Fancasting–the act of fans creating photosets of their dreamcast for mainstream media properties–has always been an integral part of fandom. For queer fans and fans of color, it’s often a way to imagine a world where their favorite films have a cast that’s not so overwhelmingly white, straight, and male. There are fancasts of Idris Elba as James Bond and Sebastian Stan as his Bond Boy, Daniel Henney as Han Solo, Suraj Sharma as Harry Potter, and an all-women cast of Romeo and Juliet. Often, fancasts are shared only within the fandom and usually don’t gain much traction outside of it. But what about when a fancast catches the eye of an actor and becomes a trending hashtag? Does it somehow make the fancast more of a reality? And how much, if any, do studios take notice of diversity campaigns?

It’s a question that’s popped up again with the hashtag #RyanPotterforTimDrake now making the rounds on Twitter. Ryan Potter, a 20-year-old actor and martial artist who’s best known for voicing Hiro in Disney’s Big Hero 6, has become a fan favorite to play Tim Drake, the third Robin who joins Batman after the death of Jason Todd.

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Potter, as a biracial Asian American, has been a relatively common fancast for fans looking to add color to the predominantly white Batverse. You can find tweets from April and Tumblr posts from March 2016 that imagine the actor donning the suit. Back in a February 2015 interview Potter mentioned it was a common request from fans that he take on the role of Tim Drake. Now with the Ben Affleck Batman film a reality, Potter seems to have finally warmed to the idea.

Potter retweeted a photoset that someone tagged of him as Tim, and started liking the numerous tweets of people supporting him through the #RyanPotterforTimDrake hashtag. The hashtag got up to number five on the Twitter trending charts on September 8. On the night of September 8, Potter reached out to his fans, asking what casual Tim outfits they liked best. The reason for this question became clear the morning of September 10, when he released a video showing off exactly the kind of martial arts skill–and Tim-esque attitude–he could bring to the role.

To be clear, Affleck has not announced if Tim Drake will actually be in the film, and we know that in general the Batman films have all done a poor job of including the extended Batfamily–the various Robins, Batwomans, and Batgirls–in any significant way. But Warner Bros. confirmed that the suit Bruce keeps on display belongs to the deceased Jason Todd, meaning it wouldn’t be farfetched to have Tim in the picture.

But if Tim was in the film, what role would #RyanPotterforTimDrake have on the castings? Do hashtag campaigns have any effect on studio decisions? With most of the Twitter diversity campaigns being relatively new, it’s difficult to measure their effectiveness. The easiest answer to give right now is perhaps.

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Fan edit of Donald Glover as Spider-Man

Back in 2010, there was a campaign to get Community actor Donald Glover to play Peter Parker. As with Potter, Glover was taken by surprise by how passionate fans were about the fancasting, but went along with it regardless because, as he said, “Who wouldn’t want to play Spider-Man?” The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, with the role going to Andrew Garfield. But Glover was later brought in to voice Miles Morales in the animated show Ultimate Spider-Man and has now been cast in an unnamed role in Spider-Man: Homecoming. In an interview with Slashfilm, Glover credits fan involvement.

We can also look at #KeepIrisBlack, a hashtag that many fans believe helped to influence the casting of Kiersey Clemons for the 2018 The Flash film. Clemons will be the second black woman to play the canonically white character Iris West. She’ll be following in Candice Patton’s footsteps, who plays Iris on the CW The Flash show.

And of course, if we’re talking diversity hashtags, there’s April Reign’s massively shared #OscarsSoWhite, which spurred the Academy into finally diversifying its membership.

On the other hand, there’s campaigns like #AAIronFist. #AAIronFist was a popular hashtag that was around for over a year and advocated for casting an Asian American as the canonically white protagonist of the Marvel Netflix series Iron Fist. There was a massive outpouring of support for this idea. Just try Googling “Asian American + Iron Fist” and you’ll be drowned in think pieces. There were rumors that Marvel was screening Asian actors, but the role ultimately went to white Game of Thrones actor Finn Jones. It’s too early to tell if the message of #AAIronFist–that fans are tired of seeing Asians as the villains and want more Asian heroes leading their own series–has made any difference on future casting decisions at Marvel.

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Cole Horibe, a common Iron Fist fancast/© Chehon Wespi-Tchopp

If anything, diversity hashtags are useful tools for shedding light on inequalities and lack of representation. #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend and #GiveElsaAGirlfriend opened a conversation on how painfully cis and straight the Marvel and Disney properties have been thus far. #whitewashedOUT, like #AAIronFist, marked the first time Asian Americans spoke out en masse about how underrepresented they felt by mainstream media. The Doctor Strange director, Scott Derrickson, claimed such conversations helped him to understand where the anger over his casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was coming from. Again, we don’t know how much, if any, effect that will have on future castings. But it’s something.  

It seems Ryan Potter is at least partially aware of the discussion surrounding such hashtags. “Representation and diversity. Now. Not later,” Potter wrote as the header for his concept video. It’s true that with the unsuccessful #AAIronFist campaign, we’ve yet to actually get a male superhero in the MCU or DCEU of Asian descent. We have a few Asian women. There’s Melinda and Daisy in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Elektra in Daredevil. X-Men: Apocalypse gave us Jubilee and Psylocke, and Suicide Squad gave us Katana, but between the three of them they maybe had ten lines.

With Tim Drake, there’s the same opportunity that Iron Fist offered. Tim is iconic, smart, and likeable, and later goes on to lead his own series as Red Robin. He also leads the Young Justice and Teen Titan teams, so there’s the chance for Tim’s actor to become a star in his own right.

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Diversity hashtags signify an interesting push and pull between the studios and the audiences they claim to serve. It’s clear that many fans are hungry for more representation right now; what’s not as clear is how much studios are listening or if they even consider those fans their audience at all. As statistics show, the top brass at studios are still overwhelmingly white and male. When you’re only surrounded by those with a similar level of privilege, it’s sometimes difficult to hear–or even understand–a point of view that’s more marginalized than your own. Thanks to the latest USC Annenberg study, we also know that unfortunately Hollywood’s track record of diversity is about as bad as it was in 2007. When it comes to directors, USC found that less than 10% were people of color. Non-white characters still only make up 26% of all characters.

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Inequality report by USC Annenberg

Suffice to say, Hollywood is still overwhelmingly white, straight, and male, and caters largely to the white, straight, and male demographic. We also know that there are certainly fans who are vocally against fancasting canonically white characters as people of color. We only need to look at the racialized hate that Michael B. Jordan and Candice Patton have endured for their roles as the Johnny Storm and Iris West, respectively, to know that some people really, really don’t like seeing people of color–particularly black people–in iconic roles. 

I personally have a folder of all the horrendous comments that using the #AAIronFist hashtag brought to my mentions. And perhaps those are the fans–who claim they are the most die-hard, comic-book-knowledgeable fans–that the studios are appealing to. The cynic in me that went through #AAIronFist says maybe. The optimist in me is hoping #RyanPotterforTimDrake proves me wrong.