Sunday, June 23, 2024

Unity Days Was a Break From the Bad Blood

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Anyone who follows The CW’s sci-fi darling The 100 knows its fans are passionate. They interact enthusiastically with the cast and crew on social media, write piles and piles of fan fiction, and air elaborate theories in podcasts. Many journalists who write or talk about the show are also diehard fans, which makes our work both more taxing and more rewarding.

As productive and exciting as it can be, it is this same passion that causes the fandom to be one of the most exhausting to engage with. The continued heckling from disgruntled Lexa fans aside, there’s plenty of drama among those of us who still enjoy the show. Headcanons clash, shipping wars abound, and mud is slung across the aisles via Tumblr and Twitter. With all this division, sometimes it’s difficult to remember what unites us: a deep love for this show and an investment in its characters.

Enter: Unity Days. A con devoted solely to The 100, Unity Days intentionally cultivates an environment where the positive aspect of this passion can prosper. “This is Unity Days—leave ship wars and bad vibes at home!” declares the website. The majority of this year’s panels were hosted by Jo Garfein, whose hashtag of choice is #choosekindness.

Whether it was the loss of internet anonymity for trolls or just a matter of attracting the right people, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the atmosphere at Unity Days was overwhelmingly positive. Attendees were focused on celebrating the show as a whole rather than nitpicking its problematic aspects. And rather than devolving into shouting matches over shippings wars, we celebrated our commonalities as fans. It made me want to engage with this fandom again. This was one of the first times I could safely discuss my favorite characters and ships without worrying about someone getting up in my face or, worse, being dismissive. Attendees were respectful of each other and their opinions and experiences, which is all we could ask for out of most fandoms these days, let’s be real.

Another thing that makes Unity Days stand out is its location. It takes place in Vancouver, where the show is filmed, so it has prime access to the cast and crew. Despite being in the middle of shooting the season 5 finale, loads of guests showed up, including some who weren’t even scheduled. Others made appearances on both days despite only being slated to appear for one, indicating they enjoyed it just as much as the fans.

The actors blew me away, quite honestly. All of them were so kind and humble, and not only willing but eager to listen to and engage with the fans. This held true no matter whether the topic was the show itself or its emotional impact. Numerous people (including me) thanked Lindsey Morgan for her heartbreaking yet hopeful portrayal of coping with an acquired disability, for instance. Every conversation in the panels or overheard on the convention floor, she was attentive and gracious. Meanwhile, Chelsey Reist spoke candidly about her own struggles with depression and how that helped her understand Harper’s short-lived involvement with Jasper’s suicide cult of sorts. In general, the cast’s level of engagement was amazing, which goes to show how strongly they feel about The 100 as well.

Beyond that, the cast was hilarious and their entertainment value alone was worth the price of admission. We were treated to a lot of dancing onstage, much of it twerking. Sachin Sahel had the crowd on a string throughout the weekend, cueing chants of “YAS QUEEN” and “UD3” (a call for Unity Days to continue beyond this, its second year). Jessica Harmon had us in stitches pretty much the entire time she was onstage. Several actors’ dogs made appearances, too.

There was quite a bit of fan service during the panels as well. The actors who portray the tragically sunken ship Sea Mechanic (Raven/Luna) performed a lap dance and held hands onstage. They and Mackson (Miller/Jackson) pretended to make out. There were a lot of laughs, yes, but beyond that, it was so enjoyable to watch a group of friends who clearly savor each other’s company having fun together.

At the closing panel on Sunday, Jarod Joseph and Luisa d’Oliveira both said their favorite parts of the weekend were the meet-and-greets and other conversations with fans. Across the board, it seems the cast were as fond as we were of the intimate atmosphere. It provided a chance to truly connect, something most larger cons lack. The autograph lines moved slowly, but the interactions at the end were well worth the wait.

Unity Days also gave fans a chance to connect with each other, of course. A con is one situation where introverts like me can come out to play, because our energy is going toward something we are passionate about. Part of what made the weekend so great was the connections I made with other fans. Turns out cosplaying is a great way to find people who adore the same character. I even met someone who likes all the same weird obscure ships I do across 5+ fandoms. It was all this perpetual rarepair shipper could hope for.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the best and most exciting weekends I’ve ever had. It really was the experience of a lifetime, and I wish all fans of the show could experience something like this and see how refreshing it is. The only negative aspect of the weekend was the announcement that this would be the last Unity Days. The organizers say the con is too taxing on their personal lives and they have other stuff to do. Totally legit, but disappointing. Sahel teased them about how he could see a twinkle in their eyes indicating they wanted to do it again, then he led the chants insisting they should. If they were not convinced, hopefully someone else will take over and allow this incredible con to live on.

I’ll end this write-up the same way we ended the convention: by chanting, “UD3! UD3!”

The 100 returns to The CW on April 24.

Image Courtesy of Unity Events Canada

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