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DC Universe's women of color talk representation and helping fans see themselves in superheroes

By Nivea Serrao
Screenshot of DC FanDome panel

Superheroes do a lot to save the world, but playing one on TV and film can be just as important for those watching at home — especially when you're an actor of color.  

Grammy-winning singer and actor Estelle (Steven Universe) was quick to call attention to this during DC FanDome's "BAWSE Females of Color Within the DC Universe" panel that she moderated alongside DJ D-Nice. Joining them for the discussion were actors from various recent DC shows and movies, including Meagan Good (SHAZAM!), Candice Patton (The Flash), Tala Ashe (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), Nafessa Williams and Chantal Thuy (Black Lightning), Anna Diop and Damaris Lewis (Titans), and the latest newcomer to the Arrowverse on The CW, Javicia Leslie (Batwoman). 

For some of the actors featured, it hasn't always been an easy road to playing their characters, starting with the moment they got their role. 

"When I was cast, there was a lot of backlash because some people were upset that it was a Black woman that they cast," said Diop about her experience playing Starfire on Titans. "[But] it's been incredible to see what that's meant for a lot of marginalized people. I had people reach out to me, be it black or gay or trans. It's incredible to be even some small inspiration to them." 

Williams agreed with this, relating her experience playing Anissa Pierce (AKA Thunder) on Black Lightning, the first Black lesbian superhero, and the fan response it's garnered as a result, with one fan even telling her that she made her feel "normal." 

"It's one thing to know there's a void for it," said Williams about the lack of representation for LGBTQ+ characters of color on TV. "But when you’re in that role and you’re getting the feedback, you realize the importance of it and how much it’s necessary and how much it's needed." 

She went on to add, "We didn't have superheroes who looked like us before." 

Ashe, who plays Zari West, the first Muslim-American superhero on DC's Legends of Tomorrow, also brought up the fact that representation is important not just in front of the camera, but also behind it in terms of production, citing how her show had hired Ubah Muhamed, a Muslim-American writer when she got cast. 

"We have to get this right," said Ashe, who's Iranian American about the importance of portraying that aspect of their characters. "Representation matters so much, [for] all brown children all over the world who are seeing someone like me and are being like ‘Oh. That opens my mind. That opens possibilities.’"

She also brought up the importance of having inclusive characters like hers on TV, as it allows people who may have never interacted with someone like that a chance to connect with someone they may never directly interact with. 

"I think it’s important we keep the ‘American’ part of it because it’s so easy to otherize in these situations," said Ashe about that aspect of her character's identity and the role it plays in breaking down boundaries. "[There are] people who are in parts of the [United States] who will never be exposed to a Muslim American. If they can connect to a character, I feel like we've done our job." 

Part of this job, according to Damaris Lewis who plays Blackfire on Titans, is to also ensure there's more representation for those that come after them. 

"Being a 'Bawse' is about making more 'Bawses," said the actor, referring to the title used in the panel name. "We have to give it up for the people who came before us, who took the crap and showed up every day with the circumstances they were handed. I don't think they get enough credit... We are here because of previous 'bawses' and now it's our obligation to reach down and make even more." 

Shazam! 2 is currently set to hit theaters on Nov. 4, 2022. No news on when the rest of the Arrowverse shows will go into production for the next season, though all the shows are set to return to TV in 2021. 

Click here for more of SYFY WIRE's coverage of DC FanDome.