At first glance, The Flash is a superhero television show that is as enjoyable as it is successful; comic-book fans are satisfied. But what it's also doing quietly is broadening its audience outside the base by being one of the most diverse superhero television series to date. Outside of the show's lead, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and its season-one overarching antagonist, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Central City is a melting pot of cultures, sexual orientations and genders. Diversity is something that's always been celebrated in science fiction and fantasy, and the current climate of comic-book adaptations, be they movies or television shows, is allowing for opportunities that were not there when these characters were originally conceived.
"We've never slammed people over the head or made The Flash an after-school special. With us it's always been presenting the world in which we live," explained The Flash showrunner Andrew Kreisberg. "The world in which we live, men and women work together; different races work together, and you have gay friends and people have relationships. We just try to show that."
But the effects of creating a diverse palette on the screen goes beyond satisfying watch groups and luring in specific demographics. "Hopefully, especially kids who are growing up get to watch [The Flash] and see the world is a wide, beautiful place filled with different kinds of people," said Kreisberg. "Being one thing doesn't preclude you from being in a relationship or being a superhero. We live in a world where all of us are mixed, especially here [in California], whether it's gender, racial or sexual diversity -- that's the world we live in."
"When we met Jesse Martin [who plays Detective Joe West] in New York to convince him to be a part of this show, he said he always loved comics but never saw his face in them. Now he can. Now there's a whole generation of kids who can watch these shows [and see his face, too]."
Central connecting character Iris West is played by Candice Patton who is African-American. In the comics she's traditionally a white woman with red hair but Patton's honest portrayal as Barry's tormented but perfect love interest tethers the cast. Kreisberg added that the series recently cast Ciara Renee as Kendra Saunders, aka Hawkgirl, and by doing so is hoping to help Latinas who felt left out to see that they have a superhero too -- and the fans are reaching out. Carlos Valdes, who plays Cisco Ramon, one of the main members of S.T.A.R. Lab team and, arguably, the heart of the series, has been overwhelmed by the support of the Latino community.
"Using Spanish as part of the dialogue really furthers that," Valdes explained. "It creates a deeper connection between this character and the Latino fan base that are not only proud that a Latino character is being portrayed so well on television, but also that their language and culture is being represented. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to have that opportunity."
"But it also makes complete sense to me," Valdes added. "This isn't anything -- it shouldn't be anything special to have a smart Latino character, because we're employing casting that reflects the world we live in. In the real world we live in, we have smart people of all types." Perhaps that's why Valdes' favorite Flash rogue is Mirror Master.
Police Captain David Singh is another significant supporting character on The Flash, and the producers never shied away from the way he was written in Geoff Johns' epic run on The Flash comic book in both heritage or sexual orientation. One could read into his character, but Patrick Sabongui bears the weight of portraying a man who may have been raised in a traditional conservative culture, is a leader at his high upstanding position in law enforcement and is openly gay.
"One of my favorite scenes of the year is when Captain Singh is hit by lightning," Kreisberg shared. "You meet Rob, his fiance -- and Jeremy Schuetze's performance as Rob -- all of a sudden, Patrick Sabongui's character became that much more interesting to me because this guy loves him so much and we'll get to see that character come back." At some point in the season, Singh and his fiance will go on their honeymoon. Another openly gay character is Hartley Rathaway, whose alter ego is Pied Piper, one of the Flash's villains. In DC Comics' New 52, Piper and Singh are dating.
"I am so proud of our show," exclaimed Danielle Panabaker, who plays S.T.A.R. Labs scientist Dr. Caitlin Snow. "Our writers are fearless. I think it's so important. It's so great to play a strong female character who is intelligent and successful in her own right. It's just Caitlin in S.T.A.R. Labs, generally, so she stands up to these boys and is not afraid to take any crap."
At some point, we'll see Panabaker become one of Flash's rogues, Killer Frost. She admits to annoying Kreisberg by picking his brains or suggesting ideas on getting there. Right now, Caitlin is one of Barry's allies, but her eventual turn is something to watch for, and that has Panabaker itching to add another layer to her character. "It's been planted in my head that we're headed towards Killer Frost and I have an idea of it, but I try to be truthful and take her on this journey so hopefully you'll understand when she gets to that point, why she got there."
Ultimately, it's not the differences or the variety that makes The Flash what it is; the chemistry, writing and execution shine above all of it. Still, it's been a banner year for both comic-book television series and diversity within these shows. Daredevil bingers are quickly discovering characters like Ben Urich, Claire Temple, and Nobu; Arrow is further developing characters like Diggle and Felicity Smoak; and The Walking Dead is coming off a season in which women and people of color played huge roles. Now the world of The Flash resembles the world we currently live in (outside of talking gorillas and superpowers), especially in the assortment of characters that fill it, making its shorter escape from reality an added bonus.