Whedonmania Rises Up at the Underground
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Whedonmania Rises Up at the Underground

The Toronto Browncoats raised nearly $8,000 this year for women’s rights charity Equality Now at a screening of Joss Whedon’s Serenity. And yes, there were costumes. Photo by Laura Godfrey/Torontoist.

At an event attracting an unprecedented number of orange knit hats (okay that’s a lie already, we totally saw them coming), fans of Joss Whedon’s 2005 sci-fi western Serenity took over the Toronto Underground Cinema on Saturday afternoon for the sixth annual screening of the movie. Despite it having been nearly six years since the movie came out, and nearly nine years since the cancellation of Firefly, the cruelly short-lived TV show it was based on, the Browncoats (as fans call themselves) were out in full force.
The event was organized by the Toronto Browncoats, the local branch of a global volunteer organization that has put on screenings in more than 45 cities around the world. Because of the cult following Whedon has built with such creations as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a screening of Serenity is an experience itself—maybe not the same kind of spoon-tossing, screen-heckling experience as a screening of The Room or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but more like a warm hug from your best friend who has come on family camping trips with you since the fifth grade. We were all in this together, and we wanted to pay tribute to a franchise that was taken from us before its time.

And pay it we did. In addition to bringing together a theatre full of wistful sci-fi nerds, the Toronto Browncoats have raised more than $34,000 since 2006 for Equality Now, a charity that works for “the protection and promotion of the human rights of women around the world.” Nearly $8,000 of that was from this year alone—and even more significantly, the worldwide movement known as Can’t Stop the Serenity has raised more than $550,000 overall. “This event happens all around the world,” says Melanie Fischer, chair of this year’s Toronto Browncoats organizing committee. “So it’s something that’s really significant, it’s not just a little flash-in-the-pan thing that we’re doing here.”

These Serenity nesting dolls were hand-painted by Toronto Browncoats chair Melanie Fischer. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Browncoats.

The money earned at this year’s Serenity screening came from a combination of ticket sales, merchandise, and a rowdy live auction that took place after the show. Along with Whedon-related T-shirts, action figures, DVD sets, and comic books, there were a number of one-of-a-kind, locally-crafted items up for grabs. The biggest draw, earning a winning bid of $350, was a set of Serenity nesting dolls depicting each of the ship’s nine crew members, hand-painted by Fischer herself.
Whedon is a vocal advocate for Equality Now; his own mother, a former high school teacher, has been credited as an inspiration for its founders. In 2006, he was honoured as one of their “Men on the Front Lines” for the strong female characters he writes into all his franchises. During his speech in 2006 (introduced by no less than Meryl Streep—watch the whole thing here), he offered a passionate plea to keep up the movement: “Equality is like gravity,” he said. “We need it to stand on this Earth as men and women. The misogyny that is part of every culture is not a part of the human condition: it is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality—and kinda now.”
“‘So, why do you write these strong female characters?‘” he intoned, parroting the question asked of him in countless interviews. “Because you’re still asking me that question.”
Stay tuned to the Toronto Browncoats website for details about an upcoming screening of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the web-based musical that won a Hugo Award in 2009 for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form).