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Universal FanCon: You've Got Questions, We've Got Answers

By Brian Richards | Social Media | April 24, 2018 |

By Brian Richards | Social Media | April 24, 2018 |


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Since last Friday, there has been much discussion taking place on Twitter about Universal FanCon, and how shocked and infuriated people have been about it. And there has also plenty of discussion among people who had and still have no idea who or what a Universal FanCon is, and have been completely in the dark as to why this was being discussed all weekend. So with this post, we’re going to do what we can to answer many of the questions that some of you may have about Universal FanCon.

WHAT EXACTLY IS UNIVERSAL FANCON?: Universal FanCon is a pop-culture convention that was originally scheduled to occur this weekend from April 27th to April 29th. It’s basically Comic-Con, but with a greater focus on diversity, representation, and on making sure that marginalized communities got the attention and respect that they don’t normally receive at conventions such as these.

WHO STARTED UNIVERSAL FANCON, OR HOW DID IT START?: Universal FanCon was started through a Kickstarter campaign back in December of 2016. When word got out and began to spread about this convention and what kind of convention it intended to be, especially since it was being put together by two popular and influential podcasts, Black Girl Nerds and The Black Geeks, plenty of people came forward with their support and contributed as much money to the campaign as they could to get Universal FanCon off the ground.

DID YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN FOR UNIVERSAL FANCON?: Full disclosure: Yes, I’m one of the Original Backers for Universal FanCon and I did donate money to its Kickstarter campaign. Not much, just thirty-five dollars, which is why I was able to breathe a sigh of relief that I didn’t spend more money than that once everything went pear-shaped.

SO I’M GUESSING THAT THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN WAS SUCCESSFUL?: The original Kickstarter goal that Universal FanCon was aiming for was at least $25,000. Thanks to all of the donations, Universal FanCon received over double that amount, so yeah. It was very successful.

WHAT EXACTLY DID UNIVERSAL FANCON HAVE PLANNED THAT GOT PEOPLE SO EXCITED?: Thanks to Jamie Broadnax, creator and editor-in-chief of Black Girl Nerds, and the many connections she was able to establish over the years through her Twitter account and podcast, Universal FanCon was able to invite many a well-known celebrity guest for a convention that was only in its first year. Orlando Jones, Phil LaMarr, Roxane Gay, Ricky Whittle, Yetide Badaki, Mehcad Brooks, Demore Barnes, Big Daddy Kane, Billy Dee Williams(!), and that was just the start. There were going to be lightsaber-dueling classes for both kids and adults. Orlando Jones was going to host a comedy show there. Anime screening rooms, fully-active 24-hour arcades, and plenty of fandom-submitted panels. And since Avengers: Infinity War moved up its release date from May 4th to April 27th, many of the attendees were looking forward to not only meeting each other for the first time, but also looking forward to the possibility of seeing Avengers: Infinity War and thirsting over Captain America’s beard together as a community.

DAMN! THAT ALL SOUNDS AWESOME!: It does. It really does. Which is why enthusiasm for Universal FanCon was so incredibly high, especially among Black Twitter, since many of them contributed to its creation, and many of them were planning to attend. As fans, as panelists, as cosplayers, as business owners looking to establish connections with others and also sell merchandise to people looking to purchase and bring home plenty of swag.

SO…WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED THAT MADE EVERYONE SO UPSET?: (takes deep breath, pours himself a drink)

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IS IT THAT BAD?: Well, it certainly isn’t good. Let me try to explain this to the best of my ability.

On Friday, April 20th, Melanie Dione, Universal FanCon’s Entertainment Group Director, announced that morning on her Twitter page (@beauty_jackson) that she was resigning from her position. She didn’t say why or give any further explanation, which made her followers very curious.

Things got even more confusing later that afternoon when several people received e-mails stating that the reservations for their hotel rooms that they would be staying in during their visit to Baltimore for FanCon were cancelled. And when they sought answers, the confusion only grew from there.


