How Wynonna Earp Nurtures Healthy Fandom

The fan community surrounding Syfy's queer supernatural western is one of the kindest places on the internet. Let's talk about why...

Toxic fandom is a hot topic in 2018, and it’s an important discussion to have, but what about healthy fandom?

One of the fandoms that often comes up as an example of a positive, inclusive space is the community surrounding Syfy’s queer supernatural western Wynonna Earp, which follows Wyatt Earp’s great-great-granddaughter as she battles revenants, aka the undead outlaws Wyatt killed, with the help of her sister and friends. The show has a relatively small audience, but one that is incredibly passionate, engaged, and loyal.

No community is perfect, but in an era in which internet discourse can bring to light some of the most hateful and divisive values in the world, Wynonna Earp fandom is a pretty wonderful, safe place to be. 

“I don’t know [why the fandom is so positive],” Wynonna Earp star Melanie Scrofano, who plays the eponymous Wynonna Earp, told Den of Geek during this month’s ATX Television Festival. “I would like to know what the answer is, though, because then I would do everything in my power to perpetuate that.”

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Because this cast is nothing if not accomodating, Scrofano gave answering the big, complex question of why this fandom rocks so hard the old college try: “I’m going to throw a theory out there right now. I feel like because we, as a cast and crew, we love each other so much genuinely. And, I think, when people see that, they want to protect it.”

Scrofano isn’t wrong about the affection the fandom has for this cast and creative team. When I put out a call for responses to the Wynonna Earp fandom on this subject, the kindness of the cast and creative team was a common answer to why this fandom is so great. 

“You can’t underestimate the tone Emily and the cast set,” wrote @HeresTheThing17. “They see the best in this fandom. They see us as our best selves. They engage with sincerity, compassion, and genuine interest. … No one wants to let down Emily, the cast, or other Earpers. Everyone wants to make the fandom as amazing that Emily and the cast believe it to be, if that makes sense. And the same goes for other Earpers. We all strive to be the amazing humans the fandom tells us we are.”

This description of the Wynonna Earp fan-creator interaction as sincere was a running theme in the Twitter responses I received.

Emily is incredibly good at being honest and direct that she ‘is the driver’ and will make decisions about where the show and characters are going,” continued @HeresTheThing17. “There is never any manipulation or condescension about that.”

In her academic article “Interactions, emotions, and Earpers: Wynonna Earp, the best fandom ever,” Jacinta Yanders notes that, while the cast and creative team behind Wynonna Earp use a lot of the same fan engagament methods as other shows, there is a perceived authenticity to the engagements that really matters to fans.

“What noticeably sets Wynonna Earp apart is the perceived level of transparency, thoughtfulness, and care associated with its interactions,” writes Yanders. “Key components that bolster this perception include having a responsive cast and crew that readily engage fans and fan creations, an official social media account that takes the opportunity to connect with fans on a personal level, and having someone at the helm like Emily Andras, who both conveys a keen sense of awareness of fan investment and an appreciation of all that fans are capable of.

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Emily Andras showruns Wynonna Earp and is the place where this prioritization of empathy and inclusivity seems to all begin. Andras, who previously showran the delightful, queer succubi drama Lost Girl in its third and fourth seasons, is that combination of clever, hilarious, and kind that you don’t often see in positions of power. She’s also a woman, another less-common attribute amongst TV showrunners and other powerful positions.

When some creators and casts interact with fans, they treat them like an “other,” reinforcing constructed barriers of cultural privilege. When Andras and the Wynonna Earp cast engage with fans, they treat them like people. (You know… because they are.) If you have ever been looked down upon by a person of relative cultural power—which we probably all have at some point, if not directly, then through the underrepresentation of our marginalized identities—you will know how powerful it can be to feel seen.

“We’re such a small underdog cult show,” Andras said to and of the fandom during the Wynonna Earp panel (moderated by Mo Ryan). “The fact that you guys are so passionate and you support us and you get what we are trying to do and you come and see us is amazing.”

Andras also kind of adores her cast. During the panel, she spoke about how one of her favorite parts of the fandom is the way it appreciates the goodness of the show’s actors.

“The thing that will keep me from crying,” said Andras, “is [that] I’m very happy [the fans] understand that these people are exceptional both on and off screen. That matters a lot to me. These guys are so good with the fans and they are just really good people.”

Wynonna Earp stars Tim Rozon (Doc) and Kat Barrell (Nicole) were also in attendance at the event and, along with Andras and Scrofano, spoke about their grateful disbelief that the fandom has created entire conventions around the show.

Rozon said he has been humbled by the experience of being on this show and watching the fandom form and grow, saying: “Now, it’s at a point where the fandom is its own thing. And, now, from the outside, I feel like I get to watch what the fandom is.” Speaking about a particularly memorable fan interaction, Rozon shared a story from his time at EarperCon UK, a London-based convention dedicated to Wynonna Earp.

I remember there was this young girl who just turned 15, the week before she came out for the first time, to her father and her father brought her to EarperCon because he knew that was where she was going to be safe. I was like this has nothing to do with me.

Barrell echoes the sentiment.

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“I just feel like it’s a beautiful thing when one piece of art, which is assuming the show can inspire so much other creativity and happiness,” said Barrell. “I think that’s one of the best things about the fans. It’s such a safe space and people feel safe to express themselves in whatever form that that takes. Then that’s always met with ‘this is amazing, do more of it.’ I think that’s what makes it so unique and special.”

“And it’s everyone’s show,” said Andras. “It’s everyone’s show, yeah,” agreed Barrell.

It’s this framing of the TV series as belonging not just to the creators, but to its fans, as well, that is the foundation upon which a healthy fandom like Wynonna Earp rests. Andras understands that, while she steers the Wynonna Earp bus, storytelling is a community enterprise. Stories belong to anyone who loves them. 

It also helps that Wynonna Earp prioritizes inclusivity and representation behind-the-scenes. Breaking down the makeup of the writers room, Andras said that there are more women than men represented, the room has several LGBTQ+ writers, and First Nations is also represented.

Wynonna Earp has been praised, both critically and in the fandom, in particularly for its subversion of the “Bury Your Gays” trope. To that end, arguably the most popular dynamic on the show is the queer romance between Wynonna’s younger sister, Waverly, and local police officer Nicole Haught. In a time when, as AfterEllen puts it, Hollywood still doesn’t get its dead lesbian issue, Wynonna Earp does get Hollywood’s dead lesbian issue and is offering queer fans a narrative alternative.

“Emily and the writers respect the Earpers,” wrote @LauraRedenbaugh. “While they will give us a roller coaster of a storyline & we may not like or agree with everything that happens, I believe they’d consider whether a plot point would harm viewers. In creating #WayHaught, no viable heteronormative alternative was given. No one ships Waverly with Champ so there are no shipping wars resulting in attacks on the queer portion of the fandom. The other cast members are also supportive of [LGBTQ+] fans.”

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The power of Wynonna Earp‘s inclusive, empathetic storytelling extends past WayHaught into all aspects of this fictional world. One of the most emotional moments of the ATX Television Festival’s Wynonna Earp panel came in Scrofano explaining why, to her, all of these flawed characters are so important.

“I feel like that about Wynonna, or about any character where it’s like… yeah, what if it’s okay to be petty sometimes, or to be shallow sometimes?” said Scrofano. “But, then, you’re still okay. Like, you’re still lovable, and you can still have your core people. You still deserve it.”

“That’s a scary thing to think about,” Scrofano continued, “even just saying it right now, I’m like, no you have to be perfect all the time otherwise nobody will like you. But, that’s what I like about Wynonna is that is, and I think that’s what people like about our characters is that they’re messy. And, when you can see that and go, oh, I still like that character even though they’re a mess, then maybe you can turn it back around and feel like maybe I’m OK even though I’m a mess.”

In Wynonna Earp and in Wynonna Earp fandom, it’s OK to be a mess because none of us is perfect and all of us need one another. In a time of stark divisions, this show’s foundational themes of love, acceptance, and community are more than just healing. They’re vital.

“You might as well lean in because life is hard,” said Andras of her show’s main character. “But [Wynonna] still gets up every single day and fights along this team. And that’s what so many women and men, I know, do right now.”

While the Wynonna Earp fandom obviously takes its cues from the kindness of the show’s creators, cast, and content, I’m not sure if the fandom gives itself enough credit when it comes to the community they’ve created together, which is largely separate from the making of the show itself.

“The fandom does a great job with (but not limited to) being a space of healing, communication (positives and negatives in an open dialogue), inclusiveness, and creativity,” wrote @fox_trot35, recognizing the work of the people within Wynonna Earp fandom itself. “Each Earper brings a bit more magic into this fandom, and that’s some top shelf quality magic.”

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