Cree filmmaker from Manitoba to take part in San Diego Comic Con panel

An indigenous filmmaker from Manitoba got a little bit of celebrity help after she was selected to be a panellist at July's San Diego Comic Con.

Sonya Ballantyne says celebrities like Mark Hamill, Adam Beach promoted her fundraising efforts

Sonya Ballantyne reads a prop comic from her film Crash Site. The Indigenous filmmaker from northern Manitoba is going to be speaking on a panel at San Diego Comic Con. (Submitted by Sonya Ballantyne)

An indigenous filmmaker from Manitoba got a little bit of celebrity help after she was selected to be a panellist at July's San Diego Comic Con.

Sonya Ballantyne, a Cree woman from Misipawistik First Nation, near Grand Rapids, Man. says the likes of Mark Hamill, Adam Beach, CBC's Waubgeshig Rice and an anonymous but famous comedian helped promote her quest to raise funds to be able to speak at the world's most popular celebration of all things geeky.

"G Willow Wilson, who was one of the people who invented Kamala Khan, the Miss Marvel character, she shared [the fundraiser] and I'm actually going to meet her when I go to Comic Con," said Ballantyne.

"She's one of my really big inspirations."

It all started a few months ago when Ballantyne was asked if she'd consider being part of a speaking panel at San Diego Comic Con. Ballantyne agreed then forgot about it, since there are numerous applications for panel discussions and most are not selected.

Last week, she got the news that she was going.

"I was like, what? What am I going to say, what am I going to do? How am I going to get there?"

She made a deposit on a hotel room in the area for five days, only to discover prices were sky-high and that she would need about $3,400 for airfare and hotel. Having already exhausted her financial resources and grants on her latest upcoming project, she reluctantly decided to crowdfund to get her there.

What she didn't expect was for it to take off. Four days later, her campaign hit its goal, thanks in part to the celebrity likes and retweets. 

"It wasn't just Native people posting about it," she said, adding she received a $1,000 donation from a "comedian of note, and they are of colour." She wouldn't identify who, saying she doesn't want this person inundated with requests.

"It was such a big deal … because they had said previously how much seeing a person who looked like them on TV inspired them to do what they wanted. And I was like, this is important to other people."

Huge nerd

Ballantyne describes herself as a "huge nerd" and a "Creative Native" who specializes in stories and films about Indigenous women and girls in non-traditional genres — namely, superhero, fantasy and sci-fi stories.

Growing up, she devoured shows like Star Trek and Champions of Wrestling, but always wondered why Indigenous people were not portrayed.

"I always hated that the only stories about Native women and girls were about really sad things or really dark things, nothing that was really inspiring."

At Comic Con, she says she will talk about the problems she faces as an Indigenous artist in Canada — mostly related to people "not thinking these stories need to be told," she said.

"Yes there's lots of funding opportunities, but people think I should be telling specific types of stories about Native people, focusing on 'important' topics.'"

However, she subscribes to the worldview that the things Indigenous people create become sacred and part of their culture. 

"I really really love that idea, because [it means] that everything that we do as Native people is important."

Sonya Ballantyne's film Crash Site featured an Indigenous superhero named Thunderbird. (Submitted by Sonya Ballantyne)

Her first film, called Crash Site, is about two Indigenous sisters who reconcile after the death of their parents, thanks to the help of an Indigenous superhero.

When she showed her film at a Winnipeg school with a large population of Indigenous students, she was initially nervous, then "blown away" when the kids cheered at the end. "It was like the loudest cheer I'd ever heard."

As the only Cree woman who will be speaking at Comic Con, she said representation matters.

"There haven't been anyone speaking on this in such a large capacity," said Ballantyne. "Any success for one of us is a success for all of us."

San Diego Comic Con runs from July 19 through 22 this year.


Elisha Dacey


Elisha Dacey was a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast.