Welcome to May 2015’s edition of #SciFi Women Interviews! Today, I am happy to talk Science Fiction, fangirls, cosplay and much more with Saf Davidson! I met her through the Star Wars online community.
Born in America but growing up in New Zealand, Saf had a bit of a turbulent childhood in which she escaped into science fiction, loving works such as Star Wars, Stargate, the Amber Chronicles, Judge Dredd, and more. Writing and travel are the two thing that lie closest to her heart and she spends most of her days working on the former, and planning the latter. She talks often and loudly about feminism, LGBT+ issues, and her own struggles with chronic illness. She has studied many things, but mastered none, and while she is currently recovering from her Chronic Fatigue she spends most of her energy on writing (both blogging and working on her novel), cosplay, and photography. She dreams of one day writing for Star Wars officially in some capacity! You can connect with Saf on Twitter, her Cosplay Facebook and her blog. She also contributes to The Wookiee Gunner and Force Cult.
NG: How were you first introduced to Science Fiction?
SAF: I don’t fully remember what exactly first introduced me to it–I vaguely remember being put in front of the Star Wars Original Trilogy on VHS at a family friend’s place to keep me distracted while my parents chatted away. These would probably be some of my first memories. While my childhood is vague, I’m pretty sure my mum was a big science fiction fan and introduced me to Stargate, which I adored too, and my dad gave me Judge Dredd and other various comics, which I devoured.
I’ve always just wanted to be a Jedi for as long as I can remember!
NG: Do you think that Fangirls are an expression of Feminism?
SAF: Absolutely! While certain facets of it can be known for their internalized misogyny, calling yourself a fanGIRL is an expression of pride in your own gender. The fangirl communities I’m involved in now are all very feminist, always accepting and open and willing to call out sexist (and other problematic issues) issues in the things they love. Fandoms in general are known for having male fans act as gatekeepers of sorts: accepting men of all kind into their fold, but expecting women and girls to fit ridiculous standards before they can be “real” fans. The “fake geek girl” trope is everywhere, even now, and fangirl is sometimes even used as an insult. To me, taking the Fangirl label and proudly carrying it is a way of fighting back against this sexism and hatred.
NG: How do you think fangirls can change media industries?
SAF: By being loud and proud fans, and not giving up on what they believe is right. Already we can see fangirls like Ashley Eckstein with her Her Universe store changing the fandom fashion industry with clothing made especially for girls, featuring girls of all sizes. With the way social media is these days, it’s much easier to call out sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. The backlash from these things is much more observable these days, which is clear with the recent #WheresHera campaign.
We can change these industries with our voices, but also, unfortunately, with our wallets. When female-led movies are made, we have to support them. When female merchandise exists, we have to buy it. I will always support films, shows and novels, but I’m personally not a hoarder and am young and poor, and I dislike that we have to prove that we deserve the same fan opportunities as male fans with money, when it’s inherently thought that male-led anything is what people want already. Money is what the big companies want, and it’s what they pay attention to. This also means that boycotting can be another way to try changing the industries, if there is a big enough push.
On a more positive note, I think that fangirls creating what they love–be it a fan creation or an original work–will definitely help to put more female-driven works into view for everyone. Keep creating what you want to see, and others will see it and want it too (or be happy that what they already wanted has been created!).
NG: What are you top 3 favorites for Science Fiction books, TV shows and movies?
SAF: My top three favorite books are the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (yes, that’s probably cheating!), which are three YA books which delve into themes of sexism, colonization, power, and growing up. These books inspired me to go into writing Sci-Fi myself!
As for TV shows, I’d have to say Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Fringe, and recently Steven Universe. As you can tell, I’m a pretty big fan of things aimed at kids and young adults, they’re often such deep works despite what many people think, with amazing writing and characterization.
With movies, I’d have to lump all the Star Wars films into one slot, because there are far too many and you can’t make me pick just one or two (though I’m part of the Prequel generation and tend to prefer watching those). I also adore Dredd (the 2012 film) partly for nostalgia reasons, but also because it’s just an awesome movie with awesome ladies. It’s hard to choose a third film because I just have a massive love for any and all Science Fiction movies, but Interstellar has recently become a favorite of mine. It’s got such an amazing commentary on humanity and love, as well as a spectacular soundtrack and visuals.
NG: Which Science Fiction characters have had the greatest influence on you?
SAF: There are a few main ones, most of them being Star Wars characters. Leia’s always been a character I’ve looked up to since I was little, as has Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan is especially influential in that through wanting to be more like the ideal Jedi, beacon-of-light person he is, I learned to mellow out a lot more (I was a very fiery child) and also learned how to let things go and not let life hurt me as much as I used to.
Supergirl is another character I’ve loved since I was little. I wanted to be a superhero just like her when I was a kid–and still do, to be honest–and then later on in life it was cosplaying her that gave me real confidence with cosplay and finally got me really loving the hobby and more involved with the community here in New Zealand! Without having seen her sweet new New 52 look way back then, I doubt I would be the same person I am today.
