Documentary review: 'Hero, A Furry Story'
Picking up from where the 2020 documentary The Fandom left off, Ash "Coyote" Kreis' new 44-minute film, Hero: A Furry Story takes a deeper look into the fandom's disability community, particularly its less-looked-at subset with cancer and chronic illness, where people have found that fursuiting and its networks can create a source of happiness during a time of pain and illness. Hero is the film's star, a canine-identifying fan, diagnosed with cancer at age 22, who receives a new fursuit from the talent at Waggery Costumes.
As viewers are slowly introduced to all of the different people it takes to make a fursuit, Hero's story demonstrates what furry fans have already come to know: affirming that people in the fandom can be as family, loved ones, and mentors. Pulling itself away from the criticism that Kreis received after The Fandom, this new film's attention to disability, illness, and networked connections provides another interesting gateway into something that will surely be enjoyed by fans and non-fans alike.
When it comes to disabilities, it's not always the first thing to consider chronic illness and cancer. These have been analyzed as a way of existing through what scholars have called "slow death" or alternative "bodyminds". As writer Sami Schalk discusses in her book Bodyminds Reimagined, "the term bodymind insists on the inextricability of mind and body and highlights how processes within our being impact one another in such a way that the notion of physical versus mental is difficult, if not impossible to discern in most cases".
In terms of cancer, this linkage between the body and mind duality echoes the way in which community efforts are drawn in to prevent "the physical wearing out of a population and the deterioration" of them amongst others, as argues Lauren Berlant ("Slow Death", p. 754). For author Jasbir K. Puar, this "slow death" is a good example of how the situation of disability, a working between life and death "reinforces the stigma of lack of privilege", and that "bodily experiences that can be capacitated through a reorganization of resources, of white privilege and class and economic mobility", often emphasize a reading of success or of overcoming the odds, in which "Other bodies ... are projected as unfortunately maligned in a system that should have protected them" ("Crip Nationalism", p. 65). In this manner, illness becomes a way of engaging or understanding how societal structures, communities of care, families, and capitalism all coincide to work with those whose illness is a part of existence.
Hero nonetheless struggles with these concerns in various different ways. From Waggery Costumes becoming a means of rebuilding the disabled or impaired fan's body, to Hero's own story and how community plays a part in his finding of care and support, the film can be read as presenting how impairment is the struggle of the individual and community, rather than the services that aid one through the process. Although this reading does not detract from the film, it again reinforces Puar's argument that narratives of such a structure implicate how not everyone may have access to such resources.
This then allows the film to emotionally pursue a presentation more in line with fans and their interests, if not remind viewers of the criticisms held of the earlier production, The Fandom. As noted in a video released by Kreis, entitled "We Need to Talk...", fans criticized how although the documentary meant well, it failed to attend to the Black and indigenous community that groups like the alt-right furs affect. Rather, The Fandom spends more of its running time discussing voices which play into a reading of the fandom as post-race, accepting, and thriving, despite how many continue to be violated, such as through cultural appropriation.
Where Hero succeeds, is in its move to implicate more stories that demonstrate furry fandom's humanitarian potential, while also allowing for further discussion on the ways in which disability impacts those affected. Although a film that many in fandom may argue to be vital to the catalogue that they can show to others, Kreis' work shows opportunities for continuing to do something new and more impactful.
- Berlant, Lauren. "Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency)." Critical Inquiry, vol. 33, no. 4, 2007, pp. 754-780. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/521568.
- Kreis, Ash. "The Fandom: A Furry Documentary FULL MOVIE." YouTube, uploaded by Ash Coyote, 3 July 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv0QaTW3kEY.
- ---. "We Need to Talk..." YouTube, uploaded by Ash Coyote, 28 July 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKp4g43rxGs.
- Puar, Jasbir K. "Crip Nationalism: From Narrative Prosthesis to Disaster Capitalism." The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, pp. 63-94.
- Schalk, Sami. Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women's Speculative Fiction. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.
(From the editor: Have you seen Hero? Leave us your impressions in a comment below!)