate that I had parents who nurtured my passions and interests.

There were some horrible things that happened to me in my childhood. Without going into the unpleasant details, I’ll just say that I really over-identify with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Star Wars and Carrie Fisher have helped me find balance in my day to day struggles as a survivor of rape with PTSD.

When I am in costume, I love to see the adults come out of their shell. Not everybody had my mother and father, not everybody had a costume trunk when they were kids. Some kids don’t get to be kids. And playing is a learned behavior. If you never learned how to play as a child then you really should learn how to play as an adult. Like Mark Hamill said, “Learning to play is cheaper than therapy.”

Celeste at Star Wars Celebration 2017.

Saber Maidens members sometimes meet for “crafternoon get-togethers” to work on projects and hang out. Tell me about those meetups.

Sometimes we actually get sewing projects done. But there’s also a lot of consultation like, “This is what I’m working on, this is the problem, how would you solve it?” There’s also support, like when you’re costuming a lot of body issues come up, so we support each other around exercise and diet and health problems. And we remind each other to be kind to ourselves.

I think the best thing about it is that there’s such a broad base and we try and include both costuming and choreography. Some of our members find it difficult to do choreography and learn choreography in a machismo atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong most of the guys are great, but it only takes one bad egg to stink up the kitchen.

Once I was working with a student who just felt too embarrassed to work on choreo in a coed environment. So having a place to practice, a place where you can get over all of your insecurities and play, I think that’s really what our crafting/saber meetups are about. Being a community.

Could you briefly explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion or Saber Guild?

All of the costumed organizations have their own set of costuming rules so it can be challenging.

The first thing to do is to be in contact with your local costume advisor or coordinator or director.

People often want to do a big fancy costume first. I discourage this. Do the simple basic generic non-face character costume first. Figure out all the bells and whistles and hoops you have to jump through because most likely your costume is not going to get approved the first time around. Then when you’ve done the generic, you can delve into a more complicated costume.

Celeste as Princess Leia in 1987.

You’ve been a Leia fan since childhood. How were you affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I was deeply affected! I remember when I read the news I was standing in my kitchen and I laid down on the floor and I cried, and then I called in sick.

Carrie Fisher put her struggles out there, her attitude was f*** them if they didn’t understand. She has been and still is a role model to me. That brazen honesty, that internal strength is something I still admire about Carrie Fisher.

You saw Star Wars at the age of 5 in the summer of ’77 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Tell me about your memories and first impressions of that.

My vivid memory … The movie was over and I was told I had to leave and I didn’t want to leave. And I remember shuffling my feet and staring at the carpet. And then I started to cry as I wanted to see it again. My Dad picked me up and one of the ushers in the fancy hats said, “You will get to see it again.” I have seen it 100 times. I dreamed that night of Death Stars and princesses wielding lightsabers.

Your mom was a DC Comics and sci-fi fan who raised you on Doctor Who, Star Trek, and classic monster movies. How did that shape you?

I grew up living this stuff. My mother is 87. Her favorite gift for her birthday this year was Wonder Woman sheets. Fandoms transcend age. I’ve never known anything else. When I became an adult and started meeting people who had never seen Star Wars and didn’t know who Doctor Who was, that was culture shock for me.

At home, It wasn’t seen as a childish thing. The idea that people had that I would somehow grow out of my love of Star Wars was extremely foreign to me. I’m 47 now, so any friends that I used to have that were hoping I’d grow out of it have moved on or they’ve gotten used to it.

Celeste and R2-D2 at the 10th anniversary Star Wars convention.

You saw Star Wars again in ’87 for its 10th anniversary and your parents came with you. What was that like?

We weren’t there just to see the movie. It was a four-day convention. But that was when my dad realized that Star Wars was more than just a kids movie. I think I was the only high school student there and the only fan there with their parents. Most of the people were aspiring filmmakers. I made quite a few friends … lost track of most of them over the years. We didn’t have Facebook back then.

What is it about the Star Wars universe that continues to intrigue and inspire you after all these years?

I’m a Star Wars mega fan. It’s my foundation. I cannot imagine not having Star Wars in my life. Being this deep into a franchise is kind of like being attached to the place you grew up. Some people leave their hometown. Some people take their hometown with them wherever they go. And some people stay right there their whole life. That’s what Star Wars is for me.

There’s a Rose Tico quote on the Saber Maidens page — “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I found this interesting in light of the fact that the Star Wars fandom seems to have gotten nasty recently with all the “Last Jedi” hate and arguing about the “Solo” movie, petitions to remake the film, and calls for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired. What are your thoughts about that?

Wow, that’s a question, so you want me to write a book right?

The Rose Tico quote is a repeated theme within the Star Wars mythos. It’s just the first time that it was put into those words and said by someone who is not a man.

Luke had a very similar line in “Return of the Jedi” when he told Vader he would not fight him in the Emperor’s throne room and when the Death Star was exploding all around Luke is helping his father die with dignity, which I think was one of the first on-screen euthanasias. ”I have to save you.”

Anakin replayed, “You already have.” Vader came back to the light when he stopped fighting what he hated, the Empire and started fighting for what he loved, his son.

I think the Star Wars haters are very insecure people who receive some sort of emotional satisfaction through the act of complaining. If they don’t like it they should just watch a different movie. Or better yet, if they really, actually, truly love Star Wars then they should go make their own Star Wars movie or go write their own fanfiction. This franchise is alive because that’s what people did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s when there wasn’t anything.

Star Wars is a huge universe. Make it bigger, make it better, talk to your therapist and take your medication. At least I think that’s what Carrie Fisher would tell people.

Celeste at San Diego Comic-Con in 2003.

There also still seems to be a fair amount of misogyny in the Star Wars fandom. Have you encountered any of that?

Is there sand on Jakku?

We live in a sexist, misogynistic, bigoted society and at one time or another we’re all guilty of something. I would like to think that Star Wars fans are more enlightened. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Percentage-wise I think there is less misogyny and sexism then there was in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But I think the Star Wars fandom has changed and there is actually more misogyny now than there was in 1987.

One of the questions that George Lucas was asked in 1987 at the 10th anniversary convention was, “Why aren’t there more female characters in Star Wars?”

His answer was something to the effect that Star Wars was a war movie and women didn’t belong in war movies. There was a resounding unified “booooo” from the entire audience. I’m not sure an answer like that would get a “boo” now. There are men out there who seem to think it’s the feminist agenda that has ruined their franchise.

What are some of your other fandoms?

I used to be big into classic “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buck Rogers,” but that’s only because it reminded me of Star Wars. As an adult I’ve been fascinated by Harry Potter and the entire steampunk Star Wars mashups stuff.

You’ve done costuming in the Harry Potter fandom and Steampunk genre. Tell me more about some of the other costumes you’ve done.

I really like capes! I have a closet full of capes that would astound even Lando Calrissian. Unfortunately, not many Jedi wear capes and neither does Leia.

You’re a single mom with a 23-year-old son who’s also a geek. Any advice on how to raise amazing geek children?

Figure out what they like and immerse them in it. Don’t force them to like your franchise. Ask them to explain their favorite franchise to you.

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

And now, a few Star Wars questions.

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

Star Wars Holiday Special. Just kidding. “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Besides Leia, who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker, Duchess Satine.

Favorite droid?

L3-37, Lando’s droid in “Solo.”

Lightsaber color?

I have plans for making a paisley lightsaber.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I’m Porg neutral. But very fond of Lepis. And I feel adamant that Jaxxon should replace the Easter Bunny.

If someone wanted to join Saber Maidens, how would they go about it?

Like us on Facebook and just start participating in the conversation.

Funko Pop! photographer finds her niche in Polish pop culture scene

After posting a fairly nondescript photo of my husband’s new Enfys Nest Funko Pop! on Instagram, I discovered the wonderful world of Pop! photography, courtesy of up-and-coming young artist Klaudia Sebastian.

So many of us have become obsessed with our collections of these irresistibly geeky figures, it’s only fitting that some creative and enterprising photogs would begin showcasing them to spectacular effect in clever or idyllic settings.

Judging by social media, Pop! photography is definitely a thing in the U.S., but Klaudia says it isn’t as popular in the small city she calls home in Poland. There, she’ll hop on her bike with her cell phone and a backpack full of Pops and put the gorgeous natural scenery that surrounds her to good use as a backdrop.

As Klaudia has discovered, Pops make ideal photographic subjects. Whether they be stars of Game of Thrones, “Jurassic Park”-era Jeff Goldblum, the cast of The Walking Dead, or popular video game characters, they never fidget or complain and the photographer maintains complete control over the shoot.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Klaudia about the pop culture scene in Poland (they have “The Last Jedi” haters, too), her childhood love of Star Wars, how her mom got her into Game of Thrones, her affection for “Walking Dead” villain Negan, and the six years she spent training in the sport of football (soccer). 

As a bonus, she schooled me about legendary German industrial metal band Rammstein. 

You can see Klaudia’s strikingly composed Pop! pics and follow her photographic exploits on her Insta, @geekoza. If you read Polish, you can also check out her blog.

Your Instagram, @geekoza, features wonderful photos of Funko Pops posed in natural settings or against colorful and creative backdrops. How did you first get the idea to capture these images?

I started taking photos of my Pops when I heard about a competition which was organized by popvinyl.pl. In this competition you could win Pops figures. I decided to take part in this competition. Why not? I really got to like taking photos of Pops figures in different environments, everywhere I thought it would be nice.

What was the first Funko Pop photo you took?

The first Pops figure I took a photo of is C-3PO with red arm from “The Force Awakens.” I put him on a Christmas tree and then I took a photo by my mobile phone. I think that it looks nice.

Apparently, Funko Pop! photography is a big thing. I wasn’t aware of that! Do you interact with any other Pop photographers?

Taking photos of Pops figures isn’t a big deal for everybody. I think in Poland just a few people are interested in this. Moreover, I think that none are doing this in a professional way. And no, I don’t cooperate with anybody. I am trying to do better and better photos just by (and for) myself. It’s a hobby for me, a hobby which includes taking photos and collecting Pops figures.

Do you have a background or training in photography?

No, I’m self-taught. I’ve liked taking photos for ages. I was taking photos of everything, no matter if it was picturesque landscapes or normal mugs. Every photo I’ve made I took with my mobile phone. I don’t have any professional equipment but I hope that someday I will have that.

You’ve been a collector of Funko Pops since 2017. How many Pops do you have in your collection?

I bought my first Pops figure in November 2017 at Comic Con in Warsaw. It was a Negan (from “The Walking Dead”) figure. At the present moment, I have 33 figures in my collection. Maybe it is not a lot, but my collection is constantly growing.

What are some of your favorite or most prized Pops?

My favorite Pops figure is lying down Malcolm from “Jurassic Park.” The figure is different from others, it’s special. The most valuable Pops figures are Night King from Game of Thrones — limited edition from Summer Convention (2017) — and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars — limited edition from Galactic Convention (2017).

Where do you tend to get your Pops from?

Almost all of my Pops figures I bought on popvinyl.pl. Usually I get them one day after I bought them. Also, I am sure that all of my figures will be packed and delivered in a perfect way. A lot of figures I got from GameShop from Germany. In Poland there are few shops which have Funko figures.

Where do you keep your Funko Pops?

All my Pops are sorted out on the shelves in my room. I will be moving out soon so I am going to buy a special cabinet for them.

Tell me about the process of setting up a Funko Pop shot. Is it a lot of work or is it more of a fast, spontaneous thing?

Most of the photos I took very spontaneously. I usually take a bike and go ahead with a few Pops in my backpack. I have many beautiful places around my house. I had to prepare a little bit more to take the last photo of Malcolm. I had to prepare, e.g. accessories. Overall, almost all of my photos I took spontaneously.

A lot of your photos feature beautiful natural settings, which is kind of unexpected. Why do you like to shoot them outside?

I’ve always liked to photograph outside. The natural light looks really good in the pictures. And the Pops look great surrounded by plants.

Why photograph Pops, as opposed to something else? What do you like about it?

I think that taking photos of Pops figures is much easier than taking photos of humans or animals. This figure will not move. I can put it in an environment that I choose, in a pose that I want. Probably I like the most control of the situation. I decide what to do and anyone else can’t complain, haha.

You’re building a following for your Instagram. How have people on social media reacted to your photos?

People react really great! They added nice comments, left a lot of likes. It probably means that they like it, right? I want every geek to find something on my profile. It does not matter if he/she is a Star Wars fan or Games of Thrones fan.

You live in a small city in Poland. What is the pop culture scene like there? Are people as crazy about fandoms as they are in America?

I think that in Poland it is a different mindset than in the USA. Of course, in Poland you have a lot of fans of pop culture but you also have people who don’t like those fans of pop culture. Maybe I am wrong. I hope so. I am sooo happy that in Poland we have more and more events for geeks, eg. games fair, Comic Cons … we have progress here!

How did you become interested in fandoms and geek culture?

I think I liked superheroes from childhood. It’s been developing all the time, next movies, more comics, gadgets. I always watched all the movies with my parents and they probably instilled this love of geek culture in me.

A lot of your Pops are from the series Game of Thrones. How did you discover the show? What do you love about it?

A few years ago, my mom told me about this series. She said that everybody was talking about it and it probably is awesome. Something that has so many good opinions cannot be bad. I saw the first episode but I didn’t get the “awesome” of it. It was okay. After the second episode I got why this is such a super series and I started to love it. No regrets! In GoT, I like most the fact that we can’t be sure 100%. This series engrosses us. This is what I like about it.

Who’s your favorite GOT character?

Jaime Lannister. Definitely. The Lannister’s line appealed to me. I like villains. People sometimes take some things too seriously. I went to Warsaw to Comic Con last year. I met Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon) and I could talk with him for a minute. He said that some people threatened him just because he had a villain role. In real life he is very nice person!

Klaudia and Jack Gleeson, who played Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones, at Warsaw Comic Con.

Do you have to wait in Poland as long as we do in the U.S. for the final season?

Unfortunately, yes. We have to wait until 2019 to see the final season. Let’s hope that it is worth waiting and the last season will be amazing.

Star Wars is another fandom that pops up in your photos. I notice you’ve photographed Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian a lot. Is he one of your favorites?

I think that Donald Glover played the best part in “Solo.” His Lando is really close to the original Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams). From the newest Disney movies, “Solo” is one of my favorites.

Tell me about your Star Wars memories. How did you first get into George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

I was a 6- or 7-year-old-girl. Every Saturday I used to watch Star Wars with my dad and his friend. Every single part, one by one. Sometimes we were watching a few movies without any break.

What’s your favorite Star Wars movie or story?

Maybe I am not original, but my favorite movie is Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back.” I think that is the best George Lucas film if we are talking about plotline.

