#ComicCon@Home–Informative, But Pale: Shudder’s “Horror Is Queer” Panel
By Foxxy Jazzabelle
ComicCon@Home released its “Shudder: Horror Is Queer” panel last Thursday evening as part of its virtual comic convention this year. As a queer Black woman who loves horror, my interests were quite piqued for this panel. But seeing the line-up of chosen panelists on my laptop screen left a lot to be desired.
There were five guests chosen to be panelists, four of them were White, three of them were cisgender men, one non-binary actor, and one light-skinned Black woman. I would have appreciated seeing much more color on this panel because BIPOC horror exists and Black QUEER horror exists. The inclusion of more queer people of color on the panel would’ve have injected much-needed complexity and a wider breadth of experience and knowledge for audiences to ingest. Knowing that other SDCC panels had more than six people, I am left perplexed at why SDCC and Shudder would limit themselves in this way.
The conversation in “Horror Is Queer” encompassed each panelist’s introduction to horror as queer themselves, the history of how queerness is shown and otherized in mainstream cinema and television, and analysis of movies and television via a queer lens. Other topics included how the queerness of the creator is expressed through media and the pros and cons of being on the margins versus assimilation into mainstream culture. Watching the entire panel unfold, again, I must reiterate that the lack of color on this panel does a great disservice to queer BIPOC and to the integrity of Shudder and SDCC as media companies and spaces. The opportunity was wide open to break the wheel of erasure of queer people of color from these spaces.
Yet SDCC and Shudder failed utterly by thinking that only Nay Bever, a light-skinned Black woman, and nonbinary actor Lachlan Watson would suffice for such a rich topic of discussion. I understand the panel was essentially a taste of what to expect of Shudder’s upcoming documentary on LGBTQ+ horror history. That is no excuse for continuing to perpetuate BIPOC erasure with a drop of colorism for good measure, and it concerns me regarding how inclusive the documentary will actually be when it premieres.
Some High Points
Taking the panel for what it was, though, there were subtopics I did find worth watching. One was the discussion of creating media palatable to a mainstream audience versus willfully injecting queerness into mainstream media. From the perspectives of Hannibal series creator Bryan Fuller and Child’s Play creator Don Mancini, both gay men initially did not look to willfully inject their queerness into their works. Yet subtle queer elements did seep into the stories and plots for a time. Fuller mentioned that he did his best to be respectful of the original source material, but over time, he ended up writing a love story of sorts between two straight men: Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
From an analysis standpoint, it was wonderful to discover how Fuller injected queerness into the tv series. It was done in a fluid and genuine way via examining the platonic relationship between two men versus how queerness was utilized in typical “otherness” fashion in the motion picture “Hannibal”. The film portrayed Hannibal’s idiosyncrasies— the love of the arts, culture, and aesthetics—in habitual, stereotypical, and harmful ways as markers of abnormality. On the other hand, the television series allowed anyone to examine their definitions of queerness and masculinity when it comes to men and their connections with each other. Anyone could see themselves in Will or Hannibal, regardless of their gender or orientation, as evidenced by the existence of die-hard fans of the tv show called “Fannibals”.
With Child’s Play, Mancini subtly injected parts of his own experience from childhood as a gay boy with a bigoted father via having the character of Andy as a fatherless child. By the time he made Seed of Chucky, queerness was front and center with elements such as the introduction of Glen/Glenda, trans child of Chucky and Tiffany. As the want for content outside of the heteronormative gaze became more discernible, the Child’s Play and Hannibal properties became more “outwardly queer”. What hit home the most within this subtopic was that having queerness directly in the face of mainstream media still comes with a price via smaller box office grosses, Nielson ratings, and less-than-great reviews. However, both Fuller and Mancini agreed the pros in this matter outweighed the cons because their creative decisions enabled more queer folks to be seen in the media they consume.
The Panel Needed More Queerness and Color
I agree with both creators’ sentiments. I can sadly only wonder how much more multi-dimensional and engaging this subtopic could have been if there were more queer BIPOC panelists adding needed input. Non-white queer folks have always had to navigate weighing the choices of staying niche or playing it safe with our stories because existing on the intersections of two marginalized identities means having lesser chances to be seen than our White queer and cis counterparts. It would have been good for Fuller and Mancini to be prodded to consider how they could help further break down the gates to make way for all queer folks’ stories to get out into the world.
Of Villians and Monsters
A subtopic of conversation that ended up being most interesting to me was the idea of “reclaiming monstrosity”, as put forth by moderator Jordan Crucchiola. As is the standard with marginalized classes, being “otherized” signals to the majority what and who is unacceptable and should be shunned. Media has long been administered to otherize queerness as “monstrous”. The consensus among the panel is that it is our right to reclaim humanity from the majority and “be that monster”. Queer folks must be sure to question and challenge, as panelist Nay Bever did, “Who decides who’s the monster?”
The panel agreed that queer people can be vilified/be the villain in movies and television without having their queerness be the main reason they ARE so. I concur that being queer does not mean being a villain is compulsory. However, as Sam Wineman noted, there are times where queer villains can and do utilize their sexuality in their evil deeds that work in the story. Just as the onus is not on Black people to prove to the majority that its hasty generalizations are fallacious, the onus is also not on queer people to prove superficial half-truths wrong for mainstream validation. There is no compulsory way to be queer. It is fine to have nuanced queer villains who do bad things with their queerness interwoven in their reasoning and actions.
Better than Most SDCC Panels, But Not By Much
All in all, the panel was informative and well-run. But had more queer creators of color been present as panelists, the conversation would have had the chance to honestly confront many problematic racial, gender, and queerphobic tropes in horror. There could have been a deeper conversation into good and bad examples of queer characters “being the monster” in bad and good ways. There could have been a deeper conversation about each subtopic across the board. In keeping the panel small and, quite frankly, pale, Shudder and SDCC took the usual easy road and in some ways, played it safe within its own programming. If current events have shown anything, it has demonstrated that avoidance of difficult conversations obstructs genuine change. If we want things to change, we must start with even the smallest action. The panelists spoke on mainstream needing to do more than talk the talk, I will give them that. But Shudder and SDCC both seem to not be so ready to walk the walk.
Watch “Shudder: Horror Is Queer” on SDCC’s YouTube channel below: