White Feminism Is Killing the Arrowverse

Supergirl

Diagnosis: Type I, Type II

We’re going to start with Supergirl, because it’s the one that prides itself most on its feminism. Worryingly, it’s also the whitest show in the Arrowverse, currently the only show subscribing to Hollywood’s tried, tested, and tired definition of diversity being one or two men of colour amongst a sea of white men and women, with women of colour being as rare as unicorns. It suffers from two out of the three white feminism categories, and has since its very inception.

Type I: Who Run the World? Not All the Girls

Supergirl premiered in 2015 on CBS, a parent company of The CW, and aired there for a year. CBS is notorious for lacking in diversity. Nonetheless, Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist as the titular hero, should have been a show that little girls could watch and see themselves as the heroes as opposed to simply prizes in men’s stories, and it is…for white women.

Roulette appeared only briefly and M’gann was largely ignored.

The only minority women in the first season were background characters like Agent Vasquez (Briana Venskus, who is multiracial). Additionally, the women were all straight and able-bodied. Season two seemed to be an improvement with the move to The CW, incorporating Alex’s (Chyler Leigh) sexuality and adding Roulette (Dichen Lachman), Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), M’gann M’orzz (Sharon Leal), and Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath). But it wasn’t. Roulette, an Asian villain, appeared for two episodes. Maggie only created the illusion of diversity, giving an Italian with a tan the job that should have gone to a Latinx actor. M’gann was the first Black woman on the show, yet she was largely ignored by the narrative. And Supergirl sidestepped an opportunity for disability representation by making wheelchair-bound Lena yet another able-bodied woman. Fast-forward to season 3 and the problem got exponentially worse. M’gann only appeared in one episode of season 3. Maggie got a fake Latinx father and the audience was subject to them speaking broken Spanish about LGBT discrimination in the Latinx community and immigration, struggles that neither actor has ever experienced. As if that wasn’t enough, Supergirl committed another case of counterfeit diversity when they cast Amy Jackson, a white British woman known for playing Indians with the help of really good foundation, as Imra Ardeen instead of an actual Southeast Asian.

It’s frustrating that Supergirl sidestepped such an easy opportunity for disability representation.

Setting aside how bizarre it is to tell a story about an alien immigrant without casting immigrants, Supergirl’s attitude to minority women is tone-deaf at best and plain disrespectful at worst. It’s definitely a case of white feminism, because the show has never cast a woman of colour in a main role. Instead, it prefers to do the bare minimum, casting them as background characters in a handful of episodes before they disappear into irrelevancy – while still trying to reap the accolades of being a “feminist” show. Saying, essentially, that feminism is for white women and that minority women don’t have to have their struggles highlighted. In fact, they’re so unnecessary that we just have to colour the white women brown for the same effect. Supergirl’s feminism essentially looks like the squad Taylor Swift pulls out on her tours: several white women with one brown girl in there somewhere for flavour.

With the right tools, you too can take roles from women of colour! (Genuine language skills not included).

While sending white women to Sephora and instructing them not to come back until they’ve bought all the Deepest Terracotta in the store is certainly a twist on the old standard of not casting women of colour at all, it’s neither new nor surprising. Brown girls are used to being told through media that they are only good enough to cheer the white girl on and smile serenely at the end of the movie because their life’s mission – making sure Becky makes it to the dance with her dress pristine so she and Brad can dance to “You Belong With Me” – is complete. It’s a narrative Supergirl reinforces by taking on the mantle of being a feminist show without making it intersectional. And as the saying tells us, if the feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s bullshit.

 

 

 

Type II: R.E.S.P.E.C.T., Find Out How to Write For Me

Okay, okay. Maybe I was exaggerating when I said that Supergirl rarely casts WoC. Yes, they’re like unicorns riding down rainbows decorated with four-leaf clovers, but Supergirl does see WoC.

As villains.