Are people in Poland as angry about “The Last Jedi” as they are in the U.S.?

Yes, many people think that Disney destroyed Star Wars. Some people are exaggerating. I think Disney made a mistake in making movies every year. This is too much and it is not healthy.

You often pose your Pops with books. I’m assuming you’re a bookworm. What are some of your favorites?

Maybe I would not call myself a bookworm but, yes, I like to read. The series about Geralt of Rivia (that inspired “The Witcher” video game) is my favorite. I really enjoy reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s books (author of “The Witcher” books). I think he is a master in his profession. Recently, one of my favorite books is Leopoldo Gout’s “Genius: The Game.”

There are also a lot of video game references in your photos. How long have you been gaming?

I started to play as a child. My first console was PlayStation 1. I seriously started playing in 2013 when the new console hit the stores — PlayStation 4. I do not do it professionally. I play in my spare time. I treat it as a hobby.

What games are you currently playing?

Nowadays, I’m playing “The Witcher” and “Call of Duty”. Sometimes I still have a chance to play FIFA and “Star Wars Battlefront II.”

You’re a fan of “The Walking Dead.” What do you enjoy most about that series?

I have been watching this series for several years. I love the characters in it. In early seasons, their roles were really well written. Now I am watching it more with sentiment and great love for Negan.

What’s your survival strategy for the zombie apocalypse?

I think the best option is to find a village with high walls to prevent zombies from getting inside. The weapons and supplies of food are also important. I think that the best chance of survival would be in a small group.

You like both Marvel and DC. Do you read the comics or watch the movies or both?

That’s true, I like Marvel and DC. But Marvel a little bit more. I read comics and watch movies and TV series. I really like superheroes.

Any favorites?

I do not think I have a favorite comic of DC or Marvel. I read a lot of them and I like them all. However, my favorite comic is “The Walking Dead.” This comic book is the best in my opinion. And from movies, it’s probably “The Avengers.”

You’re also into Jurassic Park. Are you a fan of the original movies or the reboots or both?

This is a very similar situation to Star Wars. I like both but the original films were better, more fresh. Now it is only a repetition of one scheme.

Jeff Goldblum has been a favorite Pops photo subject for you. I have a feeling he would approve.

Definitely, the figurine versions of Jeff Goldblum are my favorites. He is a great actor! I’m very happy that he recently got his own Hollywood star. Better late than never!

You said that “music is basically my life” and you’re particularly obsessed with German heavy metal band Rammstein. Tell me more!

That’s true. Music is my life. I listen to music every time when I am able to do it. Actually Rammstein is not heavy metal. This band plays industrial metal. Actually, they created a new type of metal — Neue Deutsche Härte. I started to love this band when I was 8 years old. My dad was listening to Rammstein’s album “Rosenrot” then. To the present day, I’ve seen Rammstein live twice. It was a big experience for me. Now I am waiting for their new album and new tour.

You’re also a big fan of football (soccer). Have you been watching the World Cup?

Of course, I’m watching! Unfortunately, the two teams which are the closest to my heart have already managed to say goodbye to this tournament. Neither Germans nor Poles have been promoted. I think that now I will cheer on Mexico.

You’ve been training in the sport for six years. Tell me more about that.

I’ve been training in football for six years. Now I can’t play due to my ankle injury. The doctor said that I can’t play anymore. I have been playing only with boys because then I was the only girl playing. I have been a captain for some time! Maybe it was the best six years of my life and I regret that I cannot play football any more.

What’s the state of women’s football in Poland? What’s your experience been like as a woman in the sport?

In Poland, women’s football is in progress. There are more and more girls’ teams! I’m so happy about it. More men started to respect women who are playing this sport. I am lucky for being on a team who doesn’t care about my sex. Football is my favorite sport and always, when I am thinking about this sport, I have only good connotations.

Would you ever want to make a career out of photography or even Funko Pop! photography?

I’ve never thought about it seriously. At the moment this is my hobby. If I ever could make a career in photography, I would be really happy because taking photos is what I love to do!

Are there any rare or unusual Pops you’d like to add to your collection?

I think that one of the rare Pops figures I would like to add to my collection is the limited Indiana Jones from San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Of course, there are many Pops that I would like to have in my collection. But I think my collection will grow day by day.

 

For crafter/gamer, geek culture provides creative outlet, bonding time with sons

One of the most perfect gifts I’ve ever received is a custom-made Star Wars diaper bag that is a rare combination of adorable, totally geeky, and not-too-girly. My daughter is now 4 years old and this amazing bag still hangs in my hall closet, where I often gaze at it wistfully. I don’t think I’ll ever part with it.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been wanting to introduce you to the creator of this best diaper bag of all the best diaper bags ever. Her name is Sarah Vroman and she’s a dazzlingly versatile crafter, artist, photographer, video gamer, burgeoning musician, and mom to three wonderful geek boys (who also happen to be my nephews).

Her geeky wares have included a series of striking bags, influenced by everything from “Sherlock” to Pac-Man, as well as jewelry, pillows and home decor items, cross stitch and, most recently, sweaters inspired by knitting maven and “Jessica Jones” star Krysten Ritter. 

Raised in New York as part of a family that prized a love of science, technology, art, and imagination, Sarah was introduced to the exciting world of geeky entertainment options when she first read Douglas Adams.

The Atari and Legend of Zelda ushered her into the endless possibilities of gaming, a passion that grew after she began playing Borderlands and personal favorite Fallout with her sons. The family also enjoys cosplaying, going to comic cons, and trying out new hobbies.

Below, Sarah chats about how gaming has changed for girls, her favorite Batman, tips for taking kids to cons, why she’s a music geek first, what it’s like to love “dead” fandoms, and why she’s just not into Star Wars.

Pssst … If you’re really nice to her, maybe you can talk her into making you a Star Wars diaper bag, too. 

You’re a geeky crafter and video gamer who is raising three geek boys. When would you say your life as a geeky truly began?

When I was a preteen in the early ’90s, my interests were so very typical: I listened to New Kids on the Block, watched “Saved By the Bell,” and read “The Babysitters Club” books. It took some time but my dad and brother convinced me to try something new — reading “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Up until that point, I don’t think I had any idea that entertainment could actually be entertaining. This moment changed everything for me. From then on I read everything my brother recommended: “Jane Eyre,” “King Lear,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “I, Robot.” This was also the time frame that Tim Burton’s “Batman” and the original “Jurassic Park” were in the theater, and Pearl Jam and Nirvana were on MTV. What a time to be alive!

You come from a family of techies. Does this have something to do with your geekier tendencies?

I have a love of science and technology. The world is still struggling to convince girls that it’s not only ok but awesome for them to love these things. When I was a kid I was definitely a weirdo to some for embracing tech.

In New York, when you’re on the honors track you get to choose which school you go to and apply to them starting in junior high. It was decided for me that I should be applying to the schools specializing in honors level general ed or the one specializing in art. Nobody within the educational system was happy when I chose the school specializing in technology.

But in my house, technology was always celebrated in a way that made it  obvious how important it was. It was accessible and made the whole world accessible. It was the future — which is why that particular school was aptly named “School of the Future.”

All of science begins with imagination. And science fiction takes science beyond what is currently possible to inspire advancement and make the impossible possible.

You once made me the most perfect, most awesome Star Wars diaper bag as a baby shower gift — I still have it! — and you created and sold geek-themed bags on Etsy. How did you begin doing that?

I started selling bags on Etsy because I had more designs in my head than I had room for in my own closet. For the most part, when I had an idea for what I or a loved one wanted, I would make two or three and sell the superfluous ones on Etsy.

I got this cheesy idea to name my bags after favorite literary characters or places. My first bag was named “The Baker Street Bag,” then I had “The Prefect Tote,” and “The Emma Bag.” But actually designing for geeks was because of that amazing Star Wars bag I made for you! I made two extras to sell and they were both gone in 24 hours. To this day, it’s my most popular pin on Pinterest and I still get requests to make them again.

Tell me about some of the other bags you made.

My favorite bag that I made for myself was a “Sherlock”-inspired bag. It was a small messenger bag. For the flap, I used fabric that was identical to the wallpaper Sherlock drew the happy face on. I remember being terrified putting the happy face on the fabric because after all the work of making the bag I was about to risk destroying it if something went wrong with the fabric paint I was using. But it came out perfect.

Another of my favorites was a large messenger I designed for my son. I found a great Pac Man fabric and appliqued a Pac Man onto the flap.

How did you learn to sew and what sparked your interest in crafting?

I grew up in a house where art was encouraged. At first, I thought artistic ability was something that had skipped me because my brothers were so naturally inclined. But I watched my mom doing cross stitch and thought I could do at least that. I now have a belief, using myself as evidence, that artistic ability is something that can be learned.

I learned to draw and paint well enough to be sent on scholarship to the children’s program at Pratt Art Institute. I now have it set in my mind that anything I want to do is something that I can absolutely do! So, over the years I’ve indulged in SO many arts/crafts — yarn, sewing, scrapbooking, watercolor and — most surprising to me — guitar and ukulele.

When I got married, my mom gave me her old sewing machine. At the time I would joke, “But I can’t even sew a straight line.” That machine sat in my closet for probably five years before I discovered “Project Runway.” In the early years of the show they focused more on the artistry and technique than on the drama. I watched as the designers would design patterns by putting red tape on mannequins representing where seams should be. Seeing the deconstructed process suddenly gave me this thought — I can do that.

As a lover of pop culture, I also happen to be a Barbie collector. The season that thought occurred to me happened to be the one that Robert Best was on. He’s a renowned Barbie designer. This gave me the idea that sewing for Barbie was a great place to start. And I started without patterns. I often work backward in art. I just start with no research or education, then gather the information on an as-needed basis. It’s not how I teach my kids to learn because it makes it more difficult, but it seems to work for me.

What other geeky craft items have you created in the past and what do you enjoy about this creative outlet?

For a minute I got into jewelry making. I made TARDIS necklaces and had plans for “Sherlock”-inspired wearable crafts. My favorite recent geek crafts are my Legend of Zelda Wi-Fi passcode cross stitch and pillows made from geek shirts that were either the wrong sizes or thought to be destroyed. I’ve come to the conclusion that as someone who doesn’t wear jewelry, jewelry making is not for me. But making items to add geeky touches to my home are right up my alley.

I understand that, like many crafters, you left Etsy after a policy change that made operating a small shop difficult. How did that experience affect you?

My store was never doing great volume. I’m only one person with only so much time in the day for hobbies. At any given time I would have maybe ten items in my store. But those items sold quickly. I knew it was going to be bad news for small sellers the minute Etsy started trading publicly. It was really fast that they changed their policy to allow large manufacturers to sell on the site designed for homemade wares like an online craft fair.

The impact on my store was instant. The new algorithm favored stores with large inventories. My items were buried under high quantity, lower quality, less expensive, not handmade items. Suddenly, all of my items were just sitting there while I was still paying listing fees. It was disheartening and eventually I made the decision let my store go.

Are you currently doing any geeky crafting?

At this moment I’m busy knitting sweaters. I was inspired by my favorite on-screen badass, Krysten Ritter, to give it a try. I learned to knit about ten years ago but have been avoiding garments because it’s a whole lot of time and work to make something only to discover it doesn’t fit or doesn’t look good. But if Jessica Jones can do it, so can I.

You introduced me to the wonders of the geek-themed fabric aisle at a certain craft store. Could you describe it for those who may not be aware of this wondrous realm?

-When I was first making geek-themed items, that aisle wasn’t so great. I got fabrics from online stores, one in particular that is user generated designs. But now, the licensing for the brick and mortar store is out of this world. My most recent purchase from that aisle was Zelda fabric. When I bought it, the sales woman asked what I was making, to which I answered, “I have no idea, I just need it.”

It ended up becoming a quilt for my 7-year-old that he and I sewed together. I honestly have no idea how they got ahold of the Nintendo license because by all accounts it’s impossible to get. Of course, the Disney licensed fabrics is what takes up most of the aisle — Star Wars, Marvel, Princess … it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

For several years, you worked as a professional photographer. Does this job intersect at all with your geek interests?

It actually has! I really enjoy toy photography. As with sewing, I started with Barbie. She’s an excellent model. One of my favorite series of photographs happened when I took Lego Indiana Jones and Marion to Yosemite and Monterey for my husband’s and my tenth anniversary trip. Indy hiked Vernal Falls with us and saw the Lone Cyprus on the 17 Mile Drive.

What’s it like being mom to three geeky boys? What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

Like my parents did for myself and my brothers, I try to encourage any interests that my boys happen to have. My oldest is a (video) gamer and piano player, my middle one is a gregarious skateboarder who has fallen in love with RPGs like Mouse Guard and D&D. And the 7-year-old has a love of board games, Batman, and punk music.

We have a lot of crossover in all areas of pop culture and entertainment but I certainly can’t keep up with all of it. So, they are part of communities online and otherwise that share their interests. For instance, my 13-year-old is currently doing a D&D campaign with his uncle and three cousins via text message.

Your family has attended the Los Angeles ComicCon (which recently changed its name to Beyond Fest Expo LA). What are some of your favorite memories from that event?

I love the shopping. But the great moments were in who we saw and who we met. I love making friends while waiting for the doors to open. I follow some of them on Instagram and get to see their cosplays year round.

But the two moments that stand out: In 2016, I was able to see Gerard Way do an interview concerning the new Young Animal comic book series he had just released. It could get long winded if I talked about every reason being in the same room with him meant so much to me.

The other great moment was meeting Dameon Clarke, the voice of Handsome Jack in the Borderlands series. Because of how much we bond over this game, the boys and I were over the moon to get to have a conversation with him. He’s just as sarcastic in real life, which made the meet ‘n’ greet even more perfect.

Did you cosplay when you went this year? Tell me about that. 

I kinda did. My oldest went as Dirk Gently from the BBC series and I made for myself a Mexican Funeral T-shirt as a nod to Tod from the same series. The year before we did something similar when he went as a Fallout 4 vault dweller and I gave my nod to the series as a Nuka Cola girl with accessories that I made. Also, I have to mention my adorable 7-year-old and his bestie who have gone together as Link and Zelda, and then as Dipper and Mable Pines. They were a huge hit.

What do you enjoy about conventioning as a family? Do you have any tips for people who might be wary of attending with children?

We don’t just go as a family, we go with our long time family friends. We coordinate and work on costumes together for months. We bond over our fandoms, learn more about our kid’s fandoms and, most fun of all, it gives us an excuse to get together to craft, fabricate, drink tea and talk. Then the day comes and we love seeing all the kids together excited and happy. It’s just pure unadulterated fun.

