When I was a kid, my friends and I would always play “Star Wars” at recess.
My two best guy buddies would be Darth Vadar and Han Solo, running around the wood chips using fallen sticks as lightsabers. And there I was, pigtails in braids wrapped around my head in a bun (for accuracy’s sake, right?), Princess Leia trapped in the dome-shaped confines of the jungle gym while they battled it out before the bell rang to head back to class.
I hadn’t watched Star Wars until (gasp) high school, I just played along and listened to the exciting universe that my friends told me about. But when I did watch it, I noticed Princess Leia didn’t look a thing like me.
BlerdFest organizer who goes by simply “True” told me a similar story of being fascinated by the world George Lucas created, only to look back as an adult and realize no one in the universe looked like you. That’s what his combined convention and costume ball is aiming to fix.
“We aren’t trying to be anti-anybody,” True said. “We are just trying to correct our erasure in this particular genre of pop culture.”
Blerd is the combination of black and nerd, which is a subculture in itself. Think about the kid who used to read comics, or even fewer, the ones who drew anime in their spare time. This one’s for them.
True got the idea one year after attending the MOMS Ball, or the Mystic Krewe of Orphans and Misfits. If you haven’t heard of it, well, that’s because it was made to be that way. It’s an underground party that happens around Mardi Gras and Halloween, and the rule is you’ve got to have a killer costume.
“They had created a whole ambiance that was really festive and it was a lot of fun, but as a black person, it struck me as odd and kind of uncomfortable that in a city that’s majority black, that there was an event that had to have been 95 percent white,” True said.
An avid cosplayer, he took matters into his own hands, asking his community if they were interested in a convention or costume ball with more melanin.
“The overwhelming response was people would like to see both,” he said.
In its first year, BlerdFest organizers are bringing the fest in two parts: an all-age inclusive convention Saturday during the day and a costume ball at night.
The convention will have lots for kids to do, with a tech corner and gaming area provided by Microsoft.
Seminars are also happening, with Oscar-winning local production designer Hannah Beachler closing out the convention. You’ve seen her work in Marvel’s “Black Panther.”
True said it was important to highlight black women in the genre.
While I do want to celebrate blackness and black people, I especially want to highlight the involvement in the fields by black women,” he said. “So to have an accomplished, history-making black creative who lives in New Orleans to come present was a no-brainer. The hard part was catching up with her, but once presented with the idea she was on board.”
The theme of this year’s convention is Afrofuturism, which True said he’s gotten a lot of questions about.
“Essentially, it’s the idea when imagining a utopian or dystopian future, that you just imagine it with black people in it,” he explained. “Because most sci-fi acts as if the only thing a human can possibly be is a white European decedent.”
True went back to his story about “Star Wars”, then added that one of sci-fi’s most beloved series, “Star Trek”, has rarely been to a planet of black humanoids.
“The only time in the entire franchise that they go to a planet with humanoids that are not white, they went to a black planet, and the whole plotline was the black king sees this golden-haired goddess crew member and absolutely falls in love with her,” he said. “He has to have her and wants to take her for his queen. Then the black woman literally has to have a fist-fight with the white woman over this black man who prefers this woman over her.”
True said he doesn’t want the fest to be seen as excluding anyone, because everyone can enjoy parts of the culture.
“It’s open to anyone who has an interest,” he said. “ While we are focusing on blackness its not exclusive, something that we alone would appreciate. Lots of people saw ‘Black Panther’. Lots of people saw ‘Get Out.’ Lots of people have seen ‘Us.’ We want people to come and appreciate these genres. Non-blacks shouldn’t have to feel excluded or discriminated against or that this is somehow reverse racism. I want people to walk away with a deeper understanding that black people exist today and will exist in the future and that is something that we should cherish and an idea that should be celebrated and appreciated.”
BlerdFest! takes place Saturday, April 6 at the Algiers Auditorium. Tickets and information are available here.