Doc/Fest: Cultural Systems

Doc/Fest: Cultural Systems

Gina Hara’s documentary Geek Girls was very close to being a non-starter. It seems that “geeks” aren’t too keen on the idea of outing themselves, which left the narrator and director with a rather difficult task. The film opens with Hara on the phone to a lot of answer machines and dial tones. She admits to the camera that interviewees are pulling out days before shooting and when she arrives in Japan she is lost in a sea of gaming fans unwilling to speak. It seems like an impossible task: queue the end credits on a very short film.

However, Hara persists, and once she gets her subjects on film and talking, what unravels is a fascinating insight into the women behind the computer screens and costumes. It is surprising how many of them say “my family/friends/colleagues don’t know about this.” Hara fills her film with collectors, comic creators, podcasters, NASA scientists, pro-gamers, cosplayers, Lolitas and other geeky girls. This vast range of interests demonstrates Hara’s reluctance to define “geek” too narrowly, and her desire to allow the community to shape their own unique definitions.

Although Hara found her “geek girls” tricky to coax out, it was the silent “geek guys” that led her to make this documentary in the first place, she says: “The film was supposed to be about geek culture in general, but I started running into all these obstacles. I noticed a lot of men just didn’t want to show me this side of themselves. However, I had a very easy time with women and the feminist inside me thought I should make a film about how women are treated in this culture and how they experience being a geek.”

As the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that part of this experience often involves sexism. “I feel like women were very quiet about being geeks, but when they started proudly saying ‘yes I am geek, I love comics, I love games’ there was a backlash. There were lots of terrible threats and violence.” This is an experience that is replicated across the industry with pro-gamer Stephanie Harvey referencing the threats she receives online and collector Rachel Simon Weil discovering that girl’s toys didn’t carry the same value as boy’s toys in the collecting community.

Even though Hara references the ongoing issue of sexism, she does not dwell on it or go into the grim details of “gamer gate.” Instead, she focuses on the positive steps these women are taking to participate in a community that has not traditionally welcomed them. And Hara’s hope for the film goes beyond detailing the lives of “geek girls”: “The premise of the film is about the fact we all seek something, and everyone finds it in different things. We need to understand our differences and celebrate them. I just want us to learn about each other and accept each other.” Hara also has a tip for women wanting to break down the barriers facing them: “I think it’s important to know that you can break the rules, because the system is not set up for women or people of colour so you can’t win a game that was not made for you.”

Hannah Clugston

Geek Girls, Sheffield Doc/Fest, 9-14 June,

1. Trailer for Geek Girls.