L.A. Comic Con is really family friendly and takes place the last weekend of October, which means costumes are a must. I would say that with littles at any convention, going on Saturday is tough. I had high anxiety the whole time that we’d get separated. But at this one in particular, on Sunday they have a kids costume contest and trick-or-treating, which makes Sunday the perfect day to go. Also, make sure everyone is clear on a meeting place if you get separated.

How long have you been a gamer? Is this something you do with your boys?

My family got the Atari when I was 2, so video games have always been part of my life. But the progression from passive to obsessed started with The Legend of Zelda. My brother entered a contest and won a Nintendo from the exchange on the base we lived at. It came with four games, one of which was Zelda. It was so good!

The next game that struck me as a total game changer was Tomb Raider. Twice in my life, I have rushed out and bought a whole new console just to play a Tomb Raider game. The idea of girls in video games was finally on track to being normalized.

The boys and I game together when we can. Our favorite game to play together is Borderlands 2. It’s split screen co-op for up to four people so I’m able to play with both of my teens at once. We laugh, we first bump … it’s just a fantastic time spent together, and occasionally one of the boys’ friends will join us via online multiplayer.

Right now, we’re passively playing Stardew Valley together, but I get the feeling they’re just humoring their mom and would rather be playing games that include gunfire. Even when we aren’t campaigning together, we will share tips, and more than a few times I’ve had to have my oldest help me when I get stuck in a game.

You’re very enthusiastic about the Fallout franchise. How did you discover it and what do you love about it?

The year Fallout 4 came out, I dutifully purchased the game for my oldest as his only requested Christmas gift. I had no idea what it was. I was first struck by the fact that I could play as a female. I don’t mind playing games as a male, I love many games that don’t give this option, but since these are RPG video games it’s nice to actually see myself in the character.

But then the storyline unfolded. It’s brilliant. I think for me, first and foremost for all of the pop culture entertainment that I respond to, it has to have a great storyline.  And the Fallout games take it a step farther by peppering in Easter eggs throughout the whole world of individual stories. The lore and connections are so detailed; it’s masterful. Then, much like table top RPGs, there are a lot of decisions to be made that have consequences in the game and shape or show off your character. You truly become part of the game.

What are your expectations for Fallout 76?

It’s not going to be a main Fallout game; it’s not Fallout 5. So, my expectations are mitigated. They have promised that storyline and Easter eggs will be there, but being online multiplayer makes for a whole new dynamic where maybe storyline isn’t the most important thing. My teenagers and I are already trying to plan out how we could play together as a team but this conversation is difficult at the moment as the question still looms as to whether it will be cross-platform or not.

What’s your experience been like as a woman who games?

It’s one of those whispered things that most women still aren’t comfortable admitting to in their real lives. Last year, on the first day of the Bible study that I attend, I was asked to be the first to introduce myself. Going off the cuff, not remembering what info I was supposed to actually give (social awkwardness at its best), I included that I love going to concerts and playing video games.

Then this amazing thing happened where at least two other women got excited and seemed thrilled to admit that they too were gamer moms! There’s still this stereotype that comes in different arguments from men and women — some moms think it’s selfish and a waste of time that you could use being busy at literally anything else. And then there are the men within the community who believe women can’t bring the same level of aggression and strategy that men can.

You’re a Douglas Adams fan. What’s your absolute favorite “Hitchhiker’s Guide” quote and/or moment?

The discussion of an S.E.P. As a classic overthinker, it really spoke to me that one could just declare something to be an S.E.P. (Somebody Else’s Problem). “Any object around which an S.E.P. is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else’s Problem.”

You mentioned the “Maze Runner” series. How did you discover the books and why do you like them?

This is another instance of my boys telling me about something and me having no clue what they were talking about. When I finally agreed to rent the first movie on iTunes, I was hooked. One of the things I like about dystopian stories is that it always seems to bring up thoughts and conversations as to how one would respond to the same situation. The world has gone haywire — how would you propose to fix it? It tends to flip values and morality on its head to make you think about what might really be important.

How would you say the movies compare to the novels?

The first movie follows the book pretty well but by the second movie it moves away from the books quite a bit. I’ve come to not mind film adaptations making this decision. First of all, it’s necessary. You can’t take 10 to 20 hours of a book and shrink it to fit a two-hour timeframe without massive tweaking. But I’ve also come to see that the changes make it easier to get excited about both the book and the movie in their own right.

A great example of this is “Ready Player One,” where the author helped make all new experiences and puzzles to solve for the movie. The storyline stayed the same but the details changes enough to engage the viewer in trying to solve the new riddles the same way we did in the book. Being two different experiences makes the movie and book individually fantastic.

You also describe yourself as a “huge Batman fan.” What’s the appeal of this character for you?

I think I have a taste for the darker side of the superhero genre. I love the mystery, the crazy villains and, of course, “all those wonderful toys.”

Like many people, you didn’t appreciate “the abomination that is Batfleck.” Who’s your favorite movie Dark Knight then?

I fell in love with Batman when Michael Keaton was in the role. His Batman will always be the top of my list. He did a great job of portraying the Batman as just a man concerned with doing right at all cost, who also happens to have ninja level skills and a massive amount of money to subsidize his vigilantism. I’m also really enjoying watching David Mazouz grow into the character of the Dark Knight on “Gotham.” That show has been a ridiculously fun and wild ride.

Any thoughts on what DC should do to get the Bat movies back on track?

I think they may be stuck with the track they’re on. My oldest son and I discuss often the mistakes that were made and the biggest one to me is that, following the example of the MCU, they tried to make it family friendly. Batman as a kids cartoon works. Batman with an R rating works. But when they tried to combine the two, what they ended up with is really just a kid’s movie that they tried to sell to adults.

Another reason it stands out as particularly bad is that there are other movies to compare it to. Ironman, Captain America, and Thor didn’t have that problem. When we already had Michael Keaton and Christian Bale give such stellar performances in this role, it was always going to be a tough act to follow.

Now, I have to admit to “Suicide Squad” being one of my guilty pleasures. I love the Joker more than I probably should admit. After seeing the movie in the theater, I wasn’t a fan BUT in the small screen cut there’s even more Joker. I’m almost optimistic about a Joker movie with Jared Leto, though I probably shouldn’t mention it on social media and risk getting roasted.

You’re not really into Star Wars though. I don’t know if some people realize that a) not all geeks are into Star Wars and (b that’s totally okay. What are your thoughts about this? 

At times it feels like I’m missing out on the community features like being able to engage in conversations with loved ones concerning the thing they love the most. And I have experienced someone taking it as a personal offence that I wouldn’t love that most beloved and treasured series. But I’m just not into it.

Star Wars has been such a constant in my personal universe for my whole life to the point that for a while I actually thought I must like it. It was about a year after I was married that my husband sat down to watch one of the movies and I finally said what I’d been pondering on for a while, “I don’t like this.” I have respect for the franchise and its fandom, which includes my husband and two of my boys.

When it comes to TV fandoms, you’re into “Wholock,” although you’ve labeled “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” “dead fandoms.” Is it tough being a fan of these shows when new episodes are scarce?

I started watching “Doctor Who” in the ‘80s with my dad when Tom Baker was the Doctor. It’s safe to say that I’ll always be a fan. During David Tennant and Matt Smith’s reigns as the Doctor, the fandom was super active. I remember convincing my bestie to watch it “because the crafting alone is worth it.” It was exciting to be part of the community. With the lag time in the last few series of the show it’s been hard for anyone to keep up the enthusiasm.

“Sherlock” is another story all together. I kind of wish there were a fandom that encompassed every iteration of the Sherlock archetype – “Psych,” “Rizzoli and Isles,” “Monk.” There’s always a Sherlock to be excited about it, though admittedly, there’s only one Benedict Cumberbatch.

What’s your gut instinct about the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker?

I’m remaining optimistic about her. I loved her in “Broadchurch.” The thing that gives me pause is that the concept of a female Doctor seems forced. They just finished an arch where the Master became female and the character of Missy was indeed masterful. It was done in such a way that it wasn’t some big political statement, which is what this feels like. Doctor Who has a history of taking on social issues in respectful ways without becoming too preachy. I really hope the new writers are able to strike the same chord.

You’re also a fan of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The 100.” I confess I haven’t tried either of those shows. Pitch them to me!

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” began as a script for “Doctor Who,” written by Douglas Adams. When it wasn’t made, he turned it into a whole new novel. The book is the epitome of Adams’ work with that quick British wit and the highly detailed twists and turns of Adams’ imagination. The show captures this perfectly. It’s brilliantly confusing and hilarious.

Dirk is a hapless detective who gathers cases, friends, and enemies according to whichever the universe sends him at the time. It’s something worth experiencing.

“The 100” is a show my 13-year-old and I discovered and binge-watched the first several seasons on Netflix. It’s a rare treat to find TV shows that he and I can watch together. This one is a sci-fi dystopian soap opera. It’s a bloody good time.

You describe yourself as a “music geek first.” That’s not something we’ve discussed much on the blog. How would you say music fandom compares to other fandoms, like movies or comic books? How does this interest manifest itself in your life?

It doesn’t matter what art a person responds to, it’s equally important and equally exciting to the person in love with it. But music in particular transects all other art forms. When I’m editing photos or painting, it’s with my headphones on. Look what James Gunn did with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it wouldn’t be the same movie without that amazing soundtrack.

Bethesda and Apple are both major companies who put high premiums on music; the first in their video games and the latter began the smart phone revolution with a personal MP3 player. Music is definitely something worth geeking out over.

I immerse myself in an artist’s work. Like a true geek, I want to know every song, the members of the band, the instruments used. I want to know every lyric and theorize on the intent and meaning.

I’m not the most emotional person and often don’t understand my own emotions. Music says the things that I’m feeling in a way that I can’t.

One of my favorite cinematic moments is at the beginning of “Almost Famous” when Zooey Deschanel’s character puts on an album and informs her mom that while she can’t explain her life decisions, the song playing can. There are huge communities of fans out there who experience music in similar and very personal ways. The fans are engaged very much the same as any other. They’re on Twitter, instagram, and Pinterest (and, of course, the places teenagers hang out like Tumbler and Snapchat).

What geeky collectibles have you amassed so far?

My house is littered with Funko Pops from just about every fandom my boys and I take part in. Some of my favorites are my Pop Rocks of Kurt Cobain and Gerard Way. But my newest and top-of-my-list favorite is my Deadpool as Bob Ross. He sits with my art supplies. I also have some art from vendors at comic con. My favorite is a watercolor Batman by Levi Craig.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

In books: finishing “Differently Mophous” by Yahtzee Croshaw, which I’m listening to with the boys on audible. Btw, I highly recommend his other book, “Will Save the Galaxy for Food.” It’s a riot.

In movies: I still haven’t seen “Infinity War” (I know, gasp). My husband and boys went but I couldn’t make it.

In music: two years ago we missed the “Blurry Face” tour. My littlest and myself were so sad that we made a pact to have it be his first concert when Twenty One Pilots tours again … but then they disappeared! I, along with everyone else in the fandom are getting pretty impatient for their return.

In games: I’m really hyped about Fallout 76 and waiting impatiently for Borderlands 3 to be announced. I’m also pretty excited to make it to year two in Stardew Valley, but that goal shouldn’t take too long.

 

Dumbledore’s Army co-organizer crusades for fun and inclusion

Tabitha Davis’ origin story is just about as inspiring as the Boy Who Lived’s. 

As a child, she struggled with reading, but manifested a vivid imagination, and with a little help from Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, she became a writer, eventually landing a nerd’s dream job with Geek Magazine.

She deeply connected to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series after looking for something she could read that would restore her sanity after the birth of her son. Rowling’s novels and the fandom surrounding them have subsequently shaped her life philosophy of love and inclusion.

Eventually, Tabitha found her “tribe” after joining the Meetup.com group Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army and becoming a co-organizer of Harry Potter and other geek-themed events, from skate nights to Disneybounding days. 

With more than 2,400 hundred diverse members, Dumbledore’s Army is the second biggest Harry Potter fan group in the world, which means it’s a lot of work to run, but Tabitha wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

You’re a co-organizer of the Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army, a Harry Potter fan group for adults, centered around the social site Meetup.com. The group was founded in 2008. How did you become involved?

I first heard of the group via a flier, but I wasn’t sure it was for me. After finally deciding to try it out, I joined the book club and began attending events. I had previously worked in marketing and enjoyed planning events so I volunteered to assist with the group events and have been doing so ever since.

For those who may not be as familiar with Harry Potter, what does the name “Dumbledore’s Army” refer to in the books?

Dumbledore’s Army is a group the kids in the book form to fight against the tyranny of the dark wizards and the misled government officials. Their goal is to learn to protect themselves and others.

Is your group affiliated at all with charity group the Harry Potter Alliance?

We have done work with them, and many of our members work with both. They do a book drive at our skate night every year.

What are your duties as co-organizer?

It really depends on the event. Usually, we are all assigned specific tasks when we arrive at an event, and we all set up and clean up. I personally co-host Wizards Chef and will be co-hosting our first Wizards in Wonderland (Harry Potter Day at Disneyland).

Tabitha Davis and Tanya Mueller at a “Fantastic Beasts”-themed skate night.

Tell me more about L.A. Dumbledore’s Army. How often do you meet? What are some examples of the type of events/activities the group participates in.

Oh man, we do so much! We meet at least once a month. We have two very active book clubs, we host skate night, have done trivia nights, movie nights, scavenger hunts around the city, family-friendly events with a focus on the educational benefits of the book series, and Wizards Chef.

There are 2,426 members of the group, according to Meetup.com. It’s the second largest Harry Potter fan group in the world. It must be quite a bit of work keeping this group running!

It really is. In addition to the group being large, it is also diverse, so we also have to come up with a variety of events for our members. We are all working people with other responsibilities, but since we can lean on each other it is very much like Harry and his team. We get it done!

Out of curiosity, what’s the largest Harry Potter fan group in the world?

Funnily enough, it is The Group That Shall Not Be Named, out of NYC. Our names are in competition with each other, but we have members that came from that group and that visit groups events when they are in the area. The HP community is cool like that.

A group shot from the recent Wizards in Wonderland event at Disneyland that Tabitha helped organize. Photo courtesy of Jon York.

I understand you recently helped organize “Wizards in Wonderland,” a Harry Potter-themed meetup at Disneyland. How did that go? Tell me about the day. 

We all met up in front of the train around 10. Our first meeting saw probably 50 or so Potter heads, but as we moved through the park we ran into many more. There were those in cross-over T-shirts, and some people fully decked out. One group did Hogwarts-inspired Mousketeers.

Tabitha at Disneyland for Wizards in Wonderland, a Harry Potter-bounding event.

What were some of the best Harry Potter-bounding outfits you saw there?

So many fun ideas! Two ladies came as Hogwarts Express, one woman was a pin-up version of a chocolate frog.

