Like many children of my generation, I was introduced to superheroes through television. I have parents that didn’t believe that reading comic books constituted actual reading so I wasn’t really exposed to comic books the way many people who are a part of the DC fandom were until my adult years. However, television did set the stage for my love of the DC universe at young age.
I grew up watching classic Batman from the 60s, the 80s Flash, and Lois & Clark. Batman the Animated Series was my jam ya’ll! I watched it every single day after school.
Harley Quinn was by far my favorite character on that show. And, yes. I know she was a villain. LOL
Like many little black and brown girls I didn’t fully see myself reflected in the female characters in such shows. I definitely identified with them as females, and I celebrated their femininity, their beauty, and their strength. From Batman I want it to be just like them. Unfortunately, a part of me still felt removed from them because they didn’t look like me. In a way, it was another reminder that I was not quite superhero material. It was a reminder that it was yet another bar but I would never reach.
The only Black woman in a superhero show I knew as a child was Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, and she was a villain too. LOL
Eartha Kitt is a woman who I have always admired because she was a force! Many don’t know that she was the first Black woman to portray Catwoman on TV and I was pleased to hear the panelist mention her as an inspiration.
Despite the panel being very much focused on the history of women of color in the genre the panelists also made a point to mention that they knew that the representation of women of color in the DC Universe wasn’t only beneficial for girls. They knew that these images served to positively impact little boys too.
As the mother of a teenage boy, and one who is himself a comic book creator, I can attest to that fact. My son’s main heroin in his Spectrum Universe series, Nokomis, is a Native American women and much of his inspiration has been the portrayal of women of color he’s grown up with within in the DC Universe.
Thankfully, little brown and black kids today have many examples of women of color that they can aspire to be like on screen within the cinematic and television DC universe. This year’s panel at DC Fandome was really a treat.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine though. Many of these actresses receive a lot of negative backlash in the media, especially when they are cast to play a traditionally white character. This has been the case with Javicia Leslie who was just cast to replace Ruby Rose as the lead in Batwoman. It was also the case when Anna Diop was cast to play Star Fire on CW’s Titans. Anna spoke about how difficult that was for her to deal with in her. She said she had to lean on her friends, family, and faith like never before.
Hopefully the more these women are seen in these shows, the more audiences will welcome the rich diversity they bring. I haven’t watched many of these shows before quarantine because I didn’t have time. I’ve been binging since March though. I didn’t even realize how many women of color there were featured throughout these shows. I for one have been loving the change and I say give me more.
Seeing these ladies all together in one panel completely blew my mind away. What I appreciated most was that it was not only black women being represented, Asian women, Muslim women, LGBTQ women of color were also represented. It was incredible!
Representation truly matters much more than I think people fully understand. Hearing the stories from these actresses about how their roles impacted their lives and their fans was a beautiful experience.
Nafeesa Williams spoke about how her portrayal of Thunder, the first Lesbian Black superhero on tv, was something she knew was important to do correctly because she knew what it meant to the fans. You could hear the reverence for the role in her voice. Black Lightening is definitely one of my favorite Arrowverse shows and Thunder is one of my favorite characters so I greatly appreciate knowing how seriously she takes the role.
The panel was hosted by DJ D-Nice and Estelle, who played Garnet on Steven Universe. Garnet is actually a fusion of two Gems known as Ruby and Sapphire. Garnet, therefore, is essentially a lesbian couple. She also spoke about the significance of representation of LGBT characters on television.
Zari Tomaz is a fictional character portrayed by Tala Ashe in The CW’s Arrowverse franchise, primarily the television series Legends of Tomorrow. Zari Tomaz is the first Muslim female superhero depicted on tv. Tala metioned in her comment that what helped to add authenticity to her character was that the show hired a Muslim writer. I think that is a part of the representation story we often forget. Representation needs to be behind the camera as well as in from of it if we are to have authenticity.
The topic of tonight’s panel was what does it mean to be a boss. Candice Patton, who plays Iris West Allen, the wife of Barry Allen (The Flash) on the CW’s The Flash spoke about how she felt that as Black women we carry the stigma of being seen as angry. The ladies on the panel spoke about the importance of not being afraid to be label as bossy or difficult. They echoed that most of us are taught to not show our emotions to always remain calm and to never make other people feel uncomfortable with us.
However, as these women demonstrate, we must not let the fear of negative labels suffocate us. All too often that translates into not speaking up for ourselves and not demanding the lives that we deserve. It causes us to miss out on valuable opportunities because we don’t want to make waves. It causes us to not accomplish our goals because we’re too busy worrying about what people think and not making anyone feel negatively about us.
I haven’t touched on all the panelist in this article because if I did it would be too long. Honestly, I could write an entire book about this panel but I want to leave room for you to enjoy the video. It’s a short 20 minute panel talk but is a very hearty discussion.. Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.