San Diego Comic-Con is a celebration of all the things that fans love about pop culture — but that being said, that kind of passion can also generate debate and controversy. It’s a natural extension of what happens when large groups of people care deeply about various media properties; while it’s not exactly celebratory to see fan favorite series confront their more problematic elements, the creators and stars of shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Westworld” and “Doctor Who” have been well-prepped to handle virtually anything that comes from meeting face-to-face with their fans.
Below are just a few of the panels that might face some drama this week, and the hot topics to keep an eye on.
Whitewashing in Netflix’s “Death Note”
After the “Ghost in the Shell” and “Doctor Strange” controversies over the whitewashing of Asian characters, it wasn’t surprising that the upcoming Netflix original film adaptation of “Death Note” upset fans of the original manga and anime by casting a Caucasian in the lead role of Tokyo college student Light Yagami. The character has now been transplanted to Seattle and renamed Light Turner, a move that inspired an online petition to boycott the Netflix film. Producer Roy Lee fanned the flames even more in trying to defend the choice with all of the usual backward excuses, such as trying to appeal to English-speaking audiences.
More troublingly, one of the film’s producers, Masi Oka, is Japanese American, and didn’t have anything helpful to add to the debate. He noted that the project couldn’t find any Asian actor who could speak “perfect English” for the role, which really doesn’t wash considering he’s an actor of Asian descent who speaks English just fine. He should know that Asian American actors are constantly fighting the perception of being “foreign” and not leading men.
Since this project has already courted controversy before it was even released, it could come up in conversation during the panel. In the same vein, this same topic might also be broached at the “Alita: Battle Angel” panel – although that’s less likely because it’s part of Fox’s mega-block of film presentations, and there may not be enough time to devote to it. In a related topic, the cultural appropriation and white-splaining from “Iron Fist” could come up at the panel for “The Defenders,” but since it’s not focused solely on that character, fans might give it a pass.
“Star Trek: Discovery” Has to Win Over the Doubters
It’s crazy to remember that just one year ago, “Star Trek: Discovery” was using Comic-Con to make some dramatic reveals, including the announcement of the official name for the series and a first look at the new ship.
Front and center was then-showrunner Bryan Fuller, who spoke with much excitement about his vision for the new series, a bold take on the legendary franchise that had fans genuinely excited at the time. But just a few months later, Fuller left the series, with executive producers Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts and Akiva Goldsman taking the reigns; since then, multiple production delays and other rumors of behind-the-scenes drama had “Trek” fans nervous about the direction of the new show.
This year’s Comic-Con panel is a unique opportunity for CBS All Access to get established fans and potential “Star Trek” newcomers once again excited — hopefully, with a lot of new footage and facts during the panel, uncomplicated by the show’s troubled development history. It’s also a big opportunity for series star Sonequa Martin-Green and her supporting cast to win people over. Comic-Con is definitely the place to do that.
“Doctor Who” and the 13th Doctor
Steven Moffat is notoriously close-lipped about what’s coming up next on any of his shows, whether it’s “Doctor Who” or “Sherlock,” but he’ll be in a curious position at the “Who” panel. Now that Thirteen has been revealed to be Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to ever play the Doctor, looking forward is inevitable. How Moffat will reconcile his stranglehold on news will be fun to witness, especially since this is also his last panel as showrunner. Moffat had been resistant to even considering a female Doctor for a long time, and has slowly come around. He had been dropping some hints throughout the season, and the finale had the most telling exchange yet:
The Master: Is the future going to be all girl?
The Doctor: We can only hope.
Given the historic nature of the casting, it will be interesting to see how the fans react with Moffat in front of them, whether the male-centric backlash will be addressed, and whether they’ll be content with the double-speak that is inevitable when trying to not to reveal anything.
“Battlestar Galactica” Reunion Could Be a Forum for Grace Park
Grace Park and co-star Daniel Dae Kim recently left “Hawaii Five-0” over the pay disparity compared to their Caucasian co-stars. While Kim has spoken out about how “the path to equality is rarely easy,” Park has yet to weigh in publicly. The actress had been working consistently since 2000, but she really broke out with her role as the gender-bending, race-bending Boomer on “BSG,” and if there’s any show or fanbase that would fight for her, it would be this one. Then again, Park is notoriously private and press-shy to discuss anything except the project at hand, so she may try to avoid the topic altogether.
“The Walking Dead” Has Behind-The-Scenes Issues to Confront
Real life tragedy may overshadow this year’s Comic-Con celebration of AMC’s powerhouse zombie drama hit “The Walking Dead,” given the recent accidental death of stuntman John Bernecker. Whether the Friday panel chooses to acknowledge Bernecker’s death up front, or it comes up during the discussion surrounding the upcoming Season 8, “The Walking Dead” will likely address it on some level.
More unusual is the recent release of profanity-filled emails sent by original showrunner Frank Darabont during his tenure on the show; while Darabont hasn’t been actively involved with the series since the second season, the ongoing lawsuit over “Walking Dead” profits has revealed just how passionate the “Shawshank Redemption” writer/director was during production of the show’s earlier years. The most this might get acknowledged is probably a mild joke about “emails.” But no matter what, this year “The Walking Dead” has a lot more to discuss beyond who might next have a date with Negan’s bat.
Will “Westworld” Actually Give Its Fans Anything New?
John P. Johnson/HBO
Mystery box shows and giant fan conventions are never an easy combination. Given what precious little has actually been revealed about “Westworld” Season 2, there’s no guarantee that fans will end up the weekend any the wiser.
Even when the show’s first season aired, the “Westworld” creative and marketing apparatus around the series delighted in being awfully cryptic. Any first-look footage is probably off the table, given that any glimpse of Season 2 would bring with it an understanding of what the season actually is. Fans may not be pleased with anything short of proof of East world, but the show’s Emmy “For Your Consideration” panel was almost exclusively a recap of the show’s debut season.
In the wake of the show’s whopping 22 Emmy nominations, Comic-Con may end up a de facto start to its second round of campaigning. Will a release date and logo be enough to tide over a thirsty Hall H crowd? Given that this panel is bookended by “Stranger Things” and Marvel — which are guaranteed to have plenty of goodies for fans — maybe not. At the very least, host Reggie Watts (“The Late Late Show with James Corden”) will likely be entertaining, and perhaps can get to the bottom of the exploding horse question.
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