Toxic Fandom Lashes Out at Ruby Rose’s Batwoman

Australian LGBT model, DJ and actress Ruby Rose has reportedly deactivated her Twitter account and disabled comments on her popular Instagram profile after receiving criticism over her accepting the role of Batwoman on the CW’s DC Universe of shows, including Supergirl, the Flash and Arrow.

Actress Kelly Marie Tran

Actress Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico

This isn’t the first time, let alone the first time this year of actors deactivating their social media accounts. In June, Kelly Marie Tran, known for her role as Rose in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Millie Bobby Brown, a teen actress recognized for her role as Eleven in Netflix’ Stranger Things also deleted their accounts amidst mounting public criticism.

But, as I’ve already stated in previous articles, few involved in the varying realms of storytelling are going to be free from criticism, even undue and unfair criticism. Performance artists particularly find themselves in uniquely public-facing roles so they perhaps receive the worst of it. However, the concern I have isn’t so much linked to Rose’s ability to accept criticism. She is free to engage– or disengage however she likes on social media. Rather, her deactivation has had an interesting side-effect.

As with any instance of a celebrity leaving social media, many fans feel a sense of loss. They often scramble for an explanation, and moreover, a head to place the blame upon. We saw this with Kelly Marie Tran’s escape from social media, and we also saw this with Scarlett Johansson’s rejecting a role as a transgender male last month.

In Rose’s own admission, she took exception to criticism coming at her from multiple directions, mostly from fans of Batwoman or the general CW DC Universe bringing up complaints ranging from disliking her acting ability, claiming she was too gay for the role (the version of Batwoman she’s playing happens to be a lesbian) not gay enough (some fans were of the belief that Ruby was a closeted lesbian, despite her own admission that she had been publicly out of the closet by the time she was twelve), not Jewish enough (Batwoman is Jewish) and any number of other reasons.

Fans seeking to lay the blame at someone’s feet are either blaming the strangely-defined alt-right, the overarching LGBT community of fans, and some even blaming the Jewish community at-large.

Unfortunately, the world is full of all types. In a perfect world, all criticism would be fair and just, designed solely to help the person receiving said criticism. But the world is not perfect, nor is any living person within it. And so, we must learn to thicken our skins.

Batwoman is an iconic character going back multiple generations and incarnations starting in 1961 as Batgirl. She has born many different names, looks, personalities and relationships since then. As such, her character is strongly woven into the fabric of fandom. Comic fans have long-held ideals on what their favorite characters should look and act like… and among many, Ruby Rose just didn’t fit the bill.

Actor DB Sweeney

Actor DB Sweeney

But again, this sort of thing is nothing new. In 1997, the film Spawn gave the role of the titular character’s best friend, Terry Fitzgerald, to actor DB Sweeney. In the comic book, Fitzgerald was a black man who had married the wife of his long-dead friend. DB Sweeney, for those who weren’t aware, is white. 2016’s Ghost in the Shell cast the aforementioned Scarlet Johannsson into the role as Misato Katsuragi, a character long-assumed to be of Japanese ethnicity.

It is perhaps an unfortunate truth that storytellers, actors and performers of all shapes and sizes must deal with. The unending monolith of fan expectation. It’s a harsh truth that it’s easy to please a small group, but when you’re dealing with groups of fans that number in the thousands– or millions — some are going to hold on so strongly to the idealized version of the character that exists in their heads as not just a personal affront, but an unjust tragedy. Escapism is largely what we do here at TaleBlend, but it also pays to understand that sometimes escapism comes with a sharp edge.

Fan groups will always have preferences, and certain types of fans will often flock together. William Shatner of Star Trek fame found this out the hard way when he ran afoul of shippers for the popular Starz series Outlander, in which a group of fans had taken a fantasy relationship so seriously, they had actually formed an outlandish conspiracy theory in which they refused to believe the real-life actors playing lovers on-screen were not together in the real world, to the point where they would harass the real-life significant others of the actors.

Concurrently this also occurred in the Steven Universe fandom, where an online mob went after a fan artist because of the shade of color she used to draw tributes to her favorite characters was perceived as too light, and unrepentantly drove her to attempt suicide, deeming their harassment justified, almost as if it were a holy crusade.

Toxic fandoms are something we here at TaleBlend have talked about at length, and we’re not likely to stop it at any time soon. As storytellers, we’re no doubt flattered that the stories we create can sometimes touch someone so profoundly that they’ll adopt aspects of our stories to carry with them. But it bears to hold a sense of caution for those who use our stories as an excuse to disconnect entirely from the tragedy of reality.

Ruby Rose is just the latest in a long line of those affected by toxic fandom.