“I am here, making a film about geeks,” filmmaker Gina Hara says at the beginning of her documentary Geek Girls. Although seemingly straightforward, being “here, making a film about geeks” is more complex than it might seem and these complexities are exactly what Hara’s documentary delves into. Growing up in Hungary, Hara had no word for “geek” and no way to describe her identity within a community. In 2017, being a “geek” is in style and even commercialized. But the word’s connection to bullying and discrimination is still strong. Where geeks were once outcasts, the geek community has produced the isolation that once defined it, although now it excludes women, trans individuals, and non-binary people. Geek Girls considers the empowerment of self-identifying as a geek in order to look closely at the simultaneous costs and dangers of that label.
“Only a few years after learning the word ‘Geek’,” Hara narrates, “I had to learn another word—cyber-bullying.”
Geek Girls begins in Japan, at the centre of geek culture. Although the film travels across many different locations, it continually returns to Japan, as if to bookmark the fragmented structure of the film. Instead of following one interview at a time, Geek Girls weaves together the experiences and stories of 11 different women (including Jamie Broadnax, a podcaster from Black Girl Nerds; NASA Aerospace Engineer Anita Sengupta; and competitive gamer Stephanie Harvey.) The documentary’s interwoven structure parallels the complexities and constant negotiations involved in identifying as a geek.
Geek Girls depicts the wide range of interests that can make someone “geeky,” such as cosplaying, video games, comic books, science, and aesthetic choices. But the documentary also makes clear that, despite all these variations, geek communities are often far more homogenous and exclusionary to women.
In her book Cybersexism, feminist columnist and author Laurie Penny describes this exclusion as “perhaps the most insidious part of the misogynist defence of geekspace.”
Some geek girls resist this misogyny by making new and safe geek spaces. Mariko McDonald, for example, organizes a monthly brunch for geek girls in Montreal and works hard to create communities without exclusion. “I’m a gamer if I say I’m a gamer,” she says.
As Laurie Penny writes, “We have to take back the word ‘geek’.”
But resisting misogyny and reclaiming the word “geek” requires a lot of emotional labour and can even be dangerous. Geek Girls makes geek misogyny uncomfortably visible. During the Montreal Harajuku walk, in which people come together to wear and celebrate Japanese fashion, the camera happens to catch a moment of harassment as an unknown man grabs one of the participants. The candidness of the scene reveals just how common it is for geek women to encounter misogyny.
Élisabeth Fallen, who runs the Montreal Harajuku walk, describes how she must hide her ‘geeky’ lolita and steampunk-inspired fashion from her co-workers for fear that it would affect her employment. Although her style is celebrated in online communities, the labour and love she puts into her craft remains invisible to many who know her.
What Geek Girls does best is pay tribute to the emotional labour and energy that goes into “tak[ing] back the word ‘geek’.” It honours the people who say “I’m one of those geek girls” despite the risks it may pose, while also acknowledging the many people who are too scared to.
“All this for being a geek,” Hara says near the end of the film, and that’s the crux of it. “All this” work. “All this” harassment. All of this made visible.
Geek Girls will be showing in Montreal on July 30th at the Fantasia Film Festival.