What do you enjoy the most about being a part of Dumbledore’s Army? How would you describe the group dynamic?

Meeting other wizards. I had previously sought out other fandom communities, specifically the Star Wars fandom. I found that the wizarding community tends to be more welcoming. There isn’t a lot of pretense here that one finds elsewhere. The world J.K created is one of inclusion and acceptance, and that is very much what the group tries to embody.

Let’s talk about your personal connection to Harry Potter. How did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series and how did your passion for it grow?

Well, first off, I am a Potter. It’s my maiden name and more than a few teachers referred to me as Snape does to Harry, as simply Potter. Since I was already an adult when the books came out, I bought them for my younger brother since he is a Potter too, obviously.

He never really got into them, and when I had my son, I asked my husband to buy me the biggest book he could find because I was going nuts. It was just after “Order of The Phoenix” was released, and that’s what he brought me. I devoured it, and then stole all the HP books I had given my younger brother.

As a mom, I connected with the books in a different way, I think than a lot of fans. First, these kids were my age, I graduated the year the Battle of Hogwarts takes place, so these were my contemporaries. I didn’t have the greatest childhood. I was bullied, and we were very poor when I was younger. I found that I connected to these characters very deeply through their trials, and it inspired me as a parent to listen to and try to better understand my children and their unique experience.

When I found the group, I felt like I had found my tribe.

What is it about J.K. Rowling’s series that sets it apart from other fandoms?

I think it may be that it was designed for children, so there is an honesty to it. It was untainted by so much of the adult world, but still, the lessons of life are there. No one is perfect, everyone is flawed and makes choices that can bring good or bad outcomes, but it is what they do about it that counts. It lets us believe in magic while understanding that we are the ones who need to make our own magic and take up the fight for those who can’t.

Aside from your involvement with Dumbledore’s Army, how is your love of Harry Potter currently manifesting itself?

Well, in my decor for sure. My living room is in Ravenclaw colors, with various witchy accouterment. We have a cupboard under the stairs, also known as the reading nook, but probably the most significant impact is how I raise my kids. I try to listen to them and to think deeply about the impact I have on them. There is a lot of wisdom in the series that I feel I keep with me in my daily life. WWWD, What Would a Wizard Do?

You were a panelist at this year’s WonderCon, discussing “Hogwarts Academia: 20 Years of Fantastic Harry Potter Fandom.” That’s impressive! Tell me about that experience. 

It was so incredible. Being on stage with my daughter, and with these incredible women who I have seen achieve their dreams was an honor. It really drove home to me how great this community is, and how wonderful for my kids to have these incredible role models.

These women are lawyers, doctors, graphic designers, empowered humans making the world better every day. It’s amazing to be counted among them. Also, (fantasy writer) Patrick Rothfuss showed up so as a fan and writer I’ve been geeking out about that for months.

Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army also devotes itself to other fandoms, including Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Sherlock, and Doctor Who. What other fandoms are you into?

Star Wars, for sure, is my first love. The first movie I saw in the theater was “Jedi.” I love most of those other fandoms, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Sherlock. Game of Thrones is freaking amazing. Comics, anything Neil Gaiman ever does. The list is long.

You write for Geek Magazine. That sounds like a cool gig! How did that come about?

It is a super sweet gig! I work with some of the coolest geeks out there. I write Haiku for fun in a group on Facebook, and one of the members is a fellow writer. She heard the magazine was hiring, so I sent in the most recent thing I had written, which was a blog about the near-death experience I had delivering my daughter. I’ve been geeking out ever since.

What’s your writer origin story? What sparked your interest in that art form?

I am dyslexic, so learning to read was the worst. I was in a special ed class to learn to read. I couldn’t read, but I would make up insane stories for sharing time. My teacher told me I would make a great writer. I thought he was nuts, I couldn’t even read.

Fast forward about a year and I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I learned that Stephen King was also dyslexic, and while I couldn’t read his work yet I knew there was a lot of it. If he could do it, maybe I could too.

Around this time I was lucky enough to meet the great Ray Bradbury. To me, he was just a really nice old guy. He asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, and I had decided that I would be a writer even though I wasn’t good at spelling. He told me to follow my heart, and to never ever let anyone tell me I couldn’t or shouldn’t write. I took his advice, ended up reading a lot of Stephen King, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on and writing whenever I could.

What sorts of things do you write about for Geek Magazine? What do you enjoy most about it?

Most things geek. TV shows, movies, books, and technology. My favorite stories are when I get to write about something I really care about. It’s like a chance to share my own love with a broad audience and maybe show them something they can love too. I love to do research and doing reports and writing for the school paper were my favorite parts of school. Now I get paid to do research and write about things I love. It’s a dream come true. 8-year old-me got her wish with this job.

Are there many other women writing about geek culture? What’s your experience been like in that regard?

Absolutely. I’d say at least half our crew is female, and some of our writers write for other pages and do podcasts and blogs about geeky stuff. I have to say that there really has only been one incident where my sex mattered, and it was a comment from a reader not from my co-workers.

The guys I work with never question what I know, or make me prove that I know something because I am a woman. I know there has been a lot of toxicity in fandom regarding men vs. women, but the vast majority of the guys I both work with and know socially are completely comfortable being schooled in geeky trivia by a woman.

Tabitha’s son, Brodey Davis, on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

You’re a mother raising two “geeklings.” Does your family share your geeky interests or have pop culture interests of their own?

They do, and they have introduced me to fandoms I would never have explored. My Little Pony is probably the best example. They’re sort of over it now, but they totally got me hooked. Bob’s Burgers has become a family favorite thanks to my daughter, and we even cosplayed the kids to a con last year. I also know way too much about Overwatch, thanks to my son. We spend a lot of time together, so it’s nice that we like the same sorts of things.

Members of Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army at the Women’s March.

Of all the interviews I’ve done with women who are geeks, the biggest fandom they have in common, by far, is Harry Potter. Why do you think this franchise speaks to so many people?

Its core messages are the messages of our time. Equality, diversity, love vs. hate. These things are in our headlines, and though we don’t have magic, we do have love. We joined the masses at the first Women’s March together, and a lot of the signs were Harry Potter related. If these kids could stand up against a powerful evil then we can too.

Do you have any future plans/hopes/dreams for the L.A. Dumbledore’s Army?

Right now we are gearing up for our last Skate Night, Wizards in Wonderland, and Wizards Chef, but I would love to plan another family event. A lot of our group are having kids and it’s fun to introduce the magic of the series to another generation of fans. Also, more pub crawls.

If anyone reading this is interested in joining the group, how would they go about it?

You can check us out on Facebook, and join us on Meetup.com.

Tabitha, cosplaying as Ginny Weasley.

Let’s close with a few pressing Harry Potter-related questions:

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw 4 life.

Favorite book?

“Order of the Phoenix,” even though Harry is totally having a case of the puberties.

Least favorite movie?

“Chamber of Secrets.”

Favorite character?

I don’t know if I can pick one. Book Ron, Movie twins, Snape, Lupin, Tonks, Mrs. Weasley … that’s a short list.

Most devastating character death?

Snape.

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Potions, Apparation.

Favorite magical creature?

Thestral.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

My custom wand designed after my first Pottermore wand.

How often do you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

I’ve been twice. I’m more of a book fan.

Tabitha and Jeff Davis enjoy some butterbeer at the employee preview of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Cold Butterbeer, Frozen Butterbeer, or Warm Butterbeer?

Cold.

What’s left on your Harry Potter bucket list?

To see the dragon at Diagon Alley, and to visit the locations in the U.K.

 

From an Emmy, to the UN, to ‘Clone Wars,’ artist finds her independent voice

When it comes to the geek cred game, artist Alina Chau has leveled up about as far as any of us could dream. After all, she’s on a first-name basis with George (that’s Lucas to you) after working as a 3D story artist on the popular animated series “Star Wars: The Clones Wars.”

After studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, Alina won a student Emmy for her thesis film. Her first student film, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” plays daily at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City. 

This auspicious beginning led to an internship and then a full-time gig with video game maker Electronic Arts and a more than decade-long career in the gaming and animation industries.

Alina’s gorgeous personal watercolor illustrations reflect her lifelong passion for causes including children’s rights and the environment. Her artwork showcases the diversity of her multicultural upbringing, as well as her love of travel.

An adjunct professor with picture books in the works and a graphic novel due for publication next year, Alina took a moment to chat about her love of the films of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, her pop culture-inspired gallery and exhibition work, fond memories of her time on “The Clone Wars,” and her experience as a woman working in animation and gaming. 

You’re an artist who worked in the animation and gaming industries for more than a decade. How did you come to work in those fields?

I was an animation major at UCLA Film School. When I graduated from school, I applied to animation-related jobs. I start working for a couple studios as a PA and intern. Then I interned for Electronic Arts. When the internship ended, they brought me in as a full-time animator. That’s how I got started in the industry … from there, I just kept working for different projects and studios.

Were you artistic as a child? I read that you inherited some of your talent from your grandmother.

I’ve loved drawing since I was very little. That’s kind of the only activity that could keep me out of trouble. Art was a hobby when I was a kid … it didn’t occur to me that art could be a career until I was applying to college.

You earned your master of fine arts at University of California, Los Angeles. What was the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I would say it’s important to develop an independent voice. UCLA education philosophy encourages students to develop their own voice and vision. The longer I stayed in the industry, I discovered having a personal vision is one of the most important factors to maintain a healthy and sustainable career. This is especially important with today’s industry, it develops and evolves much faster than ever. Knowing how to maintain one’s vision and passion helps you grow and evolve along with the trends, as well as really helps to overcome creative blocks and burn-out.

You won a student Emmy for your thesis film, “E=mc2.” That must have been an amazing experience. What was that like?

It was an honor to be selected among many wonderful and super talented candidates. For a student, it was an eye opener. In a short time frame, I got to network and went to some big industry events. It was humbling and a great experience for a kid who’s still in school. At the time, I was busy graduating and looking for a job. It helped to have an Emmy on the resume to find a job.

Another of your films, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” shows daily at the United Nation’s New York headquarters. Tell me more about that.

This was my first year student film. When I was younger, I often participated in various humane organizations and activities, such as UNICEF, OXFAM, World Wildlife Fund, etc. I was an activist in children’s human rights. When I finished my first year film, I decided to donate the film to the UN.



Your personal watercolor illustrations have a sweet, dreamlike fairy-tale quality that I love. How would you describe your style?

I never really think of how to describe my artworks. I love storytelling. That’s why I choose to be an animator and story artist. I try to tell a story in my paintings.

What would you consider to be the biggest influences on your art?

It would be my memories … I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from my childhood.  I also love a wide range of art forms for inspiration.

Your work is very culturally diverse. Does that have anything to do with your love of travel?

I do love to travel a lot. I also come from a culturally diverse upbringing. My family are Indonesian and Chinese. I was born in China, grew up in Hong Kong during the British colonial era, studied in the UK briefly, and immigrated to the U.S. My personal cultural upbringing is a mixing pot of Indonesian, Mandarine, Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, British, and American. Growing up, I never felt I completely fit in each culture, yet I am also a bit of each. It’s this mixed cultural upbringing that made me extra aware and sensitive about the important of diversity.

I saw a few pieces in your portfolio that were a bit political. (I thought they were excellent!) What was your inspiration for these works?

I do have opinions in certain political subjects. I was always a bit of a sensitive child when it comes to standing up for children’s human rights and environmentalism. Looking back, I think this could be because I was kind of an immigrant all my life, moving from one country to another. I personally experienced that it could be challenging to adapt to a new life in different regions, but there is much beauty to sharing life with a diverse range of people. This experience make me very aware of the importance of appreciating different cultures, races and social interests. To learn how to appreciate differences, it’s important to openly discuss and share the experiences.

Looking through your artwork on your website, I detected many pop cultural influences, especially Disney, with illustrations ranging from Beauty and the Beast, to The Little Mermaid, to Coco, to Aladdin. What is it about Disney characters that inspires you?

I don’t do fan art for myself. All the pop culture influenced paintings I did are created for the official tribute shows with galleries or studios or commissions from collectors.

I also recognized many other unique interpretations of fandoms, including Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” He-Man, “Bob’s Burgers,” Super Mario Bros., “The Simpsons,” Lord of the Rings, Voltron, “Game of Thrones,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” 

They are all created for specially invited official tribute shows. Although I love pop culture and love all these titles, I personally do not create fan art for myself. This is because when I was working for studios, I always developed titles for the studios. When I get the chance to develop my personal art, I prefer to explore my own potential and find out what I can do, discover my own voice. I also try to be respectful to other’s intellectual property.

When it comes to fandoms, you said you “like a bit of everything.” What are some of your favorites?

That’s a tough choice … I would always have a special spot for Star Wars, since I worked on “The Clone Wars,” and had many wonderful memories working with the Lucasfilm animation team and George Lucas.

I grew up with Miyazaki films. Growing up, every summer after finals, it’s a tradition to run to the theater and celebrate the end of the school year with the latest Miyazaki.

Spielberg, Lucas, Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, etc. Frederic Back is another of my all-time favorite animators … too much to list.

You said if you had to choose just one fandom, it would be the films of Miyazaki. How did you discover him and what do you enjoy about his work?

I grew up with Miyazaki and watching tons of anime and manga as a kid. My first Miyazaki was “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It blew my mind away, it’s epic. She is a princess, but unlike most other animated princesses, she is beautiful, strong, smart and kick-butt! It’s a unique universe with awesome creatures … it was very different from most animated shows I saw at the time. I’ve been hooked on Miyazaki since.

I understand you especially love “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Why?

“Howl’s” one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t say I especially love “Howl’s.” I like each Miyazaki for different reasons. “Totoro” is a very special one, ’cause it captures childhood so beautifully. This movie grew in my heart over the years. I learned to appreciate his mastery of capturing children’s emotions and acting the older I became.

When I was a kid, it was one of my least favorites, because the characters in the film feel so much like me (when I was a child).  But as I grew older, when I watched that film, it just brought back all the childhood memories because of the same reason, the children felt so real and believable that we could all relate to them.

“Howl’s” is enchanting and beautiful. I love “Spirited Away” for its perfection. The storytelling is so well done and tight … it’s amazing!

You worked as a 3D story artist on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Wow! For those who don’t know, what does a 3D story artist do?

3D story at Lucasfilm is like storyboard, except George doesn’t believe in storyboard. So instead of going from script to storyboard, we get the script and we go straight to Previsualization in 3D. Think about it as storyboard in 3D with rough animation. So the directors could see the entire episode with rough key frame animation, cinematography, and close to final edit … the end result is the same as an animatic in a traditional animated film.

What was the experience of working on “Clone Wars” like?

