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What do you get when fans decide to make a documentary about their own fandom? In the case of the bronies, the answer seems to be erasure and exclusion.
What do you get when fans decide to make a documentary about their own fandom? In the case of the bronies—fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic—the answer seems to be erasure and exclusion.
So say some fandom critics of the recently released documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.
Not everyone in the brony fandom is happy about the newly launched documentary. Female fans are already planning their own documentary in response, to give a more inclusive portrayal of fans—particularly the female sector of the brony population, which many fans claim was virtually ignored.
Despite raising over $300,000 from thousands of My Little Pony enthusiasts in the fifth-most-successful funded video project on Kickstarter, the makers of Bronies still managed to go over budget. Even though they originally requested a mere $60,000 to make their feature-length film, an email sent to contributors by executive producer and actor John de Lancie explained why the costs grew:
[W]hen the response to the Kickstarter campaign resulted in five times the original goal, Mike and I felt duty bound to expand the scope of the show. Immediately, this translated into four more cameras at the convention site in New Jersey. It also meant including four additional cities in the United States as well as traveling to Israel, Germany, Holland, and England. Of course, with this major expansion, we were now dealing with hundreds of additional hours of raw footage that necessitated the need to hire yet more editors, sound engineers and video engineers. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Bronies landed on January 20 at bronydoc.com, where you can purchase a digital download for $12.99, well over the cost of the average download online and almost as much as a regular DVD. Despite an earnest plea from producers to fans to pay full price for the download in order to defray costs, free copies almost immediately began circulating on the Internet.
So how does the brony fandom portray itself? Questionable production decisions aside, the documentary seems to be an earnest attempt to positively portray the fandom, part of an ongoing attempt by bronies to change their public perception. But many bronies feel that its subjectivity is its downfall, and that it ultimately fails to respond to, or even approach, any of the major critiques about the fandom.
Like any other fandom with a heavy amount of nerd cred, bronies have to contend with being ridiculed, with having their fandom mocked and their masculinity inevitably questioned. Many fans have pointed out that this is par for the course with nerd culture. “There is [literally] nothing new and fresh about this fandom,” insists the critique blog fuck–no–my–little–pony.
MLP fan Steve Holtz snarkily characterizes the documentary’s attitude: “‘[H]ey we like something we’re NOT supposed to like, we demand an award.'”
Holtz, like many other fans, points out that the martyred perspective can only exist because the documentary emphasizes the fandom’s male participants. “I believe it went as far as it could with covering what it was aiming to cover,” writes Wanderer D on FIMFiction.net, in a post calling for female fans to create their own documentary which garnered over a hundred largely supportive comments. “I really believe that they never had the intention to go any deeper than media perception about the male aspect of our fandom.”
The creator of Friendship Is Magic, Lauren Faust, is an executive producer on the documentary, and appears several times in the documentary. But in a lengthy post, lensflarepony on Tumblr points out that even her appearances may be disingenuous:
[T]he clips of [Faust] really show her talking more about what she thinks of male bronies rather than giving a strong description of her philosophy that she wanted to imbue into the show—being that there are many ways to be a girl, and that media made for girls and young women doesn’t have to be bad, and can be just as deep, relatable, and powerful as those targeted at male audiences.
And there were other voices who felt marginalized as well. Over at Equestria Daily, kitschyduck commented, “I believe the documentary didn’t focus enough on the fact that we’re not all introverts with no friends outside of the Internet. … I get the feeling that due to this documentary I’ve ended up possibly being labelled as someone who lacks adequate social skills and relies on ponies for a moral code to follow.”
But not everyone believes the documentary’s moral code is foolproof, either. In a lengthy two-part editorial critiquing the documentary, Derpy Hooves News castigates the documentary’s avoidance of the many problems plaguing the fandom:
The documentary doesn’t address things like the harassment of Yamino after the removal of Derpy or the explicit death threats in the lyrics of pony artist Yelling at Cats. Purple Tinker, the creator of the original Bronycon, is shown lauding the fandom, yet recently has spent much of her time across many social networks blasting bronies for transphobic language. Not facing these issues means that bronies cannot learn from these mistakes, or at least begin to discuss them and try to figure out why people think the way they do. It’s also misleading to the general public. It promotes an image of the fanbase that isn’t the entire truth. And if people aren’t getting the whole truth, then why should they believe the good things that are crammed hamfistedly into the doc?
Still, kitschyduck did enjoy the documentary, and there were plenty who agreed. “It’s strengthened my aim to go to this year’s Bronycon, and Galacon,” wrote Tumblr user songopaul after watching. “… We have to also remember the good side of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom, and this documentary does exactly that.”
It’s clear that for some fans, the film’s $320,000 budget has paid off. But for others, the documentary treads little new ground, and leaves the fandom’s complex range of issues—and fans—untouched.
All screengrabs via Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.