Rogue Element #126: C2E2 2015 – The Panels

By Avril Brown

As with whirlwind vacations in exotic locales, every year at Comic Con I tend to struggle over which activity to pursue given my limited time frame. Naturally, the only panels I was interested in attending overlapped one another, so I had to make Sophie’s choice between seeing some of my favorite male fantasy authors and seeing some of my favorite female television actresses. I went with women power, and I was well-rewarded for my choice.

Fierce Females of TV

Despite the semi-lame name and slow start, this was one fantastic panel. There was a broad sampling of women who each brought their own unique voice and experiences to the table, and each starred on vastly distinctive shows, ensuring an interesting blend of fans. Maria Doyle Kennedy from ‘Orphan Black,’ Jewel Staite from ‘Firefly,’ Leah Pipes from ‘The Originals,’ and Neve McIntosh from ‘Doctor Who,’ with Clare Kramer from ‘Buffy’ as moderator comprised the panel and all play rather badass women in their respective shows. I heard the word ‘fierce’ about fifty times in the first five minutes, which got old really fast, but each actress had an interesting response to the word fierce. Jewel shied away from it, calling it ‘scary’ and referring to her coworker Gina Torres (who played a warrior on the show). Neve referred to her character on ‘Who,’ a lizard warrior queen, and says, “She eats people, which is kind of fierce…and they gave me a sword.” Leah plays one of the only humans on a show rife with witches, werewolves, vampires and hybrids, and bemoaned, “I would love to eat people, but I don’t get to.”

All women agreed there is discrimination in the workplace, and some shared personal experiences along with advice on how to confront such a situation. Jewel recounted a time she was working ungodly long hours on a gig in South America and asked to check the time sheets (something she’s been doing since entering the biz at the age of eight). They had brazenly whited out the hour she had actually clocked out at and wrote in an earlier time. Instead of confronting the people in charge directly, she went the smart, legal route and issued a former complaint to the Union, and to this day that production company cannot work with Union people. Neve also told us of her mother’s initial struggle to find work because there were so many ‘men only’ jobs, but then she applied for one anyways, got the job and rocked it.

Though they also concurred there is an increase in the number of quality roles for women because there has been a surge in good television writing, the ladies also encouraged the use of the word ‘no.’ “I’ve said no to more jobs than I’ve said yes to because they were rubbish and didn’t represent women well,” stated Maria. “We need to reject the notion that limiting roles are all that’s there, and instead shape what we want rather than complain about it.”

When asked if they knew who they were, if they were fully confident in themselves, Jewel and Maria had great responses. “I’m just a smart ass,” Jewel said, to approving laughter. “I used to be a people pleaser, but I jumped ship on that one. I don’t have to be liked by everybody, which is crazy liberating.” Maria has also evolved over time. “At twenty-five you think you have it all down. At thirty you realize: what was I thinking?! Now at fifty I still have no clue, and that’s ok.”

All had various characters that inspired them in their youth, and different, yet similar, reasons why. Leah admired Jo March, from ‘Little Women,’ as someone who “went against the grain.” Neve dug rock and roll chicks, because “they knew who they were.” Maria looked up to anyone who did someone unexpected…and Patti Smith.

Above all, it was rewarding to hear these beautiful, talented and hilarious women speak about their colorful lives and careers with such passion, frustration and excitement, and how their gender does not define who they are and what opportunities should be available. Almost all expressed an interest in writing as a future endeavor, and some already do (Jewel has an ongoing blog, and Maria is cursing up a storm on Twitter). They encouraged young women everywhere to discover who you really are and ignore the haters. As Maria so eloquently put it, “Anytime someone says you can’t do anything, you just turn around and bloody well do it.” Amen sister. Amen indeed.

Kick-Ass Women of S.H.I.E.L.D.

When Ming-Na Wen took the stage, complete with bicep flex, the first thing I thought was, ‘I NEED to get her arm workout.’ That woman is sporting some serious guns, and not in the stage prop kind of way. Hayley Atwell had already endeared herself to everyone in the room by briefly appearing on stage before the panel began to greet and hug every Peggy Carter cosplayer who was invited up to show off their power suits. These women had quite the entrance.

Ming-Na plays Agent Melinda May on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ unarguably the most badass (human) woman on the show, and Hayley Atwell is Agent Peggy Cater, former British Armed Forces officer, valued Strategic Scientific Reserve agent, friend and love to Captain Steve Rogers and founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. Both are strong, sexy characters who are unafraid to fight for what they want and what’s right, and who can shut down naysayers with smarts, a strong right hook or both, depending on what the situation calls for.

Both of these actresses were obviously here to have fun and it showed in their somewhat silly attitudes, particularly Ming-Na, who clearly knew her audience. The panel started out with a focus on their characters and interesting ‘what if?’ scenarios. When asked what villain they would love to face, both agreed that a May/Carter team up vs. Loki would be hella fun. Also, Hayley showed some love for Melinda May when she stated she didn’t think May would need any advice from Peggy Carter; they would just need to find a bar and get drunk together.

Speaking of libations, when asked what their characters favorite drinks were, Ming-Na replied scotch, as evident by a first season episode of ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ when May had a bottle dangling from her fingertips, gave hottie Grant Ward a ‘come hither’ look (which he followed) and walked into her hotel room without a glance backwards. Own it, girlfriend. Hayley figured Peggy’s drink to be an amaretto sour, or perhaps a shot of absinthe. When asked what they drink, Hayley’s was a dirty martini. Ming-Na: “Tequila, baby!” I NEED to hang out with these gals.

One fan asked what aspects or abilities of their particular characters they would love to possess, and Ming-Na said she’d love to be able to fly a plane like Agent May. “I wish I could tame a person like Howard Stark…he’s so naughty,” replied Hayley in reference to the womanizing, arrogant playboy inventor, and the man who portrays him. “And Dominic Cooper is as well, so to be able to tame someone like that is a real power.” With regards to the powered up opposite sex, Hayley adorably named her Cap as her favorite superhero, but Ming-Na has her eye on the Hulk. “He turns into this big angry green man who still keeps his pants on.” What’s not to love?

Unsurprisingly sexism in the workplace was mentioned during this panel as well. “Equal pay would be handy,” Hayley stated with a Carter-level dash of sarcasm. She mentioned how her show, set in the late forties, features the obvious sexism which existed more prominently back then, but now we need to root out the more subtle double standards. Ming-Na praised Marvel as being a beacon of opportunity to showcase strong female characters, and shared a story from her past. When she was in college and just starting to dip into acting, a student production company wanted her to star in their movie, which had nude scenes. She refused. One man asked, “How do you think you’re gonna make it if you don’t do any nude scenes?” Several years and a successful career sans nude scenes later, she’s on stage talking about her hit show declaring proudly with a hip shimmy and arm snap, “Well I proved them wrong!” Ming-Na, you are my spirit animal.

As powerful and dangerous as their characters are, both actresses cited fancy dress scenes as some of their favorites, highlighting the fact that it is OK for a strong woman to put on a slinky dress and be sexy as well. “That’s the beauty about being a woman,” Ming-Na said. “We can be soft, and we can be hard.” When asked for another adjective she would use for ‘strong,’ Ming-Na’s alternative was, “How ‘bout ‘take no shit?’”

The panel closed out with another standard, but still important, question for both women: what advice would they give young women today? “I tell my daughter: love yourself,” Ming-Na said. Also, “It doesn’t matter how old you are; take care of yourself.” Hayley quoted her own character in the finale episode, after being overlooked for her efforts yet again: “I know my value,” encouraging people to believe in themselves and don’t let anyone hold you back.

I am fiercely glad I attended both of these kick-ass panels. Power words and clichés aside, and ignoring the fact the DJ played Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ as we walked out of ‘Fierce Females’ (seriously dude, wtf?), these panels were EXACTLY what women at a Comic Con, or hell, women EVERYWHERE needed to hear. All of these incredible women stood up and said in one voice, We can do this. We can do anything. Now that is a strong – I’m sorry, “take no shit” – message all women can get behind, and I am proud to pass it along.

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