It was a lot of fun. The team is awesome. We get notes from George, one learned a lot very fast from the master. The studio is in Big Rock Ranch overseeing a lovely lake, which is next to Skywalker Ranch. It was a beautiful location, which feels more like a Japanese spa retreat than a studio.

Are you a Star Wars fan?

I own a Vader lightsaber and a Clone Trooper helmet (wink).

Tell me about your work in the gaming industry. What was challenging about it and what did you enjoy most?

The turnaround in gaming is very fast, one learns how to animate very fast and good. The workflow of the game animation pipeline is very different from TV or movies. Instead of thinking in shots and sequences, you think in assets. The scheduling in games was rough, there was a lot of crazy overtime. At least this was the case when I was in gaming. It was hard to have a normal life, since we needed to work almost every weekend and tons of late nights.

It was a good learning opportunity. I think the biggest takeaway is understanding the technology and the pipeline, especially with our everyday technology becoming more and more gamified. It’s a good learning experience to understand the thought process of game development.

Are you a gamer?

Not at all. I died in a game in less than five minutes and get motion sickness in almost all first-person games and some RPGs. I could make a game, but not play it. I can never play any game I made.

What was your experience like as a woman in the animation and gaming industries?

When I first got into gaming, I was one of only one or two women in the animation production team. But over the years, there were more women joining the industries. In animation, there are more women in the production team, but last time I worked as a story artist, I was the only girl on the team. I do feel as a woman we have to work harder to have our voice heard or our achievement recognized. I left the industry for a few years now. From what I heard, there are more women in a production team now.

You’re also an adjunct professor at several universities, including Savannah College of Art and Design. Why is teaching important to you?

I felt it’s important to give back to the communities. Being a teacher also keeps one in touch with the latest, you learn a lot from the students as well. Also, sometimes when one works in the industry for years, we get a bit jaded. Sometimes we forgot about the passion and love of the craft. It’s nice to see the students with big dreams and passion. It is a good reminder of why we choose the career path … keep the fire and passion burning.

Your art has been featured in dozens of exhibitions in L.A., New York, Paris, Japan, Spain, and other places. What’s it like to have your work on display like that?

It was an honor as well as a humbling experience.

You’re currently developing a children’s book publication and some art projects. Can you tell us more about what you’re doing?

I am working on three picture books, which I am very excited about, but unfortunately I can’t share the information about those books. The project I could talk about is my graphic novel, “Marshmallow and Jordan,” with First Second. This would be my first graphic novel and will be released in winter 2019. You can learn about the graphic novel from the School Library Journal announcement.

Are there any dream projects you’d like to work on in the future?

I hope to author and illustrate a lot of books.

All artwork by Alina Chau.

For a film about one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses, ‘Solo’ is lacking in badassery

Image result for solo a star wars story

Is it just me or was the arrival of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” a little underwhelming?

Despite the fact that Disney and Lucasfilm unleashed the usual merchandising and promotional blitz for the film months ago and despite much discussion and debate on the part of fans, “Solo” hit theaters without the fever pitch of excitement and near veneration that typically accompanies the release of a Star Wars movie.

Perhaps this was to be expected. After all, if we’re going to be experiencing a new Star Wars movie every year, we can’t sustain the level of enthusiasm and intensity that surrounded, say, “The Force Awakens.” We’ve got to pace ourselves, lest we burn out. Thus, the generally “meh” reaction.

“Solo” is the first of several planned prequel or spin-off films focused on popular characters from the original Star Wars trilogy. A Boba Fett movie was recently confirmed, for instance, while an Obi-Wan Kenobi prequel is rumored to be in the works.

Already there are two contingents forming on social media in regard to the merits of “Solo,” or lack thereof. They seem to be split evenly into one camp that thinks the movie is just fine and another that thinks it could have been much better.

It also feels to me like everyone is slightly nervous and bracing themselves for an outpouring of vitriol similar to the wave of pure hatred that crested after the release of “The Last Jedi.” I don’t think anybody has the strength or energy to go through that again, and this raises an interesting point.

Since we’re now living in a world where we have a virtually endless supply of Star Wars stories, we’re going to have to start allowing for subjectivity and personal taste and accept the fact that not every person is going to like every movie, nor should they be required to.

As a passionate fangirl, I’m preaching to myself when I say, let’s allow everyone to have their own opinions when it comes to the galaxy far, far away. Let’s not attack each other and squander our time and energy trolling each other. I’m issuing a call for a more tolerant, peaceful, pleasant Star Wars fandom.

With that said, I’ll open myself up to the trolling and declare that after seeing “Solo,” I’m leaning toward the more disappointed side of the spectrum of reactions.

Image result for solo a star wars story

There are many things I enjoyed about the movie, and considering its tortured production history – during which director Ron Howard pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up – perhaps the fact that it isn’t a complete catastrophe is impressive in and of itself. On many levels, though, I wouldn’t consider it a success.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with star Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the young Han and was subjected to many rumors during production questioning everything from his resemblance to Harrison Ford to his acting ability.

As it turns out, Ehrenreich does a fine job portraying the roguish smuggler in his formative years. He’s enough like Ford to be recognizable as the beloved character, but he’s not enslaved to showy imitation. Confidently tossing off some of the cocky Corellian’s best one-liners, he’s got the Solo swagger down and adds a touch of vulnerability, befitting a man who has yet to turn cynical.

A script by legendary Star Wars producer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan, ushers us into the seedy underbelly of a galaxy under the control of ruthless mafia factions. It opens on Han’s home planet, where the scrappy survivor and aspiring pilot, and his resourceful girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are forced to do the bidding of the “foul” Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Meanwhile, they scheme to procure their own ship and escape the planet to find freedom among the stars.

Han’s relationship with Qi’ra is sweet, I suppose, but it didn’t work for me because Clarke, out of necessity, plays her as such an enigma – she’s part femme fatale, part girl that got away, with a hint of a dark side – that I could never get a complete read on her and who she is. (She’s also the definite type of leading lady Lucasfilm is stuck on – the brunette, white female. Can we get a woman of color or maybe a redhead next time?)

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Howard infuses “Solo” with vibes that are half “A New Hope,” half “Return of the Jedi.” The film is well stocked with weird, but likable aliens, eccentric scoundrels, and an underworld atmosphere that calls to mind the comically debauched palace and barge of that most famous of Star Wars gangsters, Jabba the Hutt. The movie is rough around the edges in a way that perfectly suits the story of a scruffy-looking nerfherder like Han. (It’s also annoyingly under-lit and has the most hyperactive soundtrack of any Star Wars film yet, but I digress.)

At the start, this is all very promising. Things are looking good as Howard treats us to a fun speeder chase and an unexpectedly visceral scene set on an Imperial battlefield that has all the grit of a World War II skirmish. It is here that Han hooks up with a band of thieves, led by Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his right-hand lady, Val (Thandie Newton), one of several characters who exits the movie far too quickly.

Howard dutifully walks us through the requisite origin story details. We learn where Han got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how he came by his iconic blaster, and how he acquired his beloved Millennium Falcon.

Image result for solo a star wars story

The Falcon, of course, comes into his possession after he meets charming gambler Lando Calrissian, played in his younger incarnation by Donald Glover. Glover’s Lando is undoubtedly one of the highlights of “Solo.” Clad in a fabulous sleek and silky wardrobe, he oozes irresistible charisma, elegance, and deadpan humor. Every minute he’s on-screen, the movie feels more substantial and satisfying than it actually is.

Lando presides over one of the weirdest scenes in the film, which involves his droid sidekick, L3-37, a sassy, egalitarian ‘bot voiced by “Killing Eve” writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. L3 carries on Lucasfilm’s tradition of creating lovably memorable droids, but as with many of the best personalities in “Solo,” she’s not around long enough to make much of an impact.

After the initial introduction of Lando, “Solo” struggles to find its footing. It’s a funny movie, but a lot of the humor falls flat, as does the romance between Han and Qi’ra. (The bromance between Chewie and Han, however, is timeless.)

There are large swathes of the script that just drag in terms of pacing and hooking the audience. Even a visual-effects-heavy sequence built around that legendary OT reference to making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs is depressingly blasé. For a large portion of the film, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to really care about what was happening.

When it ends, “Solo” feels incomplete. Perhaps that’s intentional given the rumors that Lucasfilm may be planning a sequel. However, the movie doesn’t earn that right in the way that, say, the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” did.

Image result for han solo a star wars story enfys nest

There is a moment in the film’s third act where we catch an electrifying glimmer of what “Solo: A Star Wars Story” could have been. I don’t want to spoil it, but it involves a character whose true identity is suddenly revealed and it is so stunning, I nearly leapt out of my seat.

Up until then, “Solo” displays a considerable lack of badassery for a film built around one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses.

I hope with all my being we see this magnificent character again in future chapters of the franchise.

Photos: Disney/Lucasfilm. 

Geek Home Decor: A cozy, retro Star Wars retreat

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the first installment of “Geek Home Decor,” a new series on No Man’s Land showcasing the geek-themed homes or rooms we’re currently drooling over. Maybe you’ll discover some decor tips or be inspired to put together your own “nerd cave.” If you have a room or house you’d like to show us, send a description and or pics to lavendervroman@gmail.com. 

Jacob and Stephanie Patterson

Washington-area Star Wars fan couple Stephanie and Jacob Patterson have stopped fighting it — as so many of us nerds are still clumsily attempting to do — and let their obsession with George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away take over the entirety of their apartment. The result is a Star Wars fanatic’s dream come true — a cozy retreat with a retro twist that’s one with the Force.

Jacob explains how Star Wars came to dominate their place:

“May the Fourth was an excuse to decorate the apartment with all our Star Wars stuff. We’ve been decorating the apartment every May for the last few years with everything Star Wars, adding more every year. There wasn’t much to the process of decorating the apartment, apart from putting a bunch of our stuff out on display. I did make some banners to decorate.  

“Pro tip: When decorating for a themed room, a new ink cartridge and a bunch of card stock are your best friends. I found a bunch of images I liked online and used GIMP 2, a free art program, to make them all the size I wanted. Then I just print them, cut them out, punch a couple holes out of each of them with a hole puncher, and string some ribbon through the holes.

I also used a sword display plaque, previously used to display Sting from Lord of the Rings, to display my Darth Vader lightsaber.”

Here are images from some of the banners created by Jacob:

According to Jacob, every room of the apartment he and Stephanie share contains Star Wars items.

“Our kitchen has an R2-D2 measuring cup set, an R2 popcorn bucket, some vintage looking art (Dark Side Blend Coffee and Rebel Cola), and some lightsaber flatware. Our bathroom has a Star Wars shower curtain. Our bedroom has a bunch of Star Wars Pop figures as well as some Star Wars novels and comic books. And our living room is full of the majority of our Star Wars collection.”

Jacob describes some of his prize Star Wars items:

“I really love the helmets I have (the Black Series Poe Dameron X-wing pilot helmet and the new Black Series Darth Vader helmet). The Poe helmet has battle sounds, and if you talk into the microphone, BB-8 will talk back. The Vader helmet is super detailed on the inside and fits together magnetically in three parts. It also changes from the classic Vader breathing sound to the asthma-like wheezing when you take off the top part of the helmet just like at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”

I also love my original, old beat-up Star Wars novelization from 1976 and my vintage action figures I picked up from a great vintage toy shop in Tacoma. Stephanie’s favorites are her Boushh Leia Pop and vintage Lando action figure.”

Although Jacob is a lifelong Star Wars fan, most of the Pattersons’ collection is relatively new.

“I have had Star Wars items (mostly toys) since I was three years old and I got the Ewok village for my birthday,” Jacob said.

 “The majority of those toys, however, were sold at a yard sale a few years later. I didn’t have much Star Wars stuff in the dark years of the late eighties and early nineties. I still have the movie posters from the re-release of the trilogy in 1997, but the majority of our collection is stuff we got within the last few years starting on Force Friday 2015.”

Among the items Jacob and Stephanie would still like to add to their decor scheme:

“If I had the ridiculous amounts of money to afford it, I would love to get the Regal Robot Millennium Falcon Asteroid Coffee Table and their Han Solo Carbonite Desk,” Jacob said.  

“As far as things we could actually afford, ThinkGeek has a hallway carpet runner of the New Hope opening crawl that we really like.”

Is there any downside to having a Star Wars themed apartment?

“Guests might look at you like you’re a ridiculous man-child, but that doesn’t really bother me, because I am,” Jacob said.

I asked the Pattersons which fandom they’d choose if they were to do another themed room/house.

“Definitely Harry Potter,” Jacob said. “We have a small collection, but it would be fun to have the room to make it bigger.”

Enjoy some more photos of the Pattersons’ Star Wars apartment:

We’re loving the Lando love!

Photos courtesy of Jacob and Stephanie Patterson. 

‘Looking for Leia’ director gives Star Wars fangirls a voice

It’s currently cool to be a Star Wars fan, especially since Disney bought George Lucas’ epic trilogy with the aim of spinning it into new content for all eternity.

If you’re a woman of a certain age, however, you may remember the days when Star Wars fangirls were, at best, lonely or, at worst, made to feel like freaks. It’s only in the last few years the fandom has become so popular, its inclusiveness has been taken for granted.

With this in mind, documentary filmmaker and psychotherapist Annalise Ophelian dreamed up “Looking for Leia,” a six-part docuseries headed into post-production. The project began with a question: “Who are the girls and women in Star Wars fandom, and what stories do they have to tell about what they love and how they express that?”

A lifelong fan of Lucas’ original trilogy, Ophelian was inspired by her first experience at Star Wars Celebration, further galvanized by the demoralizing 2016 election, and persevered through the challenges presented by an independent, self-financed production and the sudden passing of the original Leia, Carrie Fisher.

As a queer woman, Ophelian was drawn to documentary film because she didn’t see herself represented on screen. It’s no surprise then that representation is a high priority for her, both in front of and behind the camera. “Looking for Leia” places an emphasis on the stories of a culturally diverse group of women, while promoting women in film behind the scenes as well.

Along the way, “Looking for Leia” has become something more compelling than a simple doc about Star Wars fangirls. It’s a thoughtful exploration of the transcendent nature of fandoms and intergenerational bonds, as well as a bold exercise in intersectionality and “decolonizing” the documentary.

As Ophelian describes it, the series is “a joyous gender justice project,” and it’s been warmly embraced by the Star Wars community, which means hopefully we’ll get to see it soon. 

First of all, I have to tell you, I got a little emotional watching a trailer for “Looking for Leia” because I discovered Star Wars in the late ’80s and I remember feeling sometimes like I was the only girl who loved it. Does this seem to be a common reaction to your project?

It is! I’m now joking saying “making women cry since 2017,” because it’s such a universal response. But I don’t think it’s sad crying. I think it’s the kind of emotion we experience when we see ourselves reflected in a space where we’ve become acclimated to being excluded for so long.