More recently, Ahsoka Tano has been a big influence on me. I identify a lot with that girl, since I was a pretty bratty kid too, but I also learned to have patience, respect and compassion in much the same way. I aspire to be as brave, as determined, as selfless, and as strong as Ahsoka is at the time of her leaving the Jedi Order. This aspiration has often helped to teach me to me to step back from not-so-good situations at times.
NG: What is Science Fiction’s responsibility in diverse and inclusive representation?
SAF: Science Fiction is, to me, largely about what humanity can be. There are so many opportunities in science fiction to show women, non-white people, LGBT+ folk, and even disabled folk–what with these stories being set in alternate universes to ours where the rules of institutionalized privilege can be completely different. When we create a fictional future, why not make it a future that represents the real people of this world–a diverse and inclusive future? Science Fiction has, from its very beginnings, been for just more that the commonly portrayed white boy “nerd”. Frankenstein is known for being the first Science Fiction novel and it was penned by Mary Shelley. Fanfiction has been around for decades, mostly dominated by women, and it has inspired so many stories and worlds (though I’m not a fan, one can easily give the Mortal Instruments series as an example of this). Even Superman was originally created as an analogy for immigrants to the United States (he himself is an immigrant, though one from further away). This genre has never been just for the straight white guy.
Science Fiction is also generally a social commentary, whether or not the author actively aims for it. There are deep themes of humanity and community in many Science Fiction stories; family in Star Wars, community and one’s “people” in The 100, love extending across space and time in Interstellar. To have a genre so entrenched in the idea of humanity means that at its heart, Science Fiction should always be inclusive and push for that diversity.
NG: What place does fan creation have in your appreciation for Science Fiction?
SAF: Creating art of any kind based around a story I love is my favorite way of channeling said love. Whenever I watch a good sci-fi film (Interstellar being the latest example) all I want to do is write in that genre. Something about interstellar travel and vast, unexplored worlds just lights a fire within me and makes me want to create. However, I’m not often one to write fanfiction, so while this is how I show my love for the genre, it’s not really how I do for any given story.
When I was young, I used to make sculptures to try and bring these ideas to life, which has evolved more into cosplay nowadays. While cosplay is more of a relatively new hobby for me (compared to drawing and writing), I very much remember wanting to dress up and be characters such as Leia Organa and Supergirl even as a wee child. Luckily for that young Saf, I grew up and actually cosplayed those exact characters!
NG: How did you start cosplaying?
SAF: I went to a convention when I was quite a bit younger (maybe 10?) with my mum and sister, and while I was there I saw people cosplaying as some of my favorite characters. I didn’t know it then, but most of those people would later end up being some of my best friends! At the time, I was so in awe of them, and instantly went home and started planning costumes out. I made some half-assed attempts for a few years, but it wasn’t until another friend gave me her old Yuna (from Final Fantasy X) costume that I really got into the scene and the idea of emulating a character’s look. I can definitely thank my cosplay and fandom friends for inspiring me to make and wear costumes.
NG: What are some of your best/worst cosplaying experiences?
SAF: One of my favorite moments was last year during Auckland Armageddon, the biggest New Zealand convention, when I was cosplaying Leia. I and another Star Wars cosplayer I’d just met were asked to be in a photo with a couple kids. While we were posing, the cantina band music just starts up out of nowhere behind us and starts getting closer. I turn around, and there’s an R2-D2 next to me blasting the music. A friend of mine captured the moment I discovered this on my camera, and the look on my face is just pure joy.
Also, every time I wore Supergirl I just had the most fun in the world. I intend on remaking that costume someday soon, because prancing around in that leotard and cape was my favourite thing, even if the boots were a nightmare.
NG: What advice would you have for someone wanting to start cosplaying?
SAF: The best thing you can do is just start! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to sew or make props, you’ve just got to go for it and learn from your experiences. There are hundreds of tutorials online to learn from, and everyone has to start somewhere. You should see my Supergirl costume (my first fully made cosplay) compared with my Leia one (my most recent), and you can see how much my skills have improved just from tutorials and experimentation. In my opinion, you’ve got to finish a costume to learn from the costume.
I always have the hugest respect for those newbie cosplayers who make a costume that may not be the most well-made, because they see a character and they say, “I’m going to cosplay that,” and then they do! I have become such a perfectionist and procrastinator with my costumes nowadays that I have a whole pile of half-finished costumes that I keep putting off for various reasons. It’s much more fun wearing a cosplay with friends, even if it’s fraying or falling apart or not award-winning. I know, because I’ve done it (and more often than not, my costumes are falling apart, even if you can’t tell)!
NG: Thank you very much for this conversation, Saf! I am certain my readers will be glad to connect with you!