The newest addition to the crew of the Waverider, Charlie, is a rowdy shape-shifter stuck in the form of Amaya Jiwe, a superhero displaced from her time.
If that sounds ridiculous, then clearly you haven’t been watching Legends of Tomorrow. It’s a wild ride of a TV show that revolves around a time-traveling team of misfits, led by their bisexual ship captain, Sara Lance. The series is notable for the way it centers queer storylines and characters, including bringing a bona fide bisexual John Constantine to the screen. Additionally, Legends has featured several queer actors on the series, all of whom have played straight for pay, including Victor Garber, Keiynan Lonsdale, and Wentworth Miller. (All three no longer appear on Legends.)
Maisie Richardson-Sellers, who plays Charlie, is another name that belongs on that awesome list of queer actors. Richardson-Sellers first appeared on Legends as Amaya Jiwe, the Vixen from 1942. Due to her epic destiny (for real, though, she saved her people and her descendants eventually both take up the Vixen mantle), Amaya returned to her timeline and broke things off with the teddy-bear-of-steel, Nate.
Richardson-Sellers was beloved by the producers of Legends, so they wrote a new character into existence just for her. Instead of the polite, controlled leader, they created a smart-mouthed, tricky shape-shifter. Charlie’s loud, she’s pissed off, and she looks like Amaya, except she keeps her British accent (which, delightfully, leads to her calling the Legends “wankers” a lot). The narrative transition is not exactly eloquent, but Richardson-Sellers is such a charming Charlie that you’ll be willing to double down on suspending your disbelief.
What’s fascinating about Charlie, other than the fact that she is a persecuted magical being who has been stuck in a prison dimension for 500 years because humans feared her, is her relationship to her powers. She's a shape-shifter who is most comfortable transitioning facades, rather than in one single body. Her powers aren’t just a part of her; they are her.
In the end, her whole relationship to her powers and her forms all reads as coded language about gender. We may never know if the character was intended as non-binary or genderfluid and we may never see her come out, but, regardless of the intentions of the creators, there's a good case for reading her that way.
First off, Charlie shows no preference for forms from one gender or another. The first time we meet her in Season 4, Episode 3 “Dancing Queen,” she uses her powers to impersonate Elizabeth II and pose as a singer in a punk band. Later, she assumes the form of each member of the Legends team, which includes both men and women. Furthermore, up until she was restricted to Amaya’s form (thanks, Constantine), Charlie hadn’t stayed in one form for centuries — her very nature defies being static. She mentions at one point that while she was in the prison dimension, she would assume whatever demonic form she could to scare off whoever threatened her.
There is a brief period, during Season 4, Episodes 7 and 8, “Hell No, Dolly!” and “Legends of To-Meow-Meow,” during which Charlie regains access to her powers in an alternate timeline Constantine creates. When she first does so, she flips through a bunch of different forms before she says, wearing Nate’s face, “Don’t be mad, I’m myself again,” which seems to suggest she is as comfortable wearing Nate’s face as she is anyone’s. As long as she’s able to change, she’s herself.
Also during that time, Constantine suggests that Charlie hope for the best in terms of getting her powers back, but she is having exactly none of that. “My powers aren’t just some magic trick. They’re who I am.” And, in reality, over the course of the episodes she’s appeared in, she assumes about 15 forms from different races, genders, eras, and nationalities.
Finally, for what it’s worth, Charlie isn’t human. Thus, our gender norms certainly don’t apply and the terms we have to refer to gender and sexuality may not either.
Let’s recap. Charlie is a non-human, shape-shifter who has moved fluidly from form to form for centuries and is comfortable in a human male form, a human female one, or when necessary, a demonic form. She doesn’t consider her powers to be something she does, but rather to be an intrinsic part of her, to be her. Yeah. I’m calling it folks. Charlie is genderfluid, certainly in the most literal sense and practically as an identity.
Just to clarify for those of you caught up on her pronouns, Charlie has never specified her pronouns; everyone just moved from calling her “it” to calling her “she.” And, just because a person uses she/her pronouns doesn’t mean they can’t also use they/them pronouns and/or be comfortable with she/her pronouns while identifying as genderfluid.
You might want to warn me not to hold my breath for Legends to acknowledge Charlie’s gender identity, and I won’t. That being said, the series has been faithful in its representations of queer identities — even when other shows weren’t (ahem, Constantine) — and I can’t help but think of how powerful it would be for such representation to not only exist, but to be proudly proclaimed.
There are depressingly few non-binary, genderfluid, and gender non-conforming characters on TV, and the few representations we do have are almost exclusively white people. And, it’s amazing to have the cool, righteous, defiant Charlie (played by a queer, black actor no less) as one of the faces of genderfluid and non-binary characters on TV.