Tell me more about the concept for “Looking for Leia,” which explores the Star Wars phenomenon from the perspective of a diverse group of fangirls. It started as a film, but evolved into a six-part docuseries. 

I started with a question: Who are the girls and women in Star Wars fandom, and what stories do they have to tell about what they love and how they express that? And from there I started talking with folks, all over the US and some places out of the US, and a picture of participatory fandom emerged, and also of the function and role of fandom in participants’ sense of self and relationships with others.

In January, when I went to start assembling, I realized that 40 years of transmedia franchise translates into a lot of forms of fandom and it simply wasn’t going to work to squash these into a feature format. I’m also really fond of episodic, streaming and web-based media. I think it’s tremendously accessible and also much more reflective of how we’re consuming media right now. So in the spring I started developing this as a limited episode series, which gives us a bit more breathing room around each topic.

I’m not sure many people are even aware female Star Wars fans were marginalized in the past. Why do you think that is? 

Well, I think the assumption is that women are new to Star Wars fandom, and to geek culture in general. When I started the project in early 2017, every media inquiry started with, “What do you think has brought women to Star Wars fandom recently?” and I had to answer every one with, “Women have alway been in sci-fi and fantasy fandom, from the start. In fact, we invented the genre.”

Interestingly, I don’t get that question any more. The cultural conversation in the last year has shifted and I think there’s a slowly growing understanding that what we see, in terms of who is visible, doesn’t reflect who is there. It reflects who has the access, who has the resources, who is listened to and believed. I also think it’s perfectly human to only notice things you relate to. So when cis guys tell me, “I didn’t know any girls into Star Wars when I was growing up,” that means those girls weren’t known to them, not that those girls didn’t exist.

I think fanzine and letter zine culture is a great example — in the late ‘70s and into the early ‘80s, there were upward of 1,000 of these in print, 95% of the editors and contributors were women, and these zines were hugely text rich, in some cases hundreds of pages of single spaced type with very few illustrations, just gobs and gobs of fanfic and theories and exposition on Star Wars (and other geekdoms). And for the women who read and contributed to these zines, this was a huge part of their community and connection to their fandom.

But until now these have had very little mainstream coverage. I didn’t know about them until researching this project. We’re really bringing our histories into the light and preserving them in this series, so that the next generation can look back and say, “This is my fandom heritage, I have roots here and I have foremothers who paved the way.”

You were inspired to make “Looking for Leia” after attending Star Wars Celebration in 2015. The 2016 election furthered your resolve. How did these events spark the idea?

I’d been to cons since the 1990s, during the “dark times” when Star Wars was effectively over and there was no thought we were getting more. I became a big “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan and went to Trek conventions, and later WonderCon and local cons, ZomBCon, stuff like this. And I was very accustomed to being one of a few women — Trek cons had more women than most, but still, I would show up, often with my younger brother or by myself, and be prepared to navigate a sea of cis fanboys.

And I went to Celebration Anaheim with the same mindset, and was really amazed by the number of women there, and how welcoming the space felt. In particular, I loved the Reed Pop rules of conduct, this idea that “cosplay is not consent” and that things like “no bathroom policing” were put up front in the con rules.

I felt like the organizers understood some of the problems that women, cis and trans, and nonbinary folks go through in these spaces. I left Celebration feeling incredible, like I’d tapped into a community where I could show up fully for the first time, just talking about Star Wars 12 hours a day, I had such con drop going home! And it was the first time I saw groups of other women, and it made me want to know more, because these were people I did not see in mainstream representations of fan culture.

I was finishing up my last feature (“MAJOR!”), and then on the festival circuit with that film, which was a biopic about a black transgender activist and elder, and during the making of that film I was acutely aware of how out of my lane I was making it, as a white cisgender woman. I was asked to come onto the project and said yes, but throughout knew that the next project I did I wanted to be thoroughly in my lane, and a fangirl project felt both very culturally appropriate and also like a sort of self-care break. The last film had taken an emotional toll.

And then in the ramp-up to the 2016 election and especially right after I, like so many, felt scared and hopeless and I knew if I was going to keep making film I was going to need a project that had some joy infused throughout it. I think a main theme of all my work is resilience as a form of resistance. I tend to see the ways people survive and celebrate and find this more compelling that the sort of otherizing trauma porn that documentary can sometimes turn into.

“Looking for Leia” appealed to me as a joyous gender justice project, and also as a project that could treat a subject that has traditionally portrayed as shallow or frivolous as significant and meaningful.

The project hit a hurdle early on after the passing of Carrie Fisher. How did you deal with that obstacle?

I was getting ready to drive my mom and brother to the airport when the news of her passing hit my Twitter feed, and I just got up and walked into the bathroom, closed the door and sobbed. And then I kept crying, in line at the grocery store or in my car, at all kinds of inconvenient moments for the next two weeks.

It was just such grief, I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my community since the late 1980s and there’s something unique about losing artists. When Derek Jarman and Marlon Riggs both passed, I was so deeply heartbroken. It was a grief not just for the person but also for the work, knowing that there would be no new creations from these artists and that the world would be a lesser place because of it.

I felt like the project died with Carrie. My original concept for the piece was to road-trip around the US, and I thought I’d be able to put together a compelling reel to show her reps and she’d sit down and give me an interview to tie the film together, talking about her iconic role and her relationship to fandom.

I already had my tickets to Star Wars Celebration Orlando and had planned to film there, and my partner said, “You have to go, you have to talk with women about what Carrie Fisher meant to them, but also women are going to show up for this Celebration and you should be there to hear their stories.” Shortly after that, I learned about the Drowning in Moonlight Gala (honoring Fisher) and spoke with the organizers, who were incredibly generous and invited us to film there, and it moved forward from that point.

You dreamed up “Looking for Leia” before Disney released “The Force Awakens.” Did the new generation of Star Wars films change the nature of the project at all? 

All along my intention has been to focus on participatory fandom, and fandom as an internal experience, more than content critique. So the films, shows, and books themselves exist in this project in terms of reference points or sites of fandom, but I don’t get into the impact Rey has had on the franchise or the fandom. This is a strategic decision in terms of working with IP, but also story/character analysis is very subjective, and as I think we can see on Twitter, folks can get really riled up about their faves and why something is or isn’t subjectively “good.”

I will occasionally get angry letters from folks saying, “Why aren’t you talking about such and such, because this content is by far better than this other content,” and I always write back and say that’s not what this project is about, I don’t have stakes in what’s good or bad, I’m interested in women’s subjective experience of loving with and connecting with a thing, and all the complexities that involves.

What I wasn’t expecting, and perhaps was silly to not anticipate, was that the franchise would be so incredibly huge. When I conceptualized this project we didn’t know Rey was the protagonist of the new films, or that we’d be flooded with options for women’s merchandise, or that we’d be getting new Star Wars content every year for the rest of our lives. The fan community still occupied outsider space, and since 2015 it’s now become the most mainstream and popular thing you can love.

With tons of financing and resources I would have ideally finished this series and be launching it this summer, but as an indie producer who is self-funded and also needs to work to keep a roof over my head, my process is slower. Staying focused on fandom as a phenomenological experience helps the project stay timely despite the incredible changes happening in the franchise itself.

You recently reached a major crowdfunding milestone on Seed&Spark. Congratulations! Tell me more about your crowdfunding efforts and how the Star Wars fan community is showing support for the film. 

I can say without reservation that this project would not exist without the support of fan community, who have been so generous through two rounds of crowd-sourcing and also with resources and time and talent. I’m acutely aware that the number of women with incredible stories and invaluable expertise in the world far outstrips my ability include folks on film, and I also appreciate the generosity of spirit that folks have in understanding that even if you aren’t on screen, I hope you feel a part of this series, that it feels like something that belongs to you.

Looking for Leia is in its second round of interviews and heading into post-production. What will this next phase look like? 

In the grand tradition of independent media making, it looks like a small group of us wearing many hats and spinning many plates! I’m simultaneously recording pick ups and b-roll while assembling, roughing out narration and hiring writers, roughing out animation and hiring illustrators, animators, and compositors, working with our amazing composer Christy Marshall on the score and mixing the a cappella John Williams music arranged and recorded by Kate Burns, Bri Holland, and singers from the Archer School for Girls, and seeking private sector sponsorship to help us cover licensing and legal costs and get us through the final stages of post, like color grading and titles and sound mixing, which really add up in terms of cost.

It’s been wonderful to work with so many great women and non-binary artists behind the scenes, and I’m excited to bring more hands on deck as we head into the final stages.

What has the production experience been like so far? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? 

Working on this production has been completely joyous. I get to talk with women about what they love, and it’s impossible to do that without some of that love rubbing off. Also, in daily life, I don’t think we have this conversation enough, “Tell me what you love and what purpose it serves in your life.” And, of course, the conversation is always complex, particularly for folks who live at the intersection of marginalized experience. None of us gets to love a thing in an uncomplicated way, but those complexities all showcase an incredible creativity and capacity for survivalism, and they speak to what we need more of.

The challenges are the expected ones. We’re a small crew and limited in the number of places we can reach geographically, we’re self-financed and in constant conversation about how to get what we need, and all of us are working more than one job, so there’s a point where there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve been on the road every couple of weeks for the past year and I miss my chihuahuas desperately when I travel!

What events and locations have you traveled to in search of footage? 

I’ve only filmed at a few conventions, because they’re logistically very difficult and expensive to film. We were at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, D23 in Anaheim, and GeekGirlCon in Seattle, and we were scheduled to panel and film a bunch of stuff at Universal FanCon. The demise of that convention definitely hit the production hard.

Conventions are places where we can talk to a geographically diverse group of folks without having to travel ourselves. We’ve also filmed all over the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’m based, Southern California, Seattle, Rock Point, Arizona, New York City, and Boston, and have pick ups scheduled in Detroit, Indianapolis, and Lexington.

We’ve got folks in Texas, Nevada, and Georgia that we’re hoping to bring to us. And I’ve had preliminary interviews with women in Oaxaca, Mexico, Osaka, Japan, and Lehore, Pakistan and would love to include these, but we don’t have the funding to do international travel at this point.

You’re striving to tell the stories of a culturally diverse group of women, many of them marginalized. Why is it important to you to focus on these women? 

I think often when we say “women” what we’re really saying is white, cis, straight, able-bodied, 18 to 35 year old Christian women born in the U.S., and we know this is what we mean because all other women are given an identity modifier — women of color, trans women, disabled women. And it creates a sort of either/or dynamic that also erases the incredible diversity and intersectionality of women’s voices.

One of my goals in this and every project is to push back against white supremacy and heteronormativity and all the ways the dominant group gets to occupy the silent neutral center, and shift the lens to ask women who live at the intersection of marginalized identities to speak from their own experiential expertise.

It’s also important, I think to ensure that these women aren’t only being asked to talk on identity-specific issues, aren’t just showing up on the designated section about race or sexual orientation or disability, but are present in front of and behind the camera in all aspects of the project.

Can you tell me about some of the memorable women you’ve interviewed? 

Honestly, every woman I’ve had the chance to talk with on this project has been memorable and amazing. I’d have a hard time narrowing it down. But I will say that I love hearing from women across generations.

I was talking with folks from the Empire Saber Guild in Madison Square Park, and I asked the question, “Who experienced bullying for being a geek in their childhood?,” and every woman but the youngest raised her hand, and the youngest person there said, “I haven’t experienced any of that, and it’s because of you. You all went through that so I don’t have to.”

I love seeing people’s creativity, and hearing how fandom has been a comfort during times of loss. I love hearing mothers and grandmothers talk about passing along their love of these stories to their kids, and I love hearing grown women talk about their mothers and grandmothers who were sci-fi and fantasy fans in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s and passed that love along to them.

The very first woman to reply to the contact form on our website last year is a Montessori teacher in the south bay of San Francisco who courted her husband by seeing “Revenge of the Sith” together three times in one weekend. She grew up in the Philippines in the 1990s and made her own Star Wars T-shirts and lunch boxes because there was no merch to buy in stores, and she created a group of My Little Pony Jedi mash-up cosplayers because she loves being able to make Jedi robes in bright rainbow colors and wanted to combine two of her favorite franchises.

There are just so many stories that showcase the ways we participate in fandom as a celebration of our capacity for joy, and a testament to the ways we use magic and story as a means of comfort and survival.

You’re also promoting women in filmmaking by recruiting many of them to work on the series. Why are you taking this approach? 

Cisgender men are incredibly over-represented in film industry jobs, from production into post-production. Of the top 100 grossing films in 2017, women accounted for 8% of directors (and the Annenberg numbers are a bit broader and put this number at 4%), 10% of writers, 24% of producers, 14% of editors, and just 2% of cinematographers. Two percent. Those grip and electric jobs, operating the cameras and rigging the lights, the actual people on the set as the film is being made, that’s an incredibly cis male work force.  Of the top 250 grossing films in 2017, 3% were scored by women composers.

Where we see those numbers shift at all are in indie projects like “Looking for Leia,” and in documentary in general, where women still only represent around 37% of all directors.  In terms of funding, women directors experience a fiscal cliff. When we’re able to get one project made, we’re often unable to secure funding for subsequent projects, and have a harder time raising money and getting production backing for films about women.

And women directors are also more likely to hire women to other production and post-production roles. Dee Rees made “Mudbound” with women at the head of all creative departments and below the line her crew was almost entirely women. Ava DuVernay has hired all women to direct both seasons of “Queen Sugar.”

I hire women, both cis and trans, and non-binary folks and trans guys to my crews because these are the people I connect with in community and want to work with, and also because I think we tell different stories. And I want my communities to have robust filmographies and get hired for more jobs, and we’re only able to do that when we have projects to show for it.

This line about hiring the best person for the job, which inevitably is the excuse given for hiring all white cis male directors, is a cognitive distortion. Producers are hiring the person who had the most access and the greatest resources to build their career, and this is a historically very homogenous group. I’m incredibly encouraged by shifts in the industry and the ways women who do achieve a level of success are reaching back and pulling up other women with them.

I read that you began making documentaries because you didn’t see yourself and your story represented on screen. How has that informed your career? 

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by the process of filmmaking, largely because of Star Wars and Alien. The making of these films completely compelled me, the way these worlds were created with practical effects to become real. And in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no messaging whatsoever that filmmaking was a career option for me. I watched behind-the-scenes reels and saw only white cis guys building models, operating cameras, talking about process.

I was raised by American ‘70s and ‘80s cinema, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, John Landis, Martin Scorsese, and also Ridley Scott and James Cameron. These men were (and are) held up as masters and Lucas in particular is the reason why I’m able, technically, to be a filmmaker — his digital innovations proletarianized filmmaking and made it possible for the equipment used in filmmaking to be accessible to the masses.

