Thank you, Carmilla
By: Kathryn Trammell
When I first pitched the topic for this article to my editors I originally meant for it to have a much different tone. Act II of Carmilla Season Three had just dropped, I’d just submitted my recap for episodes 18-20 and I was already thinking (like many of you) what it would be like for Carmilla to end in just two short weeks. That was before it was revealed that Carmilla was being made into a movie. So, what was once going to be a maudlin piece is now much more hopeful but no less focused on the impact and legacy of the little web series that could.
When Carmilla first aired in 2014, it was noticed right away as being different – different because it looked nothing like shows that appeared on broadcast or cable TV at the time. Where other shows typically featured actresses in the roles of the “female ingénue,” the “love interest” or the “token woman” Carmilla featured a cast of predominantly female and other gendered actors in roles that were as varied as they were strong. While some characters like Danny (Sharon Belle), Mel (Nicole Stamp) and Carmilla (Natasha Negovanlis) exhibited physical strength, characters like Laura (Elise Bauman), LaFontaine (Kaitlyn Alexander) and Perry (Annie Briggs) exhibited intellectual strength. Actually, what made their strengths so much stronger is that each was regarded as necessary and none was deemed irrelevant. No one character was written to be better than the other and no one character was singled out to be “the chosen one.” While for many viewers the lack of such archetypes might have been confusing, the minds of an audience who were used to seeing themselves as failures of the Bechdel test (whether a work of fiction that features at least two women that discuss something outside of men) were slowly but surely wooed by a message of solidarity.
In truth, one of the more meaningful aspects of the show is that while the writing allowed each character the space to have their own stories and their own development, it also made sure to include within that space the acceptability of collaboration. As a writer or a producer of the show, this ensures that “the responsibility of being the female voice doesn’t fall on one character” (Stephanie Ouaknine – Q on CBC interview). As a fan, this opened the door for the creation of a community that would soon emulate the solidarity they were seeing in each episode.
Thus, The Creampuffs were born, their need for inclusion running through the veins of social media and into the body of a society still struggling to give them agency and voice. By not only seeing characters who were largely women and queer support each other on screen as well as off, fans of the show who finally saw themselves being represented accurately and respectfully began to reach out to each other creating a network of help and community intent on camaraderie. Their focus was to create a safe space in which they not only talked about the show but about their true selves as well.
For many, Carmilla isn’t just a web series – it’s a home. Ask Creampuffs what Carmilla means to them and you are bound to find this word throughout multiple responses, which is exactly what happened when Starry Constellation Magazine asked its followers this question this past weekend. Multiple people within a fandom used the word “home” to describe the web series they love most reveals just how elusive this concept may be for the fans who haven’t been able to find it within their own physical lives. Some elaborated on the concept using words such as “family” and “community” to also describe what lies beneath the word. Maybe that is because in order to feel like you are home, you have to also feel like you are safe and safety, a lot of times, begins with acceptance. The Creampuff community offers this and so much more to many fans who admitted that without the show, their lives would’ve been much darker. For fans like @NegovanlisArmy, Carmilla is “a reason to keep smiling every day.” Other fans like @immazinaman felt it is a chance to be a part of a community “that won’t judge you based on who you love or who you are. You’re simply free.” This freedom – to live, to love, to be – has given fans like @NegovanlisaArmy and @NATLISES the courage to come out, the strength “to keep fighting” and the chance “to not feel like who I am is something wrong.”
The ability to find safety within a strong fan-based community wouldn’t have been possible if not for the support and embracement of Creampuffs by Carmilla’s cast and crew. The actors and show creators never held back in committing themselves to the honest creation and portrayal of characters whose mere existence meant that marginalized people finally got a chance to see more than one type of themselves within genre fiction. But more than this, they became a kind of representative voice in interviews and on various con panels when questions regarding Carmilla’s fans or representation arose. Their responses took on an even deeper significance when fans began to recognize that some of the actors and show creators weren’t just speaking for the fans, but for themselves as well. In the interview mentioned above for Q on CBC, star Natasha Negovanlis was asked about what she believes makes the Creampuff community such a dedicated fanbase. She explained that “the fans were so desperate for representation and I think that’s what makes the show so important to them and what makes it important to me as well . . . they’re just able to identify with the characters and with us as actors because we’re all pretty open honest people, as well, and we’re pretty proud to work on [the show].” It’s a rarity to find well-written queer characters on film. It’s rarer still for these queer characters to be portrayed by queer actors. But the rarest of all is when these actors are supported enough to express the pride they have in the work they do knowing just how important it is to the community to which they belong. “It’s incredible to hear about how our show helped [fans] come out to their parents or how it helped save their lives, because in many ways it saved mine too,” Natasha went on to say in the same interview. “Being able to work on something that has such a social responsibility has been such a gift.”
Mirroring Negovanlis’ sentiments as well as the thoughts, feelings and experiences of many fans who saw themselves perhaps for the first time ever in the incredible character of LaFontaine, Kaitlyn Alexander took to YouTube to express their feelings after shooting the final scenes of Carmilla’s third season. In the video, Alexander wavers between a smile and tears, their emotions mixed (as were ours) over knowing Carmilla was coming to an end. They stated that its legacy would never cease to affect and inspire people noting “LaFontaine gave me the confidence to be weird . . . to be unabashedly strange . . . taught me how to love myself . . . to trust and believe in myself, and everybody who watches the show . . . you’ve taught me about the beauty of the world.”
It’s this depth of involvement – this willingness to throw themselves headfirst into a story and into the characters that represent the people on both sides of the fourth wall – that proves the power and impact of becoming. That is because if none of Carmilla’s actors had so perfectly become their characters, we wouldn’t have found the courage to explain the use of pronouns the way Alexander’s LaF so confidently did. We wouldn’t have come to understand that a woman can be both strong and kind and still maintain her effectiveness as a leader the way Sharon Belle’s Danny so flawlessly did. And we wouldn’t have finally recognized that the way we love is beautiful and right and worthy of happiness if neither Natasha Negovanlis nor Elise Bauman committed themselves to the chemistry and love between their characters.
Even after the Carmilla movie is released and the story has reached its actual conclusion, the support and legacy that Carmilla afforded an underrepresented community will never end. We’ve been too affected by its genuine characters and its intelligent storytelling to let it fade away as anything other than iconic and meaningful. To use the gratitude expressed by one of Carmilla’s many fans whose life was changed by this legacy, I end with this: “Famed acting teacher Stella Adler said about acting, ‘The work will lift you up.’ By letting this work lift you up (those in front of the camera), it lifts the rest of us up with you. So I raise my glass to you – the hearts, minds and souls behind Carmilla – in a virtual toast. You being you, let me be me (@theLettrEm).”
From all the Creampuffs…
Thank you, Carmilla.