As more and more people began demanding clarification as to why their hotel rooms were no longer available and why they were being told that Universal FanCon was suddenly cancelled, Universal FanCon’s official Twitter account sent out a tweet to let everyone know that their complaints were heard and that an explanation would be coming soon…


…and that explanation came in the form of Universal FanCon telling all of Twitter that the event, which was scheduled to occur in exactly one week, was postponed until further notice.


HO…LY…SHIT! THEY JUST…THEY REALLY JUST CANCELED THE ENTIRE CONVENTION LIKE THAT AT THE VERY LAST MINUTE?: Yes, they did. People were confused and disappointed, to say the very least, and considering how much money had been spent on hotel rooms and plane tickets…how people worked extra shifts at their jobs in order to earn the vacation time they had set aside to attend FanCon…how they were unable to attend family events such as weddings because they already scheduled their attendance at FanCon…there were so many tweets from people who had made room on their calendars and did everything possible to support and attend a convention that was two years in the making. And it also didn’t help that this postponement e-mail was sent to Original Backers only and not to everyone who purchased tickets. To make matters worse, the postponement e-mail was not sent out BCC, and ended up revealing the personal e-mail addresses of many Original Backers, myself included. So if there was someone whose inbox you wanted to constantly blow up with some bullshit that they didn’t want to read, you were in luck!

So as everyone on Twitter talked among themselves about how and why this happened, they all waited for the official explanation to come from the organizers at Universal FanCon.

And they waited.

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And waited.

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And waited.

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It wasn’t until midnight that the organizers at Universal FanCon finally came forward with an explanation/statement/FAQ as to why the postponement occurred. Some highlights, if you can even call them that:

Why are you postponing FanCon?

Currently we are in a financial deficit that will not allow us to operate the convention within budget. Accordingly, we have made the decision to postpone and reschedule FanCon so we can put forward the type of event our fans deserve.

Why did you wait so long to postpone the event?
The FanCon team worked really hard up to the last minute to put forward an amazing event. However, it became clear in our last team meeting that we would not be able to deliver the event the fans deserved without more time.

How long will the event be postponed?

Once we are able to fully assess our options, we will make an announcement.

Why didn’t you tell us sooner? I found out through Twitter/ my hotel / a friend / etc.?

Once we fully understood that we could not move forward, we immediately went into action in building proper communications, building our statement, and this FAQ so all of our guests, affiliates, backers, and attendees could be notified first. Notifications were set to go out the morning of April 20th. Unfortunately room cancellation emails went out to attendees in the FanCon room bloc before we could properly inform everyone the same day. We had no warning that the partner hotel would share their cancellation notice in this manner, and resulted in us having to scramble to get something out to everyone as quickly as possible.

When you have an event of this size, there are a lot of moving parts. There is a protocol and process that has to be followed in order to get the word out to everyone that is even remotely affected. Unfortunately we were forced to share basic detail as opposed to our full explanation as quickly as possible due to the abrupt nature of the hotel cancellations.

I just paid for a flight. What happens now?

We sincerely apologize for the efforts and resources that went into your travel arrangements when you had an expectation to be at this convention. We understand how much that hurts.

You may have options to recoup some costs-please contact your airliners directly as some will allow you to cancel your flight without penalty and/or use the ticket as credit towards future travel.

What happens to my hotel reservation?

If you booked with one of our partner hotels, your reservation may have already been cancelled. If you did not receive a cancellation notice or are unsure, please contact the partner hotel directly. If you booked with a different hotel or lodging service, please review your booking info and contact them directly.

Many hotels will allow for cancellations in advance of stay.

I took vacations days off of work already. What happens now?

We’re incredibly sorry that you have set time aside to take off for FanCon, and recognize that it may have been difficult to secure time-off in the first place.

