With Javicia Leslie’s Batwoman, My Favorite Character Is Finally Being Played by Someone Who Looks Like Me

Feature image by Niko of The Sleepy Muse

I have a long history with the Batman mythos but it wasn’t until Javicia Leslie was cast as Batwoman that I really started feeling at home in this side of the DC universe. I’ve always had a soft spot for Batman. Beginning with Michael Keaton in the 1989 film, the playboy Bruce Wayne and his tortured alter ego spoke to me. Maybe it was my need to put on a performance in my everyday life, to smile and nod and make banal small talk, all to hide how broken I actually am. Like many people of color and queer people, I’ve found ways to relate to a character that is nothing like me. As a poor, fat, Black queer woman I had seemingly nothing in common with a rich orphaned straight white man.The same goes for his succession of Robins, who despite not being related to Bruce all managed to look like a chip off the old block. Exceptions being made for Damian who is in fact his son and Stephanie Brown for being the only blonde in a sea of brunettes.

As I grew older I began to realize that much like Goldilocks I had been searching for a place in the Batfamily lore where I could see myself. I thought it would be Kate Kane aka Batwoman when she was introduced in the 52 weekly comic series. Kane was white, Jewish and related to one of the richest men in the world and I was none of those but we were both women who loved women. Seeing that representation on such a big stage was refreshing. I fell in love with her depiction in DC Bombshells. She was an adventurer who inspired hope wherever she went. I even ended up cosplaying her.

Little did I know that Batwoman would eventually make her way to the small screen. Last October Batwoman premiered on the CW as the latest show to join the Arrowverse. It made history by being the first queer hero to headline her own show. Not only was she part of the community on screen, they hired a queer actress, Ruby Rose, to play her. This show came as a welcomed surprise.

After only one season, Ruby Rose announced that she would be leaving the show in May of this year leaving fans unsure of the fate of the character. Shortly afterward it was announced that Javicia Leslie, most recently seen in the CBS show God Friended Me, would become the new Batwoman.

I looked at the announcement with a picture of Leslie, a cloud of natural curls framing a beautiful brown face and felt a kinship. Black characters dotted the landscape of the Arrowverse. They were trusted companions, tech wizards and family. They were background characters and support for the lead. That changed with Black Lightning and it’s changing again with Batwoman. Leslie will be the first Black woman to portray Batwoman in a live action series. She added some much needed color in the mostly white expanse of the Batfamily and the heroes of the Arrowverse.

This is my favorite character being played by someone who looks like me.

Similar to the Black experience, the queer experience also gets left out a lot in these superhero tales. And often when we do see queer characters, they are white. Leslie is changing that once again, focusing the show on the experiences of a Black lesbian. Black Lightning did give us Anissa Pierce aka Thunder, a Black lesbian hero which was definitely a step forward but the show isn’t called Thunder. With Batwoman, the title character is a Black lesbian. Even better Leslie is bisexual. Representation in the character and with the actress playing her is something that doesn’t happen very often. Batwoman has managed to do it twice.

Last week Leslie posted fanart by Dany (@danydraws7) on Instagram. In it Leslie is wearing the signature Batwoman cowl, natural hair spilling out, with ‘New bat in Gotham’ written below her. Leslie captioned the picture with the hashtag #BatGirlMagic, a play off of the popular hashtag #BlackGirlMagic, in a message thanking fans for their outpouring of positive support.

A Black queer Batwoman is the new normal. As with all change, there are those who don’t agree with it. Some fans have criticized the choice of casting Leslie as forced diversity. I’ve found that fans who complain about ‘forced diversity’ have a problem with all characters who aren’t straight, white men who are usually seen as the default and thus need no explanation why they are present in the story while everyone else is seen as an unnecessary addition catering to the politically correct. Straight, white men are over-represented in media but the fandom is much more diverse. We want to be represented in the media that we love. Why should marginalized fans be relegated to the corners of fandom, fighting over scraps of representation? Leslie might not be the best choice for everyone but she is for me and I know I’m not the only one excited about this change.

Leslie will not be taking over as Kate Kane. Instead she will play a new character named Ryan Wilder who is described as likable, messy, a little goofy and untamed. I’m already seeing aspects of myself in this character. Wilder is also a lesbian with a penchant of masking her pain with bad habits. She’s not perfect. She’s had issues with Gotham City Police Department. As for Kate Kane, no worries that this will be a Bury Your Gays situation. Showrunner Caroline Dries has said that Kane’s disappearance will be one of the mysteries of season two.

The casting of Javicia Leslie came as a much welcomed surprise. She is giving a voice to Black queer comic book fans everywhere including myself. I hope that show embraces the character’s Blackness and allows her to grow out of the shadow of the previous Batwoman into a hero in her own right. Leslie began Muay Thai martial arts training earlier this year and I can’t wait to see how this training plays out on screen. I have a lot of hopes for this new incarnation of Batwoman but I feel with Javicia Leslie, I’m in good hands.

Mel Perez is a writer, podcaster, panelist and cosplayer. She is one of the co-hosts of the Nerds of Prey podcast. She enjoys sci-fi movies, fantasy books, crafting, costume design and deep sea creatures.

Mel has written 1 article for us.

14 Comments

  1. Ahh I love your cosplay! I’m pumped for Javicia to take the reigns, too. I was nervous when I found out Ruby Rose was leaving but when Javicia got cast and I did a quick scroll through her insta I knew we were in good hands.

  2. A few thoughts:
    1. I’m so excited for you to see yourself represented in this way, Mel.

    2. “Black Lightning did give us Anissa Pierce aka Thunder, a Black lesbian hero which was definitely a step forward but the show isn’t called Thunder.”

    Oh, it would be such a better show if it was!

    (Also, a reminder: I need that crossover, CW! It’s not cheating if Grace is still in that coma, right?)

