My Experience at WizardWorld New Orleans
By: J’Neia Stewart
WizardWorld puts on cons all over the United States throughout the year in cities including New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis to name a few. So, when I noticed it would be happening only an hour away from me in New Orleans, I knew I had to go. For the first time ever, I had the amazing opportunity to cover WizardWorld New Orleans for Geeks of Color. I have been wanting to attend this convention since 2014 but, for one reason or another, the timing was always off. Still, I seized the opportunity to represent GOC this year by attending and reviewing the convention as a whole.
As a writer for Geeks of Color, the most exciting aspect of a con for me is the programming. I am typically drawn toward programs that specifically aim to discuss topics concerning diversity in tv shows, movies, comic books, and video games. So, naturally, I was incredibly disappointed to see that WizardWorld New Orleans was pretty lacking in that area. Of all the programming listed on its schedules, only three things came close: “Sci-Fi Speed Dating Session: LGBTPQ”, “The Anthropology of Star Trek”, and “American Anime: The Ultimate Oxymoron”. Three of the panels I attended, “Canon–Unbreakable or Disposable?”, “Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Thriller, & Suspense Storytelling”, and “Marvel vs. DC: The Great Debate” had the most potential to exhibit and discuss the diversity of characters and stories and did not.
The “Canon” panel had only two white males leading it and, while they discussed the importance of canon in major universes such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel/DC, the two often expressed remarks that were gatekeeper-esque in nature. Of all the people attending this panel, there were only three Black people in the room including me. It was none too surprising when one of the panelists said he hated CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery because the story wasn’t important and that the only character he liked on the show was Jason Isaacs (also a white male).
In the “Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Thriller, & Suspense Storytelling Panel”, the panelists/authors were all white: two white men (one of which identified as a gay male) and two white women. With important sci-fi outings such as Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time premiering this year, this panel felt like a missed opportunity to include POC authors who are writing in the sci-fi, fantasy, and thriller/suspense fields and amplify their voices as well as their work.
The third panel, “Marvel vs. DC” was set up to have two sides, one advocating for reasons why Marvel was better and the other advocating for reasons why DC was better. The panelists were all white (five white men and one white woman) with the exception of one black male. When the moderator allowed the audience to ask some questions to the panelists, I chose to ask one that I hoped they would be able to answer: “Out of Marvel and DC, which has more heroes that are not straight white men?”
I sat back as I watched the proverbial “grasping at straws”: “You don’t like Vixen? What about Black Panther and Luke Cage?” For some reason, these were all they could name, and I was a bit disturbed by that.
Would I have gotten the names of more heroes who did not fall under the straight white male umbrella had the panel itself had women of color and those who identify as LGBT+? It’s difficult to say but the presence of those individuals might have made a difference. Overall, the panels at WizardWorld New Orleans do need to have more diverse voices and this is something I would hope to see as soon as next year.
The convention itself was well organized, though I would have liked to see more events happening around the convention center as well as inside of it. This might have happened if the convention itself placed heavier emphasis on television but the con was still enjoyable. The Ernest Morial New Orleans Convention Center is basically a long strip and WizardWorld was contained at the end of it. The floor was spread out and had a wide variety of vendors, which I appreciated. Though it did get pretty packed with people at times, I never felt overwhelmed. The panels were on the second floor of the convention center which meant they were pretty distanced from the show floor. I found this to be really helpful especially since my anxiety skyrockets around large crowds and I had a quieter space to escape to.
The guests themselves were enough to draw any nerd: Stan Lee, Jason Momoa, David Tennant, Nichelle Nichols, and a host of others were present at this convention. I was fortunate enough to take a picture with Jason Momoa, David Tennant, and Stan Lee, something I’d been looking forward to and budgeting toward for months.
Overall, I enjoyed myself at WizardWorld New Orleans and I hope to attend next year. I enjoyed representing Geeks of Color at this con and attending it has given me the strength to attend more cons and ask the tough questions no one else in the room is willing to ask.