But even when I started making films 10 years ago, the only place I saw myself was in documentary. I wasn’t questioned as a documentary filmmaker, I think because that genre is somewhat inherently feminized — women are supposed to be good listeners and in the service of someone else’s story. But I was also compelled to documentary because in the 1990s I was incredibly influenced by the work of Marlon Riggs, who was making deeply personal, political, poetic work about identity, internal experience, and navigating systems of oppression, and also Derek Jarman, who was making experimental narrative.

Both of these men were creating queer film in a way I had never seen before and made me feel like I could tell a story like this. So when I did finally approach the camera, it was after a lifetime of loving cinema without ever feeling like it was something I was allowed to make, and also loving documentary as a site of self-determination and agency and expression of untold stories.

You’re also a psychotherapist with degrees in clinical psychology and a private practice. Do you feel this gives you any unique insights into fandoms like Star Wars? 

There’s a benefit to having a lens on human behavior that seeks to understand the utility of actions. I believe that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have, and that some of us have less to work with in terms of internal and external resources than others. I think this framework does help me take fandom seriously, as a site of identity formation and something that informs relationships with others and in the world, and I’m often puzzled by media representations of fandom as something silly or weird.

The lens also helps me understand some of the mechanisms at work in on-line trolling and toxic fan behavior. But above all I’d like to think that my work in clinical psychology serves me as a researcher of human experience, there’s a methodological rigor to how I ask questions and then consolidate what I hear into a story, and an inherently collaborative practice that involves asking participants, “Did I get this right?,” which is very similar to how I work with people in therapy or supervision.

Star Wars played a big role in your journey to become a filmmaker. You’ve been a serious fan since 1977. Would you share some of your earliest Star Wars memories? 

My earliest Star Wars memories are actually from the summer of 1978, when Star Wars was playing at the second run theater within walking distance from my house in Fort Collins, Colorado. There was a one-color newsprint flyer with the summer movie offerings and I’d scan it every week to find which screening I’d go to. I saw it every week that summer. This was just after my brother was born and it would be years before he’d be old enough to do Star Wars with me, so those early experiences were just of loving the world, the music, the design of the ships and the look of the Tatooine desert.

You’ve remained strong with the Force throughout the years. Why is it such an enduring passion for you? 

In retrospect, I can say there’s something about the production design and the score and the story that is instantly familiar and transporting. As a child I listened to the read-along story books with my younger brother and to the Story of Star Wars album and relived the films over and over, to the point that I realized I could speak along with the film verbatim.

When I was in college in 1990 there was a completely non-sanctioned marathon of all three films and I was so excited for this, I actually had one of the promotional posters, this 11×17 xeroxed picture of Obi Wan with “Use the Force” on my wall. That college screening was the first time as a semi-grownup that I sat in a room of other semi-grownups and realized, hey, this is really a phenomenon, we really love this story. The world building was so perfectly all encapsulating. It was an immediate escape into something totally unlike my daily life and also completely familiar.

What are your thoughts on Disney’s new entries in the franchise, especially “The Last Jedi,” which sparked so much fan hate? 

I’ve been a lifelong Disney fan. My mother was at the park the year it opened and Disneyland has always been something we’ve done together, and the films and television shows were a huge part of my childhood, so I was quite happy when the Disney acquisition happened. I felt like this company has taken such good care of my childhood, and this means we’ll get more Star Wars.

In 1977, Star Wars was amazing because it was completely new, and yet totally familiar. And these new films are completely familiar, yet totally new. Liking a story is such a personal, subjective thing, and I can certainly appreciate that in a 40 year transmedia franchise there is going to be stuff folks like and stuff folks don’t. I loved “The Last Jedi.” It’s perhaps my favorite Star Wars film, on par with “Empire.” I felt like it was made for me in a way none of the previous films felt.

As someone who saw the original trilogy in the theaters as they were released, I feel like I’ve been given the opportunity to watch my childhood heroes go through life and age in a way that is very relatable, will all the existential crisis and trauma and loss that is natural to life. I think I’m still adjusting to the fact that I’m going to get new Star Wars content for the rest of my life!

Lucasfilm recently announced Victoria Mahoney will be the first woman in the history of the franchise to serve as second unit director (on “Episode IX).” What are your thoughts on this news? 

Well, my first thought was this is great, everyone is going to learn what a second unit does!

I think these studios are in a unique position to really incubate and resource a huge amount of filmmaking talent, and in doing so create a new form of blockbuster that speaks to a massive underserved audience. I look at what Marvel did with Ryan Coogler and Rachel Morrison (in “Black Panther”). Every frame of that film is so incredibly deliberate and revolutionary, it’s a testament to what can happen when you shift who gets to tell the story and I want more of that.

A lot of progress has been made regarding women in the Star Wars universe, especially with strong female protagonists like Rey. In your opinion, what progress still needs to be made? 

One of the things I loved about “Black Panther” was the complexity of the women characters. Each of them had their own unique role to play and contributions to the forward progression of the story. Each of them existed in collaboration with male characters but without being defined by them or just in the service of furthering men’s plot lines. And all of those women were black.

We’re way past the time of shoehorning characters of color into white characters’ story lines. That column is oversaturated with 125 years’ worth of whiteness on camera. I’d love to see characters of color, and particularly women of color, at the center of Star Wars narratives both on screen and behind the camera as storytellers.

I have to ask: Porgs. Yes or no? 

Um, I’m just gonna answer this with a picture of my office bookcase:

Who is your favorite Star Wars character of all time? 

The Millennium Falcon. I have a tattoo of it, and I love it so much. I also love AT-ATs. The vehicles have always been my favorite part of Star Wars.

Do you collect any Star Wars memorabilia? 

Well, since working on this film, I’ve found myself with a disturbing amount of Star Wars Lego, FunkoPops, and Porgs, which all somehow find their way into my house under the guise of “research.”

You’ve said, “I don’t often cosplay, but when I do, it’s as Han Solo.” More details, please! 

The first time I dressed up as a Star Wars character was as Han Solo for the Disneyland Halloween party a few years ago. I hand-sewed the Corellian Bloodstripe on my pants and hand-painted my DL 44. I was so proud of the costume. And I talked my partner into dressing up as Leia. I bought his costume on Amazon and people were crossing the park to shake his hand and not even noticing that I was dressed as Han!

Do you devote yourself to any fandoms besides Star Wars? 

I was a huge “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fan, collected trading cards and ship manuals and went to conventions. In 1990, I spent what at the time felt like a fortune to get front row seats to see Patrick Stewart talk and get his autograph. I think it was like $90. I love Harry Potter and was really excited to do a workshop at this year’s Granger Leadership Academy on decolonizing documentary filmmaking. But Star Wars was my first fandom, and it remains my most robust fandom.

If people reading this would like to support “Looking for Leia,” what’s the best way they can do that? 

Follow us. We’re fun on social media! We’re @LookingForLeia on Twitter, @LookingForLeiaSeries on Insta, and facebook.com/lookingforleia on FB.

We’re an independently funded project not affiliated with Disney or Lucasfilm, so the financial support is always useful. We’re particularly looking for folks working in tech whose companies would like to sponsor the production of the series, and we’ve recently been fiscally sponsored by Women Make Movies, so donations are tax deductible.

Folks can find out more about contributing on our site, www.lookingforleia.com/support.

What are your ultimate hopes for the series? 

I’m excited for women and girls in fandom to have a series of their own, in which they can see their own experiences mirrored and validated and learn more about the experiences of other women identified folks as well. And I’m excited to bring the conversation about participatory fandom into the mainstream, and to show it as a worthy topic that has so much to tell us about our capacity for creativity, joy, and resilience.

I think these sorts of stories bring us closer together, and this is sorely needed right now.

Photos: Looking for Leia copyright 2017 Floating Ophelia Pictures. 

Catherine Elhoffer saves geek fashion, one clever, inclusive design at a time (with pockets!)

For geek fashionistas who struggle to find cute, comfortable clothes that reflect their fandoms and accommodate their curves, or who long for quality wardrobe staples that go beyond disposable, flimsy T-shirts, or pine for the luxury and convenience of pockets in that adorable nerd dress, Elhoffer Design has become something of a safe harbor.

With a personal passion for pop culture, a background in costume design, and experience gained from gigs with a couple of major geek fashion companies, Catherine Elhoffer launched a unique one-woman operation that specializes in subtle, playful designs that evoke beloved characters from Star Wars to Harry Potter, Game of Thrones to Ghibli, and Doctor Who to Hamilton.

Catherine’s painstaking, hands-on attention to detail, emphasis on craftsmanship and quality, and compassionate dedication to empowering the “lady-nerds” she knows and understands has gained her a steadfast and appreciative customer base that clamors for her latest offering, whether it’s a dusty rose frock with a floaty skirt inspired by Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo or the perfect, rainbow-striped sweater inspired by a certain Time Lord.

(Pssst, she just revealed part of her Treat Yo Self collection, based on the “Parks and Recreation” TV series.)

When it comes to the limitations of the geek fashion industry, Catherine is wonderfully candid about the never-ending “size/fit” battle, society’s weird beauty standards, diversity as good business practice, and the absolute necessity for pockets in women’s apparel.

Most of all, she’s determined to do what she can to make a difference. 

Your fashion company, Elhoffer Design, offers “Geek-Bound” apparel with subtle nods to a wide variety of fandoms. I love that your designs aren’t obvious, but clearly embody the spirit of the characters they portray. How did you arrive at this approach to geek fashion?

So I come from a costume design background with a degree and years of professional costume design work in film/web/TV/commercials, and I use that when approaching designing apparel since it’s all inspired by pop culture icons.

I can take the costumes or character style and break down the lines, colors, textures, and all that work and then funnel it into a fashion piece. I work very organically in that I’m not saying, “Oh, Princess Leia is huge, I need to do something with her silver/white belt printed onto a T-shirt,” but instead let the inspiration hit me when it’s right (for my latest Princess top, that was from seeing a fan art piece come across my twitter feed of her in her white dress … and my brain just clicked everything in place. It needs to be a crop top with an oversized top, raglan sleeve, big hood under a turtleneck … It wasn’t forced).

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

Most of my pieces are a mix of character inspiration and modern fashion trends. I do a lot of Google image searching for different fashion styles I want to do (like coming up is flutter sleeves) and then seeing how people are executing that style. I’ll often stumble across other looks or styles and I’ll just pull that image into an “inspo” folder and go through that folder when I’m wanting a refresher for looks I like.

Cardigans from Elhoffer Design’s Everyday Witch Apparel line.

Can you tell me a little about the process that goes into designing a piece?

I always draw something up first, whether it’s hand drawn in my sketchbook or digitally drawn up on my iPad. If it’s a cut/sew piece (like a dress or a blouse), I then normally make a sample piece in my sewing studio first as my factories sometimes get confused by my random ideas, because they’re just different than what’s being mass made right now.

If it’s a sweater, I have to print out the “art” to size so that the factory can program the knit. Then I pick out fabrics/colors or knit styles, pass specs of what things need to be, and wait for samples. The wait can take months depending on the piece. But it’s almost always worth it. Then once the sample arrives it might need tweaks or changes. Almost always notes are needed.

What’s your geek origin story? When did you first discover your geekier inclinations?

I remember watching X-men the animated series when I was 5. I loved that show and ate up every episode. I also got a Sega Genesis when I was 5, and I played it all the time. That was the beginning of the end, honestly.

You studied costume design at university. Why did you decide to pursue this particular art form?

I had joined the local renaissance faire when I was a teenager, and I had taught myself to sew and found that I was kind of naturally good at it as well as loved every second of it. I would whip up costumes overnight and wear them the next day at faire or at different events. And it was fun to see other peoples’ responses when I’d tell them I made something in 10 hours or whatnot. It was a fun challenge.

So when I went to college I discovered the theater costume shop and knew that I had to be there. When talking to the costume design professor, Bonnie Krueger, she looked over my sewing portfolio and, while it was certainly rough, she saw the potential I had. So took me under her wing and I learned so much from her and her decades of experience in theatrical costume design. I don’t know if I would have kept up the program if it wasn’t for her. She was incredibly passionate and always made me feel incredibly special. I also was one student in a program of like three, so it was incredibly small and focused. I was designing a huge 1770s show in my junior year, so I was given opportunities that I was so grateful for.

Forest Neighbor Oversized Sweater from Elhoffer Design’s Friendly Spirits Collection.

There’s something very theatrical about geek fashion. How did your costume design degree prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Well, costume is just fashion worn with intent, and knowing how to design a costume, I also know how to strip it down, too. So they really line up beautifully. I can take the work that costume designers have labored over and strip that work down to the bare essentials needed to tell the story of a modern look. What would Daenerys Targaryen wear if she was going to a modern gala? What about Lando Calrissian if he was a modern woman heading to give an office presentation? That’s the costume designing I’m doing now.

I understand some of your earliest costumes were inspired by the St. Louis Renaissance Faire and then evolved into Lord of the Rings-inspired clothing. Tell me about that.

I was hugely inspired by the designs in Lord of the Rings, and as I was in the Faery Guild of the Faire, all of us girls in the guild were trying to basically reenact Arwen and Legolas and like all the looks in that movie. I would make a lot of everyday tops for school that had just crazy flaire that reminded me of elvish fashion from the films. Looking back I roll my eyes, because my sewing needed a lot of experience, but the only way to learn is to just do it and learn from your mistakes.

What was your first professional big break?

For my costume design work, which helped get me to where I am now, it was getting my first feature film costume design title and job on “Yellow Rock,” a Western that really tested my knowledge and craft. I learned a ton on that project, including working with difficult personalities as well as getting first-hand mentoring on Lakota history and fashion.

You worked with Her Universe and designed a Totoro-inspired gown for Ashley Eckstein to wear at the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. What did you learn from that experience?

I love that gown so much. Everything I’ve ever made helped me learn more about my own personal design aesthetic and how I translate characters to fashion. That dress was a fun way to make a character into a couture, high fashion piece that could be easily recognizable but still incredibly couture and sleek. It’s still one of my favorite pieces I’ve made. I learned a lot about sewing sequins on that one, as the entire bodice is made from drop sequins, and you have to remove a lot of sequins when sewing high-fashion pieces for them to look right.

You also designed for Welovefine, working on items licensed by Marvel and other major fandoms. That sounds like a geek’s dream come true.

I loved what I did but hated my job. I loved working with licensors and making collections that fans loved and I still get recognized for, but the company was incredibly toxic and, while I learned a ton about clothing production, it was a rough year of my life.

Why did you decide to strike out on your own and launch Elhoffer Design?