The show once again falls falls prey to Hollywood stereotyping, this time making the white women the heroes and the women of colour their antagonists. There was Roulette in season 2 and the Worldkillers in season 3. And in the latter case, the racial dynamics between the three of them make it clear that the writers are prioritising the white women.

Sam Arias (Odette Annable), Julia Freeman (Krys Marshall), and Grace Parker (Angela Zhou) are Worldkillers programmed to be weapons and sent from Krypton to punish sinners and raze Earth if humankind are deemed unworthy. Sam is introduced as a single mother to Ruby, whose endangerment triggers her powers. Julia is introduced through Kara’s dream, and Grace is introduced as the one Worldkiller who already wants to start the world-killing. Julia and Grace are African-American and Korean (though the actress is Chinese) respectively, and while Sam is played by a Latinx actress, she’s white-passing and coded as white. Unsurprisingly, it’s Sam who gets the most development and sympathy as the leader of the Worldkillers. But that isn’t where the indignity stops.

Julia is suspected as a Worldkiller after Kara has a dream about her. But rather than approach the woman and explain the situation, Alex and Supergirl burst into Julia’s house with Mon-el, J’onn, and a fully-armed SWAT team. When they find her, she’s sitting in her lounge singing along to Lisa Loeb. Kara is gentle with her until she stands up, then Alex starts yelling at her not to move and threatening her with a gun even though she was following their instructions. If you’re Black – or, indeed, if you’ve given the news more than a passing glance – a very specific real-life situation likely popped into your head. They scare her so much that she actually becomes the threat they were looking for, and I hope I don’t need to tell you about what tends to happen when white police officers think Black people are a threat.

Then there’s Grace Park, who doesn’t even get to be seen as a halfway decent person before Pestilence takes over. When we see her, she’s embraced her powers and revels in the fact that she can kill people, despite being a doctor. Grace is one of the two Asian women this show has had, and her first appearance consists of her thinking that becoming a mass murderer is the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

Cool as they look, the optics of this suck.

Not only do Julia and Grace barely appear in their remaining episodes, they’re killed off in the most disrespectful way possible. Pestilence kills Grace and takes over her body the episode after she’s introduced. Kara then inspires Julia to tap into Purity, which she does, only to die in the name of killing Pestilence. Kara tries to convince us that’s it’s a victory since they “saved” Julia, but at that point, it’s pretty clear that Supergirl’s attempts at diversity are just insulting.

It’s hard to pinpoint the worst part of their treatment. The trio of heroic white women saving humanity from trio of evil women of colour. The Black woman who’s attacked in her own home and then frightened by an aggressive police officer who can muster up hugs and encouragement for Sam, but turns into a trigger-happy maniac before Julia does anything. The Asian woman who isn’t given any redeeming qualities before she embraces being a homicidal monster. The woman who’s coded as white being the one to receive care and attention, as well as the powers of the other two when they die. The white heroes not even acknowledging the two women who died. Combined, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

Supergirl lets their women of colour down across the board, whether it’s barely letting them be visible when they’re heroes or unashamedly making them the villains. Some of you may accuse me of being pedantic, pointing out that it’s just a coincidence that only the white-passing Latina gets to be a major part of the story while the other WoC are grossly disrespected. After all, model minority stereotypes can be just as harmful as the reverse. And you’d be right…if it were just this one time. If WoC had been adequately represented on a show that purports itself to be feminist, I’d be complaining to complain. If they had been given their due when cast as heroes or given the same sympathy as white women got when they were villains, this entire article would be a waste of time. If Kara had just one Black, Asian, or Arab friend or coworker – or even the person who made her drinks at the bar they frequent – I wouldn’t be saying anything. But Supergirl has shown time and again that it doesn’t consider the stories of minority women (real ones, not the ones with a gift card from Fenty Beauty) worth telling, and it doesn’t consider the ones that it allows on the show worthy of care.

Susan B. Anthony would be proud.

1 2 3 4 5