Sachin Sahel had been acting on the locally shot post-apocalyptic TV sci-fi series The 100 for a few seasons when he first learned some fans were threatening others online.
Fans who were involved were mainly “shippers” — people who rooted for one couple on the show, be it an actual couple (such as Clarke and Bellamy, played by real-life married couple Eliza Taylor and Bob Morley) or one they wanted to see. The 100 inspired multiple “ships,” which would be harmless fun were some fans not taking their passion to the extreme.
(FYI: There’s going to be an abundance of internet lingo in this article, beginning with shipper and ships and followed by ship and shipping, which is what happens when shippers express love for their ships.)
Sahel first learned about this ugly underbelly on social media, and he got even more of an earful when he began attending fan conventions around the world.
Some of the attacks he heard about were downright criminal.
“People are finding out where people live and they’re actively spray painting their houses,” says Sahel, who has portrayed Dr. Eric Jackson on The CW’s hit drama since its first episode in 2014. “I started realizing that the ships were creating so much anger, pain, death threats and aggression — against other cast members and against other fans — because these fans get so involved in this that it becomes all-encompassing.”
“They’re making people scared to speak the way they want to speak, and honestly, it’s not just people yelling online,” he adds. “If somebody is yelling at you online, you can mute them or just not respond. But when real-life stuff happens, there are things that have to be done. People have to feel safe.”
So Sahel launched Ships Alliance to do just that.
Ships Alliance is a handle, a hashtag and a movement dedicated to fighting negativity with positivity. Its slogan is “Love what you love — let others do the same.”
Ships Alliance launched with a sale of limited edition T-shirts emblazoned with the campaign logo, with all funds raised going to STOMP Out Bullying, a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating bullying. It continues with contests and raffles — like a recent one where winners received collectibles that had been autographed by series star Eliza Taylor.
The premise is simple: practise positivity online and get free stuff.
“When [Ships Alliance fans] come to conventions, they’re going to get some stuff,” laughs Sahel. “I’m going to Oprah that place.”
Sahel is quick to point out that shipping itself isn’t the problem. He’s a fan of fans, and he describes himself as a longtime stan of Superman (more internet lingo: a “stan” is an enthusiastic fan in the vein of the titular character in Eminem’s 2000 hit and is — according to Urban Dictionary — a portmanteau of the words “stalker” and “fan”).
He also knows what it feels like to be bullied.
“As a kid growing up Indian and really overweight and a nerd in Alberta, I had a trifecta of things that led to me being bullied,” says Sahel. “I look back now and I’m actually thankful, because it turned me into a different kind of human. Now I look out for anybody that’s getting bullied.”
Sahel wants to extend a hand to bullies, too.
“If you look at their actual feeds, they’re negative about everything,” he says. “It’s this persistent negativity that they want to bleed into the world because they’re not happy about themselves.”
The bullying isn’t exclusive to The 100 (Sahel singles out Supernatural as another locally shot series with rampant bullying in its fandom), nor has it directly impacted the series beyond making it tough for fans to express their love online. Angry tweetstorms about ships haven’t impacted how ships are portrayed on screen.
“What I love about the writers on the show is that they’re so deeply entrenched in telling a good story and making it move fast so there are no lulls,” says Sahel. “They don’t have time to see what’s going on online.”
Ships Alliance has already made the world of fandom a bit brighter, says Sahel, and he plans to continue it indefinitely.
“Negative people who tweet at me, one of the first things they say is, ‘Where have you been for the last six years?’ Fair point. We didn’t know how bad it was. We didn’t know how deep it runs. The moment I found out is the moment this started,” he says. “What this has showed me is that positivity is a muscle, and you have to keep doing it to make it stronger.”