We