    3. This got me so excited about the new season…fingers crossed that Ryan Wilder is everything you and Javicia Leslie deserve!

  3. I wish they made a new superhero character for her, rather than that of Batwoman.

    I would have supported them simply recasting Kate Kane, even if her appearance totally changed. Kate’s family drama being so tightly bound to her main villain Alice makes the story so raw and gut wrenching and powerful. Having another character in the Batwoman role just ruins that.

    I’m sure she is a great actress and that season 2 will be a great story, but it wouldn’t be Kate’s story anymore and that just disappoints me. I was a fan of Batwoman in the comics since Elegy, and Kate’s backstory of refusing to lie about her sexuality then being discharged, and having to face against her twin sister was such a compelling narrative I was beyond excited to see them making a TV series about her. I’m sad they couldn’t find a way to continue it even with a recast.

    • I really don’t feel that this personal essay about a woman of colour getting to see someone like herself finally portrayed *specifically in her favourite character* is an appropriate place to discuss your dissenting preferences.

      • If one wishes that Javicia Leslie has been cast as the Kate Kane Batwoman, I don’t believe that is a dissenting preference to someone being thrilled that a queer black woman is playing Batwoman. Both of those opinions feel strongly that Javicia Leslie as Batwoman is an exciting and wonderful outcome. The issue is Kate Kane vs Ryan Wilder; and I think the showrunners promising Kate Kane would be recast before proceeding to do no such thing has made this extra difficult for those attached to this character (which, again, it would be so wonderful to see Javicia Leslie portray!)

        • Ok then, let me rephrase my comment. It strikes me as insensitive and distracting to the message of this heartfelt personal essay for people to bring their opinions about who should be playing what character into the comments section, especially when the first sentence starts off basically directly contradicting the author’s whole premise. However letdown fans of the show may feel, it is not important enough to overshadow the author expressing her experiences of a lifetime of erasure in popular media. I’ll bow out of this conversation myself now so as not to further add to the distraction.

  4. As Autostraddle’s TV editor, I want to hop in here and restate what I wrote in our comments section when Javicia Leslie was cast as Batwoman: I’m super uncomfortable with comments about “I’d love to support this Black woman who has been cast in this revolutionary role, but…” In this case the “but” is wishing that she’d been cast as someone other than Batwoman full stop. There are myriad issues with this kind of comment, and I just want to name a few of them:

    1) This is a personal essay from a Black woman who has written quite vulnerably and powerfully about seeing herself represented in her favorite character for the first time, and also seeing herself for the first time in CW’s Arrowverse, which is really quite full of white queer women on a variety of shows. To come in and comment that you wish that they’d made a “new superhero” for her is to say that you don’t want this writer to see herself in her favorite existing character because it’s more important for you to see a story that means something to you than it does for her to see a story about a Black superhero that’s never even existed before.

    It would absolutely not be as powerful or as popular to see Javicia Leslie cast as a “new” superhero. The fact of her being Batwoman, a member of the iconic Bat-family, and the first Black superhero to headline her own show, and a Black bisexual actress taking over the most popular lesbian superhero of all time — that’s what makes this casting so important and why it resonates so deeply with so many Black superhero fans, including the writer of this piece. It matters a lot that she IS Batwoman.

    2) There’s a kind of tangential argument going around that wishes Javicia had been cast as Kate Kane, but to cast a Black woman as Kate Kane — in a time of revolution against the anti-Black racism that has defined this country and inflicted compounded trauma across generations — would be to choose not to reckon with the multiple intersectional oppressions a Black lesbian would face in the institutions Kate was a part of. Yes, of course, Kate was up against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And that was a revolutionary and hugely important story when Elegy landed. But a Black lesbian would have experienced not only homophobia in the military, but also racism; and she would have of course experienced racism from police her entire life, which would have informed her military career, her relationship to her father who runs a private paramilitary organization, and with Gotham PD, which is always a player in Batwoman’s life.

    A Black lesbian would not have moved through the world the way Kate Kane did, especially in relationship to those notoriously racist instituions, and would therefore not be the same person Kate Kane was. The only way to make her the same Kate Kane we know from the comic books and season one would be to completely ignore her Blackness, which isn’t an acceptable solution. (Check out Natalie’s work on The Bold Type this season for more on that.)

    3) Superheroes change all the time. Batman’s not even always Bruce Wayne. I loved seeing Kate Kane on my TV, both as a forever fan and as a butch lesbian. We all know there’s a dearth of good butch rep on TV and so many of us never dreamed of the day we’d get to see her on TV. But we did! And it was brilliant beyond anything I had imagined! For 20+ episodes!

    All of our best superheroes come to us, in fiction, when we need them the most in real life. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman to fight fascism and anti-semitism during World War II, right? William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman because, after living through two world wars, he thought maybe matriarchy was the way forward. Kate Kane landed with her solo title, Batwoman: Elegy, when the fights against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and marriage equality were at their most heated. And now, here we are, in a new revolution. We NEED a Black Batwoman. This is her time! We’re going to honor and celebrate that here at Autostraddle, and make all the space for Black writers and editors to share their joy over resonating with a superhero character in way that white queer nerds — and I am a huge one! — have been doing for years. We are not going to prioritize white joy at representation over Black joy at representation, not with Batwoman, and not with any other character or show, ever.

    • it was real BAD when that other females that played as batwoman an she totally a lesbian, an now u got javica leslie that “bi” ….like OMG!!!! like soooo why can’t there ever be a “TOTAL STRAIGHT” batwoman???!! an if she has a “a lover”, a “gf” (like the first batwoman did) than than this second one (javica leslie) just as yuck an gross as the first batwoman….sooo sorry , but i’m a total straight guy thats into straight females (only)

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