WeLoveFine fired me, which was a great kick in the ass to do it solo. I was sick of bosses who didn’t believe women would actually spend money on quality garments, who thought my style was too subtle and wouldn’t read as the character or style … and who would fight me on pockets. I don’t like fighting over pockets. It’s a thing everyone needs to just accept already.

What was the biggest challenge of going solo?

Growing my audience was my biggest fear. I only had 2,000 followers on Instagram when I was fired, and I knew those 2,000 people/accounts weren’t going to be able to keep me afloat. So I started taking orders from friends for dresses or pieces, and then would post pictures of the commission as it was being worked on. I grew pretty quick, which then had even more people reaching out to me to commission apparel.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

Freedom. I love not having to be talked down to by higher-ups who think they know better than me or who think I’m a fake geek girl. I’ve developed relationships with a few factories in Los Angeles who never talk down to me or think I don’t know what I’m doing (though I will joke with them that I am Science Cat and have no idea what I’m doing).

Elhoffer Design’s motto is “helping lady-nerds feel amazing and powerful.” How do you feel your clothing accomplishes this?

To start with, I size my product to women with curves. So my fit is much more accommodating to women with boobs and hips, and when you get a garment that fits you beautifully you instantly feel better about your day. Pockets help, too, because phones don’t have to be shoved into a bra or lost in a purse. And I use simple lines and colors to evoke characters that inspire us all, and when you dress yourself in the morning and put on a top or sweater that reminds you of Khaleesi or a character you love, it’s impossible to not channel that power throughout your day as a reminder that you are a queen and deserve to be treated as one.

One of your priorities is creating fashions for “all shapes and sizes.” Unlike many fashion companies, Elhoffer Design really seems to be doing that. Why is this important to you?

Well I’m a solid XL, even a 2XL in some brands. I’m not small. I’m not skinny. I’m not thin. And I love myself and my body, so it’s about time that I look as good as I feel in my skin. I’m also super short, so I design things that can be hemmed to look good on me, but I have tall friends who also want to feel like queens, so I try to be a bit more diverse with my designs so they can work on different lengths. It’s hard, because mass made clothing (even in the small runs I am doing now) means that you can’t custom make for each person to fit them best, but I try to make pieces that can be easily adjusted to fit different bodies.

Elhoffer Design’s Galactic Baron Wrap Top, left, and Galactic Smuggler Crop Top.

I love that the models you use in your promotional photos are incredibly diverse, not the cookie-cutter types we tend to see in fashion advertising. What’s the thinking behind this?

Well, from my past work experience I found that customers responded when you’d show more than one body type on a site. Also, as a human who also shops online, I like when I can see it on someone more like my shape to make sure I can pull it off. Also, I have a marketing degree, so I know a bit about how to sell things. In general, the more information you can give a potential customer about the product they’re buying, the more likely they are to purchase from you. So why not apply that to clothing and show variety? I can’t accomplish that with every piece every time, because often I’m the one taking the pics and asking friends to model for me, but I am trying my damn hardest as a business of one.

You’ve said fighting the “size/fit” battle is never-ending. What are some of the hurdles you encounter in making clothes that anyone and everyone can feel comfortable in?

Well for bigger shapes in particular there’s a ton of different shapes to design for. Pear, Apple, Triangle, Inverted Triangle … like, not everything can work on every body. But I tend to work with nicer fabrics that have spandex knit or woven into them, which can help fit just a little nicer and a little better on bodies.

I’m also constantly battling society’s standards of beauty and comfort. A lot of women think crop sweaters means they crop just under their boobs and shows off their tummies, so I have customers who are hesitant to buy my cropped cardigans. But I had a customer message me this past weekend who was so thrilled she took that risk on the crops because they pair perfectly with her flared dresses, so it’s a huge hurdle for customers.

Do you think the geek fashion industry in general is doing enough to fight this battle?

Oh, no. The geek fashion industry is still a subset of the fashion industry, which is also doing a terrible job at this as well. Big companies are still making money on whatever they make, so why change the model or fit? It’s selling. If every person stopped shopping from the retailers that are known for poor fit, they’d change their fit instantly. But they’re making money so no need to change.

What would you like to see change in that regard?

I mean, I want real pockets in everything. Not small ones, but real substantial ones. Feminine fits should be for people with boobs, because smaller chested humans can always get things tailored down, but letting things out is nearly impossible with the way modern clothing in manufactured. And decent pattern grading is crucial. Nothing is graded well in the mass market. But I really don’t see that changing.

For those who don’t get the pocket thing, why do so many women get excited about that? 

Those who don’t get it tend to be cis dudes. Pockets allow freedom. You don’t need to carry a bag that hurts your back or shoulder, you don’t have to worry about losing that bag or getting it stolen off of you while walking. When I go to Disneyland I don’t need a bag, I can fit a water bottle, phone, keys, and money in my pockets. It makes it easier to ride the rides, to relax, and to have fun.

Your customers seem very personally invested in your company (they can participate in preorders, which help fund new designs, for instance). How do you cultivate this level of loyalty and trust? 

Well, I try very hard to respond to everyone quickly and basically always appear to be online. It started back when I was doing handmade and I’d post progress pictures and reply to questions and all, because I run my own social media. And as I was starting out doing preorders it was crucial that my customers trust that I’m actually going to deliver the preorder, because there are companies in the geek world who take preorders and then don’t deliver on time or don’t deliver … at all? So I don’t ever want people to think my company is like that.

So communicating online with customers is crucial. Live streams also help my fans and customers see that I’m a single human. While I certainly have teams at my factory, it’s me doing the bulk of the back end work on my site. I want to grow to being more people, but I also want to grow my business safely so I can’t just hire people to do everything for me.

One of your collections, Love is Love is Love Apparel, helps support LGBTQ groups that focus on reducing suicide and aiding in education and support. Why is this cause close to your heart?

Well I have plenty of friends and family who are LGBTQIA, and I want them to know that they’re loved and important and matter. After Lin Manuel Miranda’s speech post-Pulse, and then the recent administration’s hatred towards LGBTQIA humans … I wanted to try and do something. We all have to try and do something.

Elhoffer Design’s Queens of Winter Apparel collection.

What do you personally like to wear?

I live in high-waisted leggings and oversized tops when working.

One of your recent projects is a collection inspired by Valiant Entertainment’s Faith, available at ThinkGeek. Tell me more about that collaboration.

Well, Valiant reached out to me asking if I’d be willing to work with them on a collection, and I can’t say no to that. Once we had ideas and samples, we brought Think Geek into the collab and they were incredibly interested in the designs and collection. It was a long process but was so incredibly rewarding!

You’ve said that Star Wars was your original fandom, but you’re “cooling” on it. Why is that?

Well the fandom is getting a little intense online with the new movies and a lot of people hating on them. That, and I loved the EU (Expanded Universe) so hard and it’s still rough for me to not have a character like Mara Jade to really love. I’m also not a huge fan of the animated series, which seems to be where Star Wars fans are living right now.

I’m also finding, as an adult, it’s hard to give all my time or love to any fandom and it’s hard for me to blindly love things. So my white-hot passion for Star Wars as a teenager has definitely cooled as my fandoms have diversified and my life has become more complicated.

When it comes to geekdom, you have a dazzlingly wide variety of interests. Why don’t we do some fun questions pertaining to your various obsessions?

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Hufflepuff. 100%.

How many hours have you spent playing “Legend of Zelda”?

Too many. Probably 3,000+. I’ve played the SNES one through probably ten times across eight platforms/emulators … And “Breath of the Wild” already has 500 hours logged.

Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite and why?

“The Next Generation.” Picard is my captain. Always.

Team Spike or Team Angel?

SPIKE. Angel only was good after getting a soul. Spike turned good and then went out and GOT a soul. I love Spike.

Who’s your favorite X-Man?

Kitty Pryde. She has a DRAGON.

Elhoffer Design’s Hamilgown Tunics.

Do you know all the “Hamilton” lyrics?

Almost all. I’m still not fluent in “Yorktown.”

Do you Twitter-stalk Lin Manuel Miranda like the rest of us?

OF COURSE.

Which movie Mr. Darcy is the best Mr. Darcy?

Colin Firth. Though Matthew Mcfadyen is so gorgeous …

What are some of your favorite Disney movies, characters, attractions, etc.?

Hercules, Buzz Light Year Ride, and Princess Aurora.

Which Studio Ghibli movie is your favorite?

“Howl’s Moving Castle.”

You recently returned from exhibiting and doing panels at WonderCon in Anaheim. What was that experience like this year?

It was interesting! It was my first major convention to sell at and I learned a LOT about the show. I love doing panels, too, cause I love talking about all my experience and sharing my knowledge!

Along with your Elhoffer Design work, you create costumes, such as the Princess Leia outfit recently worn by John Barrowman at Awesome Con. What do you enjoy about that?

There’s nothing I don’t love about working with John, he’s such a sweetheart and always wants to make the most CRAZY and awesome costumes! He always wants the “Barrowman Flair,” which is just so enjoyable as a designer to have that freedom to have fun!

Do you do any cosplay yourself?

The only cosplay I’ve ever done to a con was Thor-Girl. And that was so much fun but incredibly exhausting! I hate wigs and makeup, so cosplay is not my forte. That’s why I love bounding. Much easier and more comfy!

What are some of your future plans or dreams for Elhoffer Design?

Grow bigger, make more money, hire my qualified and incredibly talented friends, team up with some amazing designer friends on collabs, keep getting bigger and bigger!

Are there any fandoms you haven’t tackled yet that you’d like to transform into fashions?

Jurassic Park/Dinos. I wanna do NASA, too. Not sure if those qualify as “fandom.”

Let’s (cautiously) celebrate Hollywood’s new favorite trend: female directors

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Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay.

Here at No Man’s Land, we like to celebrate the groundbreaking and historic achievements of women in Hollywood because, let’s face it, the industry remains notoriously male dominated. At this point, any victory, even the smallest, can feel monumental.

Over the last few weeks, a lot has happened worth celebrating, so let’s break out the champagne and party poppers!

The first reason we have to say “Yay!” is an exciting new trend in the television industry that has resulted in the hiring of dozens of female directors.

“A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay got the ball rolling by hiring women to direct every episode of the first two seasons of “Queen Sugar,” a move supported by executive producer Oprah Winfrey. Five of the seven directors featured in the first season were new to episodic television. The roster included women of color from diverse filmmaking backgrounds.

DuVernay, who got her big break directing an episode of “Scandal” for show-running legend Shonda Rimes, recently announced she’ll continue this all-female streak for the third season of “Queen Sugar.” And she’s inspired other TV producers to follow suit.

The second season of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” which premiered on Netflix in March, featured all women directors, thanks to the efforts of showrunner Melissa Rosenberg.

Image result for jessica jones fight like a woman

According to a recent L.A. Times article, Rosenberg’s initial goal was to hire a directing team that was 50% female. After taking her plan to Netflix Vice President of Original Series Allie Goss, they decided to go all in.

“I’ve been on 25 years of shows and nine times out of 10, those directing staffs are all white men,” Rosenberg said. “So why not all women?”

The makers of Marvel’s “Luke Cage” also recently announced that women, including actor Lucy Liu, “Queen Sugar” vet Neema Barnette and “Eve’s Bayou” helmer Kasi Lemmons, would make up approximately half their directing team for Season 2.

According to the L.A. Times, other shows, including “The Deuce,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Transparent,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” have designated women to direct at least half of the series’ episodes.

While a couple of recent studies found that women directed only about 7% of the top-grossing movies last year, 21% of all TV episodes were directed by women, an increase of 7% from 2015-16. There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen, but it’s certainly an encouraging trend.

And, yes, even though there has been some good news out of Hollywood lately regarding female filmmakers, the movie industry can do better.

We’ll begin our celebration of positive developments with last month’s news that DuVernay is slated to direct an adaptation of Jack Kirby’s “The New Gods” for DC.

After helming “A Wrinkle in Time” for Disney, DuVernay is more than qualified to direct a big-budget comic book movie. As the first woman of color to direct a DC superhero film, she should inject some much-needed diversity and energy into an uneven franchise.

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J.J. Abrams, Victoria Mahoney, and Ava DuVernay.

Last week, DuVernay was one of the first people to break the news via Twitter that “Star Wars: Episode IX” is making history by hiring Victoria Mahoney as second unit director for the film. (A second unit director is responsible for supplementary footage and maintaining the film’s look and continuity.)

DuVernay, who is a friend of “Episode IX” first unit director J.J. Abrams, tweeted: “Happy to share this historic news. A black woman directing stories in a galaxy far, far away.”

Mahoney has enjoyed a successful career in television, directing episodes of “The Misfits,” “Claws,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Queen Sugar,” as well as the TV movie “Red Line.”

It’s great that Lucasfilm has embraced a woman of color as a director, even if many of us still think it’s high time they entrusted first unit duties to a female filmmaker.

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Christina Hodson

In other heartening Hollywood news, screenwriter Christina Hodson has been hired to pen DC’s upcoming Batgirl movie, which the studio appeared to put on ice after the departure of Joss Whedon.

The “Avengers” writer-director’s presence on the film had become something of a feminist nightmare after his ex-wife’s revelations about his treatment of women.

Hiring a woman to flesh out the story of one of the comic book world’s most famous and complicated superheroines would seem like an obvious advantage, but studio executives don’t always see it that way, so Whedon’s exit and Hodson’s entrance come as a relief.

Hodson’s previous projects include “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee,” to be released in December. She also scripted DC’s untitled Harley Quinn movie, which is speculated to be based on the popular all-female Birds of Prey comic book team.

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Cathy Yan

DC announced last week that the untitled Harley Quinn project will be directed by Cathy Yan, a former journalist who earned acclaim for “Dead Pigs,” her directorial debut and a Sundance Film Festival hit.

In an industry in which there are very few Asian directors in general, Yan will make history as the first Asian-American woman to helm a potential comic book blockbuster.

With Yan on board, along with DuVernay and Patty Jenkins, returning to oversee “Wonder Woman 2,” DC is shaping up to be a strong champion of women in the director’s chair. It can only bode well for the success of the franchise and for representation in Hollywood.

While I’m excited about the baby steps we’re seeing in the daunting quest to solve Hollywood’s gender parity problem, there’s still a massive amount of change required.

We live in an America where there is basically only one Ava DuVernay and one Patty Jenkins in comparison to dozens of Steven Spielbergs and J.J. Abramses.

Women make up 50% of moviegoers but only 8% of movie directors, only five women have ever been nominated for a best picture Oscar, and women accounted for a meager 24% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of last year. (For more sobering stats, check out the Women and Hollywood website.)

Here’s hoping the industry keeps the momentum going when it comes to hiring women to write and direct so someday we can celebrate female filmmaking triumphs without reservation.

Photos: ABC Columbia, fandom.wikia.com, blurbstory.com.