Wednesday, June 19, 2024

We should celebrate that Eternals Chloé Zhao writes fanfiction

Chloé Zhao, the director behind the controversial but delightful Marvel’s Eternals, writes – and most likely reads – fanfiction.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and yet when I found this out myself I was surprised to discover that there were truly some fans surprised and alarmed at this. Of course, the majority of fans were super pleased to find out that someone like Chloé Zhao, a prestigious director and creative, was relatable in the fact that they wrote fanfiction, but I couldn’t help but wonder about why people were shocked.

As someone who was deeply involved in the creation of Black Sails and Dragon Age fanfiction (do not look me up) when I was quite young, I tried to cast my mind back to what I would have probably thought back then if I’d found out that someone older than me was writing fanfiction. I was only around 16-17 at the time, and my studies were practically failing in everything but English because I was so dedicated to writing creatively and receiving serotonin from people saying nice things about me and my work.

What I’ve realized from thinking about that time was that the people I hung around with were either my age (a young adult) or someone who was in their late 20’s/early 30’s. Also, the majority of them were LGBTQ+ and all were talented and inspiring in their desire to tell stories with existing characters (and the restrictions and limitations that come with that) that other queer and marginalized readers could relate to.

This was all well and good, but one of the things that stood out to me when thinking about that time was the ageism that came from fandom spaces from people around my age at the time. There was always a narrative that older writers were doing something skeevy being writing in the same spaces as young writers, an idea that I didn’t quite understand because the art of creating fiction and being in those spaces should be, in my mind, accessible to everyone.

Speaking of fanfiction, Eternals is very shippy

Now don’t get me wrong, I also believe that there should be age restrictions for fanfiction in spaces like AO3 – there are some things that shouldn’t be accessible to young children or teenagers – but my problem with the perception of fanfiction is that many think that it’s a community space that’s mostly full of young creatives. For an outsider looking in, that perspective may even look like the truth but the fact of the matter is that it simply isn’t and to devalue creatives solely because they age over a certain age is not only offensive, but drains talent away from fandom spaces and communities.

To go back to Chloé Zhao and her fanfiction, it’s unclear why people are surprised but it wouldn’t shock me if both her age and position have something to do with it.

On the other hand, Zhao positioning herself as someone who creates fanfiction is noteworthy when you compare her to various other creatives who have not taken kindly to their original work being ‘used’ in such a way. For example, George R.R Martin has expressed his displeasure for anyone ‘abusing’ the characters that make up Game of Thrones outside of himself. And then there’s the infamous Anne Rice debacle where the author made it quite clear that she not only didn’t like fanfiction, but was offended by it.

For some creatives, fanfiction is painful to the extent that it makes them angry and upset. But for Zhao, fanfiction seems to be a way to embrace community and new stories and I think that sort of thinking is definitely something fan communities and spaces should celebrate.

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