Keep in mind that this was not the original statement/FAQ, because it was still being edited even after it was posted, largely because some of the original answers that were posted in response to the questions posed in the FAQ were…less than great.

Not only did the original version state that all sales were final and that there would be no refunds (not for plane fare or hotel rooms), but it also stated that despite FanCon being cancelled, the Avengers: Infinity War screening that was originally hosted by FanCon was still a go, and that anyone planning to attend FanCon was welcome to attend the screening and receive further answers to their questions there.

THE ORGANIZERS REALLY THOUGHT THAT SEEING AN AVENGERS MOVIE WOULD MAKE UP FOR THE ENTIRE CONVENTION BEING CANCELLED?: 1) They seemingly did, until it was pointed out how foolish and tone-deaf it was to put that out there, as if it were anything resembling an appealing option. 2) When I say ‘organizers,’ I really just mean ‘organizer,’ as it seemed more and more obvious that Jamie Broadnax and only Jamie Broadnax had written the statement and the FAQ to explain herself.

WELL, WHERE WERE THE OTHER ORGANIZERS? WHY WEREN’T THEY EXPLAINING THEMSELVES AND APOLOGIZING FOR WHAT HAPPENED?: Don’t worry, I’m getting to that part.

For now, people were simply losing their shit over having to wait nearly all day and night for a reason as to why all of their time, money, and hard work had suddenly been flushed down the toilet, and the explanation they got did nothing to satisfy them or make them any less upset about what happened. Because none of this made any sense. And it also didn’t help that news of the postponement had largely been limited to Twitter and Facebook, so if you were planning to attend Universal FanCon and hadn’t been paying attention to all of the online discussion…well, the words ‘shit out of luck’ immediately spring to mind.

ALL RIGHT, SO JAMIE BROADNAX WAS THE ONE WHO APPARENTLY WAS WRITING AND THEN REWRITING THAT STATEMENT/EXPLANATION? WHERE WERE THE OTHER ORGANIZERS?:
The same day that news of the FanCon postponement broke on Twitter, Robert Butler, FanCon’s President and Executive Director, went on his Twitter page (@DarthGeekonius) that afternoon and posted a now-deleted thread of tweets apologizing and explaining how the hotel room reservations were unexpectedly cancelled and how the Hyatt Regency threw him and the other organizers for a loop, and left only one tweet remaining from that deleted thread insisting that he was to blame and that any anger and vitriol should be sent in his direction. As for Rob Gill, Director of Operations, the only thing he was willing to say and do on his Twitter page (@BigBabaRob) was ReTweet @UniversalFanCon saying that the event was postponed. Other than that…

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…he has said absolutely nothing, not in his own defense or anyone else’s. And even people who were pissed at Jamie couldn’t help but notice that a Black woman was seemingly being left to twist in the wind while everyone else (specifically, her Black male colleagues) who were supposed to be standing besides her and shouldering the blame were either nowhere to be found or foolishly locking up their Twitter pages and going into hiding.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?: For some strange reason, Butler thought it was a good idea to not only lock his Twitter account, but also to change his profile pic to that of him looking like an evil Sith Lord, complete with red lightsaber and black hood.

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Which probably isn’t the impression you want to give off when you’re accused of squandering people’s money and wasting their time by canceling the event that they were planning to attend. And after being called out all morning long, he finally unlocked his account and apologized for seemingly trying to get away from answering for his misconduct.



And when it came to the organizers attempting to shift blame on to the hotels for cancelling reservations out of the clear blue sky without telling anyone, at least one person called bullshit on all of it:

There was also this thread which called into question how much money was being spent to hold Universal FanCon at the Baltimore Convention Center:

DAMN! SO WHAT ELSE HAPPENED THE FOLLOWING DAY? WERE THERE ANY SIGNS OR INDICATIONS THAT THINGS COULD GET BETTER?: Unfortunately, no. Because…

1) It was soon revealed that one of the organizers of Universal FanCon was a man named Thai Pham. And it soon became even more clear as to why Universal FanCon turned into a complete and total mess.

