It’s funny—thinking about how involved I am now with this series and its fandom, considering when it first started, I wanted nothing to do with it. Seriously, I was like, “Whatever.” My former BFF convinced me to binge watch the first three seasons with her on Netflix one summer when we were supposed to be working out. Eating cake and pizza, chilling in her room after midnight, I became utterly fascinated with this Walking Dead show. It’s a character study at its core, and Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes sucked me in and would not let go…I remember who I was before this series, but now it feels like a distant memory.
When I first met Michonne, I thought, “Oh boy, here is another angry black woman.” I seriously wanted nothing to do with her. I had the misfortune of not seeing more of her character [ “When the Dead Come Knocking” and beyond] and thus lacked understanding of who she truly was—a woman who had been alone, and suffering from PTSD. I would like to say that this didn’t generate a bias, but it totally did. That same summer, I actually ran into Danai Gurira. I recalled thinking she was stunning, and shorter than I thought she’d be, and…I said nothing. NOTHING. All because I wasn’t interested in Michonne. It’s like that sometimes. I’ve met so many celebrities, or seen them, rather, and had zero desire to approach them because I didn’t enjoy their work. I was young and foolish, what can I say?
As the show progressed, and when I finally caught up to the show in real time, I realized how amazing and nuanced and layered her character truly is. Doing a rewatch, all of the signs of her complexities were there; they just went over my head. I’ll blame it on late night viewings. At any rate, realizing the full scope of Michonne, being covered in wonderment at how awesome she is, I realized and understood my mistake. We need Michonne; we need more characters like her. Danai Gurira and those who write for Michonne (particularly Scott Gimple) understand her humanity, and it comes through on screen. As a woman, this is important—having a character who shines so brightly like this. It is particularly important as a black woman. Growing up as a black girl, all of my fictional heroes were white—Xena, Buffy Summers, Sydney Bristow, Charlie Baltimore, Beatrix Kiddo…and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I can’t help but wonder what would have been different, if Michonne had existed for me then. What I can say is, I’m glad she exists for young black girls now.
The Michonne Cosplayer in Hall H
After that historic moment on February 21st, 2016, just in time for Black History Month, everything changed…Well, to be fair, earlier that week my friend sort of spoiled me, and then I checked imdb.com and it said, “Rick and Michonne consummate their relationship.” I was through the roof and over the moon: my two heroes cemented what they had [finally]; they had consummated the Richonne canon. As the rest of season six unfolded, I noticed some rabble rousers in the background. Not necessarily man, but they were loud, and with platforms. Articles. Vid makers. Gif makers. All of these people who were explicitly not on board with this pairing solely because of aesthetic. It spurred me to write about a dozen articles, and long to go to SDCC for the sole purpose of addressing that panel.
I found out three weeks before the convention I had entry access.
I sat and pondered, initially wanting to use an excerpt from my “Importance of Richonne” essay (yes, I wrote an essay about that) to say to the room, then as real world events continued to drag me down I let Richonne lift me up. I wanted Scott Gimple, Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln to know how important this pairing was, and how thankful a lot of people were that they were doing it the right way (i.e. treating them like two human beings who were soul crushingly in love and giving the characters and the pairing due respect).
Nerves got the best of me, and I didn’t say all that I wanted, but here is what I had written on that sheet of paper:
“Hi, I’m Jill, creator of Fangirl and The Living Richonne. We live in a country where you can get gunned down in broad daylight if you look too black. And in regards to this show and its fandom, in spite of careful cultivation and palpable chemistry and blatant closeups, following Rick’s eyes as they watched Michonne, there are those who were shocked that Rick and Michonne consummated what they already had, going as far as to say she was like his sister, or even more bizarre, his daughter.
“‘If you’re yellow you’re mellow; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re white, you’re alright; if you’re black, get back.’ That is the mentality that this show is challenging with Michonne and Richonne. They’ve been treated with dignity–she is not fetishized; no one is cheating; and we the audience–particularly black girls and women everywhere, can see her be nurtured and loved on screen, and not the funny, sexless sidekick. So thank you Scott, Andy, Danai, for staying the course. My questions are, did you know the political impact this would have? Can we please have a Richonne/Dandy photo shoot? And I will be hosting the first ever Richonne panel at Wizard World Chicago. Can you please come?”
I lament not saying their names, and for rushing through the message. Still, people got it; the panel heard it; and all con weekend long, people came up to me to either commend me for saying what I did, or thanking me for saying it. It was a wonderful feeling.
Meeting Danai Gurira [Finally]
I saw her in this store, and I debated going in there. I didn’t. She was shopping on her last day in the city, and I didn’t want to be a bother. Instead, I waited for her to come out. I believe I must have frozen—a mental fart.
Danai: Hi. [holds out hand] And you are…?
Me: Oh, yes. Hi, I’m Jill. It’s so great to meet you. I’m sorry if I put you on the spot at the panel.
I made the mistake of reading YouTube comments on the video for my question, soaking up every derogatory note…never again. Of all the things I wanted to talk to her about—writing, acting, mostly writing, I blurted that out. She told me I was fine, and that she wasn’t offended. She did mention, however, how she wasn’t aware of the flak until I told her. But she also said that she understood the need for validation.
“But try not to focus on that five percent, you know? Don’t give the few negative voices power.” She added that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I don’t seek out the negative and so it’s not even part of my experience. There will always be that type of reaction, but you have to focus on the positive, because it’ll bring you down. Just enjoy them [Rick and Michonne].”
She went on to add that she understood how important representation is to people of color, especially girls, and knew where I was coming from.
“I get that Rick and Michonne are important to a lot of people. It’s not only a positive thing for both their characters, but for the audience.”
While I do enjoy them, it never occurred to me to just ignore the naysayers. It’s a nice thought, and I truly wish I could…and maybe one day I will. That day will be when Rick and Michonne exchange vows, I think. Then I’ll feel pretty comfortable to just sit back and chill.
The next time I see Danai, however, I will be sure to tell her thank you for representing black women with intelligence, beauty, grace, elegance, and strength, both on screen and off.
Jill Robi is the author of Fangirl and The Good Soldier, and the creator of Fangirl, Whedon World, and The Living Richonne. To learn more, visit HouseOfFangirl.com