Sylvester McCoy, Giancarlo Esposito and Michael Jai White at the Middle East Film & Comic Con in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

What do Sylvester McCoy, Michael Jay White, Tony Jaa, Giancarlo Esposito, Taylor Kitsch, Christopher Sabat, Seth Green, Tom Root and Max Landis have in common? They were all on the celebrity guest panel at the opening press conference of the third annual Middle East Film and Comic Con on Sunday morning — and they were all men.

When the 10 guests filed out onto stage and took their seats, it was inescapable: there wasn’t a single woman in sight. Last year, the panel had six men and one woman, voice actress Tara Platt. The year before that, Luciano Carro and Laurie Holden were two women among five men. It seemed, then, that the number depleted from two to one to zero. This lack of representation was part of a broader, global conversation within geek culture about male domination and what it meant for the rest of us.

So after a few fun questions posed by the crowd to the guests, such as what roles Kitsch was lusting after (none in specific, though he would like to play Gambit in X-Men again) and what project Jaa and White were collaborating on (a movie called Skin Trade), I decided to bite the bullet and ask the not-so-fun question: why was the panel a boys-only club?

Green’s hand flew up first. “Hi, so, I’m Seth and I’ve been going to Comic Cons for about 20 years in the States, and there’s been a lot conversation, especially in the last 10 years, about the inclusion of women,” he said.

“I find that the more you try and separate the genders, the more you will notice the separation between them. The truth is, everybody comes to Comic Con to share their enthusiasm and passion for all of these things, so if you’re seeing a low turnout of women, I’d put that to the women and say, this is yours to own and participate in as well… as far as there not being any women on this panel, I can only tell you that they cast a really wide net and it came down to who can travel this far, and who’s got this time available.”

Landis, who’s been attending the MEFCC since it began in 2012, felt that Green hit the nail on the head. “Historically, Dubai Comic Con has had a heavy female representation in terms of guests, you know, like, Laurie Holden, and uh, a lot of people like that in the first year. I didn’t actually realise it was all boys, either, until about a week ago when I looked and I was like, ‘aw, there’s no girls.’ I don’t think this group is representative of any kind of homogenised bias. I feel like this is Dubai Comic Con — the people that we get are the people that we get.”

A woman in front of me turned around to whisper, “That was a good question,” as other queries were thrown to the stage, like why Landis comes back to MEFCC every year (“This is the best Comic Con in the world — you guys are real fans, and that’s rare to find.”) But the issue of the panel being exclusively male, it seemed, was still very much on everyone’s minds. After McCoy answered a question about which role he enjoyed more, the seventh doctor in Dr Who, or Radagast in The Hobbit? (He enjoyed both equally), he wanted to address “this thing about women”.

“The very first comic convention I went to was in Germany, and 85 per cent of attendees were girls. They were dressed up as their favourite dwarves and wizards and they were all wearing beards, and they all wanted hugs. I never thought I would enjoy being hugged by bearded ladies,” he said.

But when the microphone was passed to Esposito, who famously played the villain Gus on Breaking Bad, he had something else to say. First, he recalled a humorous story about how a woman on an airplane trembled in fear when she saw him walking toward her to the bathroom, calling him “Gus” and insisting he go before her. Then he returned to the question of gender.

“No one has answered your question! Why the hell aren’t there more women on this stage? ‘Cause they didn’t get them. So next time, ask them. Say, look: bring some more women on the stage. There aren’t, we’re all men up here, we’re top heavy. I’m going to apologise that they don’t have more females up here, and I will commit to talking to the organisers and make sure that there are more females here next year.”

A cheering ovation followed from the crowd as the organiser closed off the discussion with one last remark: “Well, if Gus tells us to bring more women, we’ll bring more women.”