MMA athlete-turned-actress Gina Carano was once best-known for her role in the hit Star Wars
series The Mandalorian
, in which she stars as former Rebel Alliance soldier Cara Dune. But now she's just as well-known for putting her foot in her mouth.
If you’re a fan of the Disney+ series, you already know that after a round of questionable posts on social media — we’ll get into those in a moment — Carano was fired from the show in February. Even her talent agency, UTA, released her.
Why? Outspoken is one thing; ignorant is wholly another. When it comes to Carano's posts, it hasn't been a matter of “Let’s agree to disagree.” Earlier this year, she tweeted an argument comparing the Nazi murder of Jews to “hating someone for their political views.” She’s gone on record as a Trump apologist, even backing his utterly discredited election-fraud narrative. She’s posted anti-mask and anti-vax propaganda during the pandemic. She’s mocked the use of gender pronouns, listing hers as “beep/bop/boop.” She believes that the invasion of Ukraine was caused by “the COVID narrative.”
And so on. Many of these tweets were deleted by Carano after varying levels of backlash.
Of course, free speech is alive: Gina Carano is free to say any stupid thing that comes into her head. We all are. But Carano’s firing from The Mandalorian
was evidence that our freedom of speech, precious as it is to the American spirit, does not and was not intended to extend to the personal repercussions of said speech.
The FAN EXPO announcement has drawn backlash.
So it was curious when last week, FAN EXPO HQ put out an announcement saying that Carano would be joining some of her former co-stars at the Denver event in July. It’s not as though just one more star was coming to join other “Star Wars
legends.” You have to wonder what these legends — which include Ming-Na Wen (Fennec Shand), Carl Weathers (Greef Carga), Katee Sackhoff (Bo-Katan Kryze), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano) and even Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) — think about it. This is tantamount to your boss inviting that guy that HR fired for sexual harassment to the company picnic. It’s a bizarre move on FAN EXPO HQ’s part, one we had many questions about. We reached out several times to FAN EXPO HQ for comment, but have not received a reply.
But Pop Culture Classroom
— the folks who used to run Denver’s annual fan fest — has a response. The same day that Carano’s appearance was announced, the organization took to social media to express its concerns. In part, it states that “Carano's past comments and actions are at direct odds with our organization's mission to celebrate diversity and build inclusive pop-culture spaces where all feel welcomed. We’ve expressed our opposition to the team at FAN EXPO Denver, and Carano will not be participating in any of Pop Culture Classroom's educational programs or activities during the event.”
Pop Culture Classroom isn't the only one disappointed in the Carano announcement.
“We felt we needed to reassure longtime fans and supporters who may have felt alienated by the booking that Pop Culture Classroom will welcome and support them at the event,” explains Adam Kullberg, Pop Culture's interim executive director. “We’ve had internal discussions with FAN EXPO Denver. Moving forward, we’ll be working together to ensure PCC’s event activities offer a welcoming and inclusive space for kids, families and educators to learn and connect.”
PCC wasn't alone in its concern. An outpouring of complaints came from many in the Denver fan base, some promising not only to avoid Carano, but to skip FAN EXPO Denver's first full-schedule convention. This is no small sacrifice on the part of those in the nerd world. FAN EXPO Denver’s July event will be a big show — the first full-sized weekend in what was hoped to be a long and popular run. FAN EXPO HQ is stacking the deck as much as it can, bringing in some major star power. Aside from the Star Wars
-related guests noted above, the convention will showcase whole groups from fan-favorite properties both classic and recent. There will be Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, along with a number of others from Smith’s “View-Askewniverse.” Many will be excited for the whole mess of former Hobbits from Lord of the Rings
, including Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sean Astin (Sam), Dominic Monaghan (Merry) and Billy Boyd (Pip). There will also be Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) from the Harry Potter film series; Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, and Ke Huy Quan from The Goonies
(Quan was also Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
); bunches of actors from Cobra Kai
(and some from the original Karate Kid
) and Legends of Tomorrow
; and other properties too numerous to mention in full. And that’s not even touching the impressive list of comics creators, voice actors, cosplayers and authors.
FAN EXPO Denver was clearly meant to be notable — just not in the way Carano has attempted to make her mark. Instead of positive word of mouth, her invitation has raised voices in protest.
One of those in the vocal-opposition group is "Fan Meetups Ambassador" for FAN EXPO and the Chief Geek of the blog Geeked Colorado
Julia Bilderback. Bilderback, who volunteers her time to help market FAN EXPO locally — on her own dime, no less — says that when she first saw the news of Carano's appearance, "it was gut-wrenching."
In response, Bilderback wrote a long post on her blog explaining exactly what lines Carano has crossed, and why she needs to be held accountable. "A lot of it is the conservative paradigm," Bilderback says. "People are trying to defend her, trying to say she didn't really do anything. But if you get fired from Disney and you didn't do anything, you could fight that." Since Carano isn't fighting it — and this is a former MMA fighter whose first instinct is to attack — that could imply that even she knows she can't directly defend her statements.
Carano reposts controversial opinions on her social media platforms.
Bilderback is no stranger to Denver conventions. "Originally, I volunteered for Pop Culture Con," she says. "To me, growing up in Colorado, the big con was Starfest. I remember when they got big names like Sean Astin, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, celebrities like that. I really hoped FAN EXPO could be even bigger. That it could be something for us middle states to be proud of."
Now, Bilderback is trying to effect change from the inside of FAN EXPO. She used one of her monthly Fan Ambassador events to protest the Carano appearance. And she's contacted a few other celebrity guests — Kevin Smith, Elijah Wood and George Takei — to see if they can throw some of their considerable star power around in order to make a difference. "I'm thinking about reaching out to Governor Polis," she adds, "to see if he'll weigh in on it."
So far, Bilderback hasn't heard from the celebrities — or from FAN EXPO, for that matter. Everyone's keeping things hush-hush for now, probably hoping that the whole thing will die down and go away. Bilderback says she's worried that too many fans will feel disrespected and that they'll stay away because of a perceived lack of inclusion. She's also concerned that the work Pop Culture Classroom has done for years is now being taken apart by FAN EXPO's inexplicable move.
So, yes, the focus is on Gina Carano and what her appearance means to a convention formerly based in large part on inclusive community. To that, Bilderback says, "If you can't survive with your dignity intact, what sort of survival is that? You have to stand up for what you believe."
FAN EXPO happens July 1-3 at the Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th Street. To learn more, visit fanexpohq.com.