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!)
About the authorBrandy J. Lewis — read stories — contact (login required)
a graduate student and Pig from Southern California, interested in speculative fiction, film, coffee, and politics.
Brandy J. Lewis is a Ph.D. student of English at the University of California, Riverside. Her work engages speculative-fiction, queer and transgender studies, film, and comics, fanzine history largely. She is currently instructing English composition while also working with fan fiction studies and archives, archive theory.
I think Lisa Ling received more criticism about diversity for her furry "This is Life" episode, than Ash did for The Fandom. The biggest surprise that had come up was how the staff member of DenFur, which was Ash Coyote's local con, included someone who made an unfortunate Cosplay choice revolving around authoritarianism wardrobe which came out of the woodwork about a month after the documentary had published.
I think, despite the stresses this caused, Ash handled it okay and it's good to see she kept creating.
The story is a good one, and really gives one whose life is being shortened an excellent opportunity to not only to share their story, but have their goal be used as a lens under which the creation of a fursuit is documented. It could have been very easy to just record the suit creation process on any random suiter. It is the story of the urgent need and the wish and hope that it gets done on time that keeps the audience engaged, even if they are not interested in fursuit creation.
She continues to do impressive work, and I'm sure the internet will find some scab to pick as it always does. But it's good to know she will continue to pursue her passions and even win awards for them.
The irony of what people criticized about Lisa Ling's show is it was self-caused.
Remember the overwrought attacks at the production when it was announced. None of the complaints were based on anything Ling did or her show's quality. It was telephone-games and media-illiterate backlash at all media, period.
When the show came out, a lot of the critics got amnesia and asked why it didn't show more diverse people. Well, they were told not to raise their hand when it counted.
Three people did step up, and the show ended up being high quality and reflecting their individual experiences, rather than PR concern of those who didn't.
"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need"
I didn't forget, I was one of them that had a skeptial air and covered this situation: https://www.flayrah.com/7155/anthro-northwest-premier-forgets-history-furlandias...
Of which I later poked fun at myself for having:
It should be noted as well that I made a statement about the backlash on inclusion as a psudo-compliment.
No marginalized furry ever complained about not being on the Tyra Banks show.
This fandom is a cruel sample for health problems. Not buying "runs in the family" with today's cancer rates. There's a deep problem in the environment, and runs further than the one message from the documentary about healthcare costs. One of the fursuit makers brings up furry as a coping mechanism angle, which would be cliche except it's never mattered more. Now politics and policies limit the fandom's reach and its potential to keep people mentally healthy in downturns, where religion picks up. So accessible was the right format and made me feel for the wolf. Nothing to regret making here and the suit turned out cute.
There seems to be quite a bit of very odd ideology in the middle of the review. Particularly weird is the mentioning of cultural appropriation which is not defined and has been applied to as frivolous things as wearing a kimono or making sushi. Behaviours like that and the mixing of different cultures is something that we should encourage, so I will just reproduce a past series of tweets on the subject.
There’s something which comes up on Twitter every so often and which we need to talk about; cultural appropriation. It’s completely fine! There is no pure version of a culture. How a culture was 10, 100 or 1000 years ago is not somehow more real or genuine than the one today.
Cultures are not static. They are forever changing, growing, dropping old parts and gaining new ones. We actually strive to change our cultures. We worked to change how women and gays are seen in our culture. And we work to change that in other cultures too.
There are items with significance in certain cultures but that doesn’t matter. Cultural rules only apply to those who are, or trying to be, part of a culture. When in Rome, we follow Italian laws but we don’t follow them if we are neither Italian nor in Italy.
We are all human and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be separated because of our birthplace or parents. They are incidental and we should transcend them. You are not where you were born. You are not who your parents are. You are an individual.
We should all look at the cultures we were born into, keep what we like and discard what we don’t. Then we should look at other cultures, adopt what we like and discard what we don’t. We should not be trapped by the past but should make our own path.
"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~
So what you're saying is, blackface is something that we should encourage.
Too bad the review never mentioned kimonos or sushi, so frivolous pedants have to fill in the blanks to make it say things it doesn't.
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