Black nerds united over the weekend for the third annual Blerd City Con, held at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn Heights. The convention is known for celebrating black lovers of sci-fi, superheroes, anime or any other art form that may have earned a black kid the side-eye growing up. This year’s theme was black horror, a fitting pick given the recent releases of the scarring (though sometimes hilarious) film Us and the cautionary tale Ma, with Octavia Spencer in the titular role. Black horror was discussed in various ways, from analyzing the cheesy greatness of 1970s films like Scream, Bacula, Scream to addressing the “horrors” of being black in modern-day America.
“When we have these kinds of things where people of like minds can come together, celebrate what they do and you don’t have to justify, it’s refreshing,” said Floyd Webb. Webb, who grew up on skateboarding and sci-fi in the 1960s Chicago South Side, has been hosting panels at Blerd City since its first festival. This year, at “My Final Girl: Black Women in American Horror,” guests looked back at the black horror heroines of the 1970s and discussed their future in today’s film industry.
The convention touched on a number of questions within black horror, and the film industry in general, like black women’s status in the sci-fi film sphere.
“My podcast is called ‘What the F%&k Are You Doing Here’ and that’s because I would get that look all the time,” said Tira Brown on her experience at film festivals. A fan of folklore and horror, Brown hosted the “Vampire Witch Sistah” event on voodoo and witches in black horror films. “I was at a martial arts action film festival and I was there because I was nominated. But the guys talking to me were like, ‘Oh, so you’re one of the actresses?’ No. ‘Oh, so you’re here with your boyfriend?’ No. I found it funny because it was just a blank look on not just one dude’s face, but a couple of dude’s faces where it was like, ‘So what the F are you doing here?’”
The convention also sparked much needed conversations about how the black community can rise in all areas of the horror industry, instead of having Jordan Peele as the poster child of black American horror.
“We haven’t managed to gain control of the monetization of our own culture,” said Webb. “Until we begin to become the producers and have our own agencies, our own distribution networks and our own streaming channels, we won’t have any control over this stuff. So, [Us] shows us what the potential is, but now it’s up to us to go out and realize that potential.”
Blerd City of course celebrated other aspects of “blerd-dom,” too. Action figure customizer Calvin Grace taught guests how to turn busted figurines into eBay-worthy Marvel items. New York Cosplay Network founder Darlena Marie led a cosplay cabaret featuring hits from Ghostbusters and Ella Enchanted. Guests could also join hour-long debates over Star Wars, Batman and Black Panther. People geeked out over other topics too, at panels on the future of blackness (Afrofuturism) and black time travel in film and literature.
Blerd City Con was founded in 2016 by film curator, writer and director Clairesa Clay, with its first convention held in 2017. In addition to being a safe space for black people to express their hobbies without judgment, it has also become a place for black comics, filmmakers and other artists to connect with others in gaming, filmmaking, publishing and other industries.
“In a Comic Con, you’d have to wait in line or try to find the person when they have a free break to give you a little more extra time,” said Grace, who attended Blerd City last year as a guest. “Here, they’re actually wonderfully loving to talk to you and say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’”