Earlier this month, Warner Bros. Television, the CW, and Berlanti Productions announced that Javicia Leslie would be the new series lead of the CW superheroine action drama Batwoman.
Leslie, a Black actress best known for her portrayal of Ali Finer on the recently canceled CBS series God Friended Me, will be playing a new character in the Bat mythos named Ryan Wilder. Wilder will don the mantle of the Scarlet Knight after the previous Batwoman, Kate Kane, disappears (a plot device used to write actress Ruby Rose out of the series after she reportedly decided to quit the show at the end of its first season).
Leslie will be the first Black woman to portray Batwoman in a live-action feature film or series. Leslie’s portrayal of Batwoman will also mark only the second time we’ve seen a melanated depiction of Batwoman in any form of media (see: the 2003 DC animated film, Batman: The Mystery of the Batwoman). Ryan Wilder is an out and proud lesbian, which Leslie, who is bisexual, is eager to play.
As a geek, a Black person, and a supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community, I couldn’t be more stoked about the new directions this show could take, and the complexities of intersectionality Batwoman could potentially explore. Upon hearing the news of Leslie’s casting, I was excited. Then I made the mistake of reading some online comments about the change, and my excitement devolved into a now-familiar feeling: here we go again.
Being a geek is a large part of my identity. My geekery, however, is in a constant struggle with my being a Black man in the United States. Unlike practically every white geek I know, I've always had to search for characters that look like me in the media I consume. I still have to hunt for characters with my lived experiences, that grapple with the same generational trauma I've wrestled with my entire life living in a world that views my mere existence as a threat. The truth is that, up until very recently, finding Black characters that I could see myself in was like finding a unicycle-riding unicorn.
Sure, there were Black characters in my comic books and on my TV growing up in the '80s and '90s. The problem was, these Black characters and their depictions were often the brainchildren of white writers who viewed Blackness as a satchel of stereotypes and tropes. The turn of the century provided more opportunities for Black creatives to bring the nuances of the Black experience to Black characters in every aspect of the media we consume. However, Black characters still face an uphill battle for acceptance from the geekdom among their white counterparts.
And once a creative decision is made to change a character that the people who view themselves as the vocal majority of the geekosphere will only accept as white to Black? Well, now you’re just asking for trouble. And don’t even get me started on the intersections of race, gender identity, and sexual identity. You’re just asking for a riot at that point.
It must feel excellent as a white geek to have almost every geeky thing ever made filtered through the lens of your dominant culture, created to cater to your wants and needs in some capacity. But maybe I’m wrong in that assumption. Every time I watch the white hetero geekdom erupt at the suggestion of the evolution of a long-established character’s gender identity, I cringe. Whenever a character’s race and ethnicity are changed for a TV show or film, or a person of culture takes up the mantle of a classic hero or heroine, I watch the internet burst into flames. And I begin to think that maybe it isn’t enough for white geeks to be the primary target audience for darn near everything. Perhaps they’re unable to grasp the importance of every youngster from everywhere being able to experience seeing themselves fighting for justice or traversing the cosmos searching for new worlds the same way that they did growing up. Or maybe I’m thinking about this too hard.
Perhaps they’re just selfish jerks.
Pharoah Bolding is the (self-proclaimed) world’s greatest comic drawin’ HR professional, a pop culture and pro wrestling geek, a race equity consultant, and a public speaker. You can find out more about Pharoah and his work at pharoahbolding.com.