Wayward: The Movement and the Power of “Casual Female Viewers”

By: Betty Days and Riley Santangelo

Photo Credit: Alex Santangelo

It only took one line of dialogue spoken by Kathryn Newton’s character Claire Novak in the “Angel Heart” episode of Supernatural to launch a movement: “What is this, some sort of halfway house for wayward teenage girls?” Wayward Daughters began as a fandom effort to create a spin-off series about Claire’s adoptive mom, Jody Mills (played by Kim Rhodes) and her growing household of otherworldly teenage girls. We wanted a show that prioritized female characters, adopted families, and diverse representation. Shortly after the episode ended, Riley (some of you may know her as the best human in the world, and if you don’t, you should) tweeted Kim, saying “Everyone’s excited about this on Tumblr. How do we channel that energy into some outlet where they’ll hear us?” Kim replied, “I really really wish I knew. Probably start with #SPN producers. They would make the call to push it or not.”

I remember reading this tweet thinking it was nice of Kim to reply to us. Riley read this tweet and saw it as an offering, a seed for us to plant, a welcome mat to stand on while we pounded on the doors of TPTB (The Powers That Be). After a short DM exchange between Riley and I, we went about setting up the social media handles and gaining followers. We got a rapid-fire response — after all, Supernatural’s most active fanbase consists of viewers who love the show but can recognize its faults. Those faults most primarily being a lack of accurate and sensitive portrayals of female, POC, and LGBTQIA characters. There’s a reason Supernatural has over 175,000 fanworks on Archive of Our Own (and even more across other platforms): many of us try to address these missing pieces in our fan fiction. Our criticism comes from a place of love, though, like telling a friend she has mustard on her chin. For a lot of us, the fan labor associated with SPN is our way of saying, “Look, you’ve got a bit of blind patriarchal influence on you. Let me help you clean it off.”

Supernatural was intended for a demographic of cishet white dudes, but they got us, or as the a blogger from Spoiler TV has called us, the “casual female viewers.” Wayward Daughters is an insistent yet optimistic plea to TPTB to maybe roll with the punches a bit better. We love Sam, Dean, and Cas, but we’d also, you know, enjoy it if all the characters who represent us (Charlie, Kevin, Billie) didn’t meaninglessly die. So on May 1, 2015, Wayward Daughters was born. We set up a Twitter, Tumblr, and petition. Within days, we’d amassed thousands of followers and signatures. The key to its success was probably our lack of aggression. We weren’t making any demands, we were just putting a question out there: if this show got made, would you watch it?

The incredibly loud answer was “YES! We would watch it!” We would go to conventions for it. We would buy merch for it. We would be the audience that proved stories about diverse characters could be successful in a sea of what I like to call ‘White Dudes Doin’ Stuff.’ The previous Supernatural spin-off attempt, “Bloodlines” — which was slated to portray the mob-style monster families of Chicago — was a bust, and TPTB couldn’t figure out why. But we could: it was just more ‘Dudes Doin’ Stuff.’

While getting traction on the Internet can be instant, Hollywood moves slower. As the months passed and our efforts went unnoticed, Riley, seeing an opportunity, thought maybe we could utilize our vocal and active platform to do some philanthropy. We partnered with Creation Stands (now, Stands LLC) to launch our first Wayward Daughters t-shirt campaign whose profits went to Misha Collins’ (Castiel) non-profit organization, Random Acts. We started a blog to match up people who couldn’t afford a shirt with people who wanted to donate one. We sold nearly one shirt for every follower we had — over 2,300 and we had approximately 2,500 followers at that time. It was a major success, and we thought, well, if we can’t get a TV show made, we can at least support Misha’s charity.

Riley Santangelo, second from the right, speaking on a panel about fandom-based charity work at New York Comic Con, October 2016, Photo Credit: Alex Santangelo

Then we got noticed. Due in part to the fan interest in her character, Briana Buckmaster was invited back to the show to reprise her role of Donna Hanscum in the episode “Plush.” TPTB then acknowledged they were aware of the Wayward Daughters movement during the episode “Don’t You Forget About Me,” with writers and producers of the show going so far as to tweet about the episode using the #WaywardDaughters tag. This was definitely some forward momentum, but it was still too slow for us, so we continued focusing our efforts on fundraising.

We participated in Random Acts’ Annual Melee of Kindness (AMOK) when asked to join forces with Justin Guarini to form “East Coast AMOK,” helping to collect donated items over the span of several weeks, which we then delivered to non-profits in New York City. The event turned into a massive, organized front of do-goodery. After this, we decided to launch another t-shirt campaign with Stands LLC, this time supporting Random Acts’ Dream2Acts school in Nicaragua. Again, we thought, if we can’t get a show made, we can at least help build a high school in Nicaragua.

For the second t-shirt campaign, we did a bit of rebranding by broadening our values. Over the span of the year we’d been operating, Wayward Daughters had grown from a desire for diverse representation in television to a greater ideology: Wayward AF. To be Wayward AF is to be a fighter, to defy the constraints you’ve been boxed into, to make your voice heard. We spent an entire year screaming to be noticed, and in doing so helped a lot of people learn to scream with us. Our frustrations with Supernatural paralleled all the ways we’d been silenced. #WaywardAF was a way to break that silence. Again, the campaign was a success — we doubled our following and sold nearly one t-shirt for every follower.

Wayward AF, Photo Credit: Alex Santangelo

With a concrete mission and a dedication to philanthropy, the Wayward community flourished. Wayward Daughters was no longer about a spin-off, it was about empowerment. We ran more t-shirt campaigns to benefit New Leash on Life USA. This time we thought, well, we couldn’t get a TV show made, but we can at least save a few animals (and maybe their humans while we’re at it).

In June of 2017, over two years after our inception, we received news that a backdoor pilot would be aired mid-season 13. “Wayward Sisters” would star our ladies — Kim Rhodes, Briana Buckmaster, Kathryn Newton, Katherine Ramdeen, and new faces Clark Backo and Yadira Guevara-Prip. And let me tell you, there is nothing more surreal than checking my timeline in the morning and seeing Deadline, LA Times, and Entertainment Weekly posting articles about a show you and twenty thousand other fans put into motion by sheer will alone.

All it took was one line of dialogue, 2.5 years, and a lot of yelling, but we finally got a TV show made. And we just so happened to build a family along the way.

Photo Credit: Alex Santangelo