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Comic-Con in the #MeToo Era: Progress Comes One Panel at a Time

San Diego Comic-Con 2018: The more things stay the same, the more they change

For many, the big “if” looming over San Diego Comic-Con 2018 was just how the biggest annual gathering of geeks in the world would respond to the rapidly changing cultural climate exemplified by the #MeToo movement.

Would the convention organization openly address the vast changes that have rocked Hollywood and other industries in the last 10 months? Would it be business-as-usual for SDCC or major studios? And have the creators and their fans embraced these changes?

Based on what TheWrap saw, the answers are: A frustrated “no,” a cautiously optimistic “probably not,” and for the most part, an enthusiastic “hell yes.”

Officially, Comic-Con was silent about #MeToo. When SDCC programming director Eddie Ibrahim gave his traditional kick off speech in Hall H on Thursday morning, notably absent was any mention of the convention’s harassment policies. That continued for all four days of the convention.

But Comic-Con as an organization has been subjected over the last half-decade to calls to adopt more explicit policies regarding sexual harassment. This effort was most visible in 2014, led by a group called Geeks for CONsent.

Those earlier criticisms took on a new relevance last year, after stories accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct prompted a wave of women and some men to come forward with their own experiences as victims of abuse.

The geek space was no exception: most recently, Comic-Con mainstay Chris Hardwick stepped down as moderator of several of this year’s panels after accusations that he emotionally and sexually abused former girlfriend Chloe Dykstra. (Hardwick has denied any abuse, and on Wednesday AMC cleared him to return to work following an investigation into the accusations.)

Comic-Con for its part has chosen not to update those anti-harassment policies, which state in part that “harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated,” and that “persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy” should seek out security or SDCC staff.

Whatever actions the organization is taking behind the scenes, it ultimately chose not to discuss them publicly. Comic-Con International did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap

Unofficially, fans and creators were frequently vocal in support of greater inclusion and representation, and in talking about harassment and abuse.

The panel for NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on Friday night was a particular stand out, with cast members, producers, and fans touching on a range of sensitive issues. Notably, one fan thanked Terry Crews, who accused William Morris Endeavor agent Adam Venit of groping him, “for your part in #MeToo,” adding, “I’m so sorry for all of us that are part of #MeToo that you have to be part of it.”

And at a panel called “The Future Is Female,” “Bumblebee” and “Birds of Prey” screenwriter Christina Hodson got huge cheers and lots of knowing muttering when she celebrated the successes of the #MeToo era but noted that much work remains.

“Nine months ago, no one gave a s—. Like, no one cares what happens. Now everything has shifted. So I think behavior on set, in writers’ rooms, that’s all going to shift. So I’m very happy about that,” she said.

But, she continued, “Just because we’re talking about it now and just because [“Wonder Woman” director] Patty Jenkins kicked a–, it doesn’t mean everything’s fixed. And I think we just gotta be mindful. But one or two big movies, like out there front and center, don’t change the fact that the numbers are really, really bad.”

One of the most memorable moments came during Friday’s panel for “Halloween,” when star Jamie Lee Curtis appeared to allude to #MeToo when she described her character’s arc in the latest franchise entry: “She is saying, ‘I am not my trauma. She’s been waiting 40 years to have this person who she knows is coming and to say, ‘I am going to take back the legacy. I am going take back my narrative.'”

That got huge applause from the audience, which was outdone minutes later when a fan told Curtis during the Q&A how being inspired by her performance in the iconic first “Halloween” helped save his life during a home invasion. Curtis stepped off the stage to embrace him, prompting a standing ovation.

Hardwick, in contrast, cast a long, largely unremarked-upon shadow over the Hall H auditorium he has held court in for so many years. He was originally set to moderate the panels for “Doctor Who,” as well as AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and “Fear The Walking Dead” in Hall H. Neither the moderators who replaced him in these panels — including Yvette Nicole Brown, who is also taking over his “Talking Dead” duties — nor fans brought him up, either directly or indirectly.

Warner Bros. featured a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp during the studio’s Saturday Hall H presentation of “Fantastic Beasts 2,” in-character as the villain Grindelwald. It was a fun, if mumbled performance, but the elephant in the room was Depp’s contentious divorce from Amber Heard, who accused the actor of abuse — and who also appeared as part of Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman” panel just 20 minutes later.

Also interesting from our vantage point, the relative frequency of #MeToo references was matched by political moments in general at Comic-Con, even while the event itself was largely as apolitical as always. And those moments leaned left.

During Warner Bros.’ presentation Saturday, “Fantastic Beasts” cast member Zoe Kravitz was asked by a fan what she would do if she had magic in real life: she replied, “Impeach Trump,” prompting a room full of loud cheering.

And later that day,”Man in the High Castle” producer Isa Dick Hackett remarked that they were not changing the show — about an alternate history in which Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II — to match reality, but rather that it seemed reality was changing to match the show.

Generally, as we witnessed it, this was how things played out — panelists tended not to bring up social issues on their own, but usually didn’t shy away when fans asked about them. Though one especially notable moment came Saturday during The CW’s slate of Ballroom 20 panels, when “Supergirl” announced the groundbreaking casting of Nicole Maines as television’s first openly transgender superhero, Dreamer.

And though Comic-Con did not comment on the cultural situation officially, at the annual Eisner Awards (the Oscars of comics, held on the Friday night of Comic-Con), women were front and center. Marjorie Liu became the first woman in Comic-Con history to win best writer, Joye Murchison Kelly and the late Dorothy Roubicek Woolfolk became the first women to win the Bill Finger award, and in all, women were named winners in 23 out of 38 categories.

There are of course hundreds of panels every year, and a full accounting of them is difficult. But from what TheWrap saw on the ground, though Comic-Con continues to avoid taking any overt stance, things are changing anyway — even if the convention tries to look very much the same.