And 2) Later that day, Jamie Broadnax finally decided to post her own personal statement/apology/explanation on BlackGirlNerds.com. And that only resulted in people going from confused/disappointed/sympathetic and understanding to Jamie’s plight to furious and pissed the fuck off.

Some more highlights for your reading pleasure:

I am Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds and a member of Universal Fan Con.

HOLD UP! I’M SORRY TO INTERRUPT, BUT JUST STOP RIGHT THERE, PLEASE!: All right.

JAMIE IS A MEMBER OF UNIVERSAL FANCON? I THOUGHT SHE WAS ONE OF THE CO-FOUNDERS: She is or was, and identified herself as co-founder of Universal FanCon in her Twitter bio and on her pages for Facebook and LinkedIn.

BUT NOW SHE’S JUST A MEMBER? LIKE HOW MARK ZUCKERBERG IS A MEMBER OF FACEBOOK?: Apparently so. And also…ouch!

MMMM-HMMM! ANYWAY, PLEASE CONTINUE WITH THESE ‘HIGHLIGHTS:’ All right.

…I was brought on Director of Community Outreach for the FanCon Organization. My role was to spread the word and be a public facing liaison for the organization. I lent my brand Black Girl Nerds and invested my social capital into the mix which allowed for a large network of nerds and geeks to be exposed to this new event. I also leveraged my relationships with brands, studios, and celebrities to get them onboard and co-sign on this fan convention.

As I was working to spread the mission of Universal Fan Con, I did not involve myself with financial or legal matters. To be frank — I didn’t know what was coming in nor what was going out. I didn’t sign any contracts. And in hindsight, I realize that this should have been a major priority. However, I acknowledge that in hindsight, that does not remedy the aftermath. On April 3, a bomb was dropped on me about our finances. I was shocked that outstanding bills were not paid and that the likelihood of FanCon would be no longer.

I help oversee our Affiliates team — our team of bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, etc who are the cheerleaders that have helped to spread the word of Universal Fan Con. We discussed having an emergency Go Fund Me and I even created a video as a last-ditch effort. I was reluctant and didn’t like how it would look that I was being asked to be the face of the video, but I went with it anyway. However, I guess I was positioned as the leader and representative of the fandom community, and I recorded a video about our need for funds. After we had our meeting with Affiliates, most agreed a Go Fund Me would be a good idea. I had a secondary meeting with the FanCon board and we decided rather than putting the onus on fans and asking for money which we already did during the Kickstarter, I agreed that we should try to find ways to scale down the size of the space and try to defray costs. I also worked with a sponsor at the last minute to help us out that provided a generous donation that I thought would have us in a better position.

48 hours ago, I found out that we owed more money and that there was no way to run this con with the debt that was owed. I called the team myself and requested an emergency board meeting to discuss what we need to do and what went wrong. As it turns out there was a balloon budget that would make it impossible to run this convention by Friday, April 27. I was sick to my stomach, devastated and I’m still in shock by all of this because at the time I thought FanCon was okay. I had a press coverage meeting with my team a few days before and I was prepping my schedule as to what we plan to cover at the event. I was completely blindsided by this news and frankly still don’t understand what happened.

I owed more due diligence to the community and I did not know what was happening behind the scenes in terms of contracts and financials. I made assumptions that I thought were okay and that’s not how you run a business. I put my faith into others who were subject matter experts in various areas and assumed that everything was a well-oiled machine. I put my personal name and brand of Black Girl Nerds on Universal Fan Con knowing this would be a success and would help more Black women, fans of color, and so many marginalized groups get the opportunity to have a platform where they can see themselves reflected and feel represented.

All of you trusted me, I’m certain many of you decided to purchase your ticket and/or financially support this event because of me. And I understand completely that I have let you down. I have started meetups at DragonCon, San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con and opened it up to the community to participate. Communities that I have built a rapport with for years and online communities I’ve helped to build were a part of this mission. In no way, shape or form would I ever want to jeopardize what I have spent years building and creating and compromising many nights of sleep over, just to cash in on a few bucks. I worked for Universal Fan Con as a volunteer. I was never paid but was promised part of the profits.

My statement, recollection of events, and acknowledgment of responsibility will, unfortunately, do nothing for those who have requested time off, put their livelihoods in jeopardy, and spent money on travel, lodging, registration and more. I am personally devastated to have broken the trust of my community. I know that only time and concrete resolutions will regain your trust and I am prepared to work toward that and to honor that truth.

SO….I….BUT…HMMMM: Yeah, I know. I know.

CAN I HAVE SOME OF THAT LIQUOR YOU WERE JUST POURING FOR YOURSELF?: Sure, why not? I have plenty of it as I sit here and try to piece all of this together.

ALL RIGHT. SO…JAMIE IS REALLY TELLING US THAT SHE LENT HER BLACK GIRL NERDS BRAND, HER CREATION, HER BRAINCHILD, AND ALL OF THE INFLUENCE AND VISIBILITY THAT COMES WITH IT, TO PUTTING THIS CONVENTION TOGETHER? AND SHE WAS PAYING NO ATTENTION TO ANYTHING FINANCIAL ABOUT IT OR HOW THE MONEY WAS BEING USED?: (sighs) All signs point to ‘Yes.’

HOW THE FUCK DID SHE JUST LET HERSELF GET BLINDSIDED LIKE THIS? ALL OF THESE PEOPLE DONATED SO MUCH MONEY, AND THEY SPENT EVEN MORE TO BUY TICKETS! HOW COULD SHE NOT KEEP HER EYE ON THE BALL FOR A CONVENTION THAT WAS JUST GETTING STARTED? THAT SHE WAS HELPING GET STARTED?: Like she said, she trusted the wrong people. And she was just a volunteer.

A VOLUNTEER?! A VOLUNTEER WHO STILL EXPECTED TO RECEIVE SOME OF THE PROFITS IF UNIVERSAL FANCON WAS A SUCCESS? REALLY?!: Yeah….I don’t know what else to tell you.

WELL, TELL ME THIS. IS IS TRUE THAT SOMEONE DONATED FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS TO THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN TO HELP FANCON GET OFF THE GROUND?: Unfortunately, that is true.

….REALLY?! THAT WASN’T JUST SOME BULLSHIT?: Not according to this tweet:

I…I JUST…WOOOOW!!!!: Yeah, that about sums it up. And then there’s also this:

SO…HOW DID THE REST OF TWITTER RESPOND TO JAMIE’S STATEMENT, AND TO ALL OF THIS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION COMING TO LIGHT?: You know what? I’ll let the rest of Twitter answer that question for you.

And believe me when I tell you: That is only just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how Twitter responded.

It wasn’t long before other writers and podcasters who were affiliated with Universal FanCon (or who had known and crossed paths with Jamie before) and were planning to lend their support in various ways began to distance themselves from Jamie, the convention, and its organizers as much as possible.

Before the weekend was over, many of the writers and contributors for Black Girl Nerds had submitted their resignations and announced them on their personal Twitter pages. Despite some of them being reluctant and unwilling to speak out due to them fearing the possibility that Jamie could or would use her remaining influence to have them blacklisted at any other publications or companies, those departing writers soon learned that they had plenty of support in their corner. Twitter immediately began to spread the word that there were many talented writers who were no longer working for Black Girl Nerds and looking for work elsewhere, and that if anyone was able to hire them, they’d be wise to do so.

SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW? OR WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN?: What I can say with absolute certainty is that the Black Girl Nerds brand has been severely damaged because of this Universal FanCon fiasco, and that Jamie Broadnax’s reputation and career may never be the same. Too many people and their livelihoods were horribly affected by the decisions being made behind the scenes, and the fact that there has been and continues to be little to no honesty or accountability only guarantees that the many bridges that Jamie helped build with so many others, especially Black women and Women Of Color on Twitter who met her, worked with her, trusted her, have been burned beyond repair. And those who are still standing by her side and defending her while claiming that others are being too harsh and unforgiving towards Jamie would do well to remember all of this instead of believing that her feelings take precedence over everyone and everything else.

As of this writing, Jamie appeared once more on Twitter and after extending additional apologies for hurting and betraying so many people, she announced that she would be stepping down from her position as Editor-In-Chief of Black Girl Nerds, and that someone else would take over in running daily operations.

DO YOU THINK IT’S POSSIBLE FOR THE BLACK GIRL NERDS BRAND TO OVERCOME THIS AND MAKE A COMEBACK?: Before I answer that, I think it’s obvious to everyone (or at the very least, it should be obvious to everyone) that the people who have been hurt emotionally and financially from all of this, and how they will be able to recover in the days and weeks to come, are of far greater importance than the Black Girl Nerds brand and whether or not it can pick itself up and dust itself off. That being said, to answer the original question:

I would say ‘no,’ but…Starbucks seems to be working hard to overcome its most recent controversy and make sure that something such as that never happens again (and as horrible as this sounds, it doesn’t hurt that the recent mass shooting at a Waffle House in Nashville, the wrongful arrest of a young African-American woman named Chikesia Clemons at another Waffle House location in Saraland, Alabama, and the Twitter account for Waffle House stating that the arrest was an appropriate one have all taken some attention away from what Starbucks was originally in trouble for), the Alamo Drafthouse theaters are still as popular and successful as ever, despite the fact that its CEO spent over a decade overlooking incidents of sexual assault and harassment and sweeping them under the rug, while also secretly employing someone who was recently accused of sexual assault, so who the hell knows? Anything is possible. And if enough work is done to restore the trust and prove to everyone, specifically Black women and Women Of Color, that Black Girl Nerds from this point on will be completely different from how Black Girl Nerds used to be, it could possibly return to something resembling its former glory. It’s not guaranteed to happen. But it is possible.

These last few days have also proven two things:

1) There have been Black female nerds before Jamie Broadnax created Black Girl Nerds, and that there always will be Black female nerds long after Black Girl Nerds becomes a distant memory. No one person or group should act as gatekeeper in making others feel or believe that there is one way for Black women to be nerds, and that there should be only one way for Black female nerds to come together, express their love and appreciation for the people and things that they care about, and also create content that will inspire and entertain others, especially Black girls and Black women, so that they know they’re not alone and that they’re just as capable of achieving greatness just like anyone else.

2) The community of Black nerds and of Black creatives is a brilliant and powerful community, and it can and will survive and overcome any hardship sent in its direction. It certainly wasn’t easy or pleasant to realize that the person/organization that brought so many of them together and gave them a sense of acceptance ended up betraying them and causing them so much pain and confusion. But they were able to come together, figure out what was needed and who needed help, and they did what they could to recover from this series of unfortunate events and let each other know that they were here for each other, that there were other things to do and other places to go where they could meet up, connect, hang out, network, and develop friendships and relationships that would only make their community a stronger and more successful one.


There will be more information to come in the following days and weeks about Universal FanCon. About the people who tried and failed to organize it successfully, about the people who were looking forward to attending it, only to find out that there would be nothing to attend (including the screening of Avengers: Infinity War, as that was recently cancelled with little to no advance notification)…


…and about the people who decided to speak their truth about their history with Black Girl Nerds and how the person who ran it proved that she was not to be trusted.

But for now, hopefully this post will answer any questions you have about the catastrofuck that was Universal FanCon. Any other answers that you’re looking for, Twitter will most definitely provide the rest.



Brian Richards is a Staff Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.



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