In 2021, pop culture is ripe with TV shows and movies inspired by nerd culture. From HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country to Disney+’s impressive new slate full of Marvel spinoffs, nerdom is having a moment, one that’s often being dictated by white geeks with fixed ideas of who can participate in and lead fandom. Whether it’s men questioning Megan Thee Stallion’s anime credentials or social-media uproar over racebent characters in movies, gatekeeping keeps nerdom—those who participate in it and those who critique it—as white as culture itself. Enter the Fantastic Frankey, the personality behind the Fanboy Fighter, an ever-growing Instagram and YouTube account that specifically highlights the ins-and-outs of nerd culture and critiques those that fall short. The Fantastic Frankey, who I attended college with, has racked up an impressive following that looks on as she smartly documents everything from the newest show to the suffocating limits of gatekeeping. Bitch spoke with the Fantastic Frankey about the evolution of the Fanboy Fighter, navigating online harassment, and the future of what she’s building.
What prompted you to create the Fanboy Fighter?
I went to school for biology, but I’m really a [blerd]. For [blerds], science or law are the only two choices. I had an interest in media, writing, and filmmaking, but it was never feasible. And then I had an Issa Rae moment [in 2019]: I was like I’m going to be 30 soon, and if I don’t start now, then [my dream is] done. I was watching all these white boys on YouTube discussing what they didn’t like about [specific] shows. They weren’t even catching half the stuff because they’re white men and they don’t understand this [deeper] dynamic.
[Then], I went to Ghana in 2018, and I was on a bus and I was talking to these guys about my grievances [about nerd culture]. They were encouraging me to start a YouTube channel. On Instagram, you can use your cell phone and just go from there. My videos [were low] quality, but people were really responding to them because there [are so few] Black women who cover [these topics]. The Black women in this space are typically cosplayers who [get dressed up] and genderbend characters. When I apply to speak at comic-book conventions, the [organizers] ask, “Are you a cosplayer? You just want to talk to us without getting dressed up? What are you going to wear?” I was like, this shirt I got on. [Over time], I’ve learned how to edit videos and apply to conventions, and [my following] has been steadily growing; a path has started to build itself for me. It’s really fun. I enjoy it.
When did you realize that you had tapped into something special? Was there a moment where you thought, this is bigger than I thought it could or would be?
I hit 10,000 [subscribers], which was my goal [for the year], in four months. I was like, People are really rocking with this. I would release a video at the same time every Friday. Around the time I hit 10,000 followers, I didn’t drop a video one Friday and [my viewers] were blowing up my inbox, saying “Where’s your video this week?” I was like, oh shit, this is actually resonating with people.
How would you describe the Fanboy Fighter’s goal? Who do you hope to reach?
Honestly, my ideal audience is everyone. The primary goal is to normalize the Black female voice in what we call nerdom—so sci-fi, anime, comics, and fantasy. So in the way that we’re starting to have things like Lovecraft Country and Watchmen on HBO, [we need more] Black people creating content in this nerdom space and commenting on how difficult it is to enjoy content that’s not catered to us. I want everyone to enjoy [the Fanboy Fighter], but I also want them to understand that Black women may enjoy [nerd content], though it isn’t necessarily made for us to enjoy. We’re just nuanced enough to enjoy the art for what it is.
You’re very tapped into pop culture, covering everything from self-described blerd Megan Thee Stallion being shot to the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman. How do you decide what’s worth covering?
For the most part, [I cover] what moves me. I think that’s the reason people connect [with my work] because I’m not riding bandwagons. I’m into pop culture. [My content] also shows how diverse and nuanced Black people are within the nerd community. We’re a subset of a subset of a subset, so yeah, I really rock with Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, but I will also watch Hamilton 150 times. We’re allowed to be more than one thing. Nerd culture is very slowly becoming pop culture, which has made it easier for people who follow me to see that connection [between nerdom and real life]. [Some of] the biggest TV shows and movies of the last five or 10 years have a science fiction component. Watchmen, which is based on [a series of] comic books, received the most Emmy nominations ever. The show’s lead is a Black woman. Issa Rae changed the lighting game for television and film so even though Regina King is wearing all black with a black mask and black paint on her face at night, I could still see all her facial features. That has given me the strength to really question and push these directors about discrimination [in Hollywood and beyond it]. They’re seeing our talent now, so all those lies about being unable to light us or being unable to draw us correctly have been disproven.
You seem to intentionally cover pop culture and broader issues that matter to a Black audience. Given that there’s historically been an absence of Black nerd culture, what has been your approach to staying tapped into the things that matter?
I spend way too much time reading [about] all of it. Right now, I don’t have a team. I do everything—editing, recording, writing scripts, picking what subjects to cover—myself. So, I’ve had to learn how to say no [about covering certain things]. Sometimes I read a press release, and I’m like this is great, but it doesn’t really pertain to what [I cover]. Sometimes, I’ll only share [something new] in my Instagram story with a reaction emoticon instead of spending hours creating a video or another type of content to discuss it. I work from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then I spend the rest of the day checking Reddit to see what’s new or what’s coming up; going through my emails; watching or reading whatever [I can]; and then formulating my opinion on it. It’s like a second job, but it’s great.
The “nerd” community has its fair share of issues, particularly around racism and sexism. How does the Fanboy Fighter aim to challenge those issues and combat them?
[I want people] to respect [Black women] in the [nerdom] space because, to be honest, half of my followers hate-follow me, and I get a lot of flack because I’m a woman. [For example], Megan Thee Stallion is someone I admire. [As we’ve discussed] she has been very vocal about enjoying anime, [but] people questioned whether she really enjoys [nerdom], calling her a poser and things like that. So ideally that’s what the Fanboy Fighter moniker is: fighting men who are protecting the genre and keeping it close to their chest for whatever reason. I’m here to break that gatekeeping.
That’s the goal of [the Fanboy Fighter]. I do almost borderline satire where I’m pulling from popular shows and saying, as a Black woman, this is how [this popular thing] correlates to a [specific experience] for me. But the biggest way that I combat [racism and sexism] is by having that knowledge base. It’s difficult sometimes because any time I choose to drop a post or anything on this subject, I have to be so well-versed in the subject matter because I know men—and, sadly, Black men—are going to roll up in my comments and basically have me fill out a full thesis to prove [what I’ve said]. So aside from providing content that shows that Black women interpret and watch these types of things, I also do Instagram Live videos and podcast episodes with men where I’m either checking them and letting them know this is how we feel or this is how we interpret it or representing Black women in showing we’re strong. I’m quick witted. I’m strong. I’m not letting anyone walk over me, and you shouldn’t either.
Speaking of having to “prove” yourself, how do you protect yourself from the harassment that’s inherent in nerdom, especially among Black women?
It’s difficult sometimes, but my one saving grace is that I’m [mostly] discussing fictional characters. So when I’m challenged and people are going off on me, I have the catharsis of [knowing] these people are losing their minds over someone who doesn’t exist. [They’re angry about] businesses that don’t care about them and that they have no stock in. Your life is Batman or Goku, and there’s nothing else. So I just let it rock because this is the most important thing in their life. I admit that sometimes the backlash fires me up, but then I have to take a step back. I [tell myself], Don’t let them win. There are also people who follow up and say, “I love this.” That gives me that validation to keep going.
Who are some of the other people in the space who are doing the kind of work that’s worth following?
There’s an incredible YouTuber named Blerd Without Fear who I would love to work with. White people religiously follow him, and he’s done the work of answering their questions like, “What is a Blerd?” He’s one of the few Black creators who isn’t afraid to talk about Black superheroes or Black animes because he doesn’t give a fuck about “alienating his audience.” It’s so funny because he’s so nerdy. He has the nasally voice and everything, but he’s [touching content] that other Black content creators, especially men, would never touch. I really admire that he sticks to his guns and talks about the stuff he loves, even as his YouTube channel has begun growing. [Too,] there’s a podcast called Black Ramen that’s hosted by Patty Patty. She’s hilarious. They mostly talk about anime, but Patty Patty is a Haitian woman from the Bronx and she’s so unapologetically herself. Patty Patty doesn’t get her flowers because she’s on a team and it’s harder to grow a podcast than a [YouTube channel] or something with visuals. She also sings anime intros. She’ll start off singing Biggie [Smalls] and then finishing singing an anime intro. It’s incredible, and it’s exactly what I mean about people being more than one thing. She’s hood, and she also really likes anime.
What are you most excited about in the blerd space?
I’m building a website, which has been taking a really long time. I’ve been [recruiting] contributors and growing the Fanboy Fighter. That has been really important and exciting for me. On a bigger scale, it has been super exciting to get recognized by HBO and be approached to create ads. But what excites me most is recognizing the power that Black creatives have and the [growing audience for] our stories. People are like, “Why haven’t we been telling these stories forever?” Because you’ve been blocking us. We’ve been submitting stories about things outside of slavery. Marvel [released] a cartoon on Disney+ about Black superhero Monica Rambeau, and Teyonah Parris is going to play her.
When I was 8, I didn’t get to see Parris play this powerful superhero on Disney. I was admiring Michelle Pfeiffer, who looks nothing like me, but now I can watch Lupita Nyong’o in Black Panther. I watched [Black Panther] with my 7-year-old cousin, and about 20 minutes in, she looked at me confused. She asked, “Are they all Black?” because nothing she watches has Black people in it. She watches Fancy Nancy and Peppa Pig, neither of which has Black people. It was exciting for her. She’s growing up in a new world.
I wish we’d grown up with that kind of representation. That changes everything for children, and allows them to imagine possibilities that I couldn’t even envision when I was their age.
I agree. That’s why Gen Zers are so fearless; they’ve been raised in [the golden age of] representation. They get to see people from all different backgrounds [in pop culture]. I saw a 16- or 17-year-old Gen Zer at a city council meeting talking about blue lives matter. She was like, it’s a fucking blue shirt. That’s because she grew up not only seeing herself [represented], but seeing different types of discrimination. You and I didn’t grow up in a time like that.
What is the long-term plan for the Fanboy Fighter?
The biggest goal for me would be to have a TV show like The Daily Show for pop culture and nerd culture. In the same way that The Daily Show pushes their agenda and lets you know what they’re feeling, that’s what I want to do. I’ve been really working to make myself into a personality, and [I’d like to] go to acting classes so I can speak publicly or become [more] comfortable reading off a teleprompter. I want to collaborate with bigger companies that can see the value in [having conversations about] the things that matter to me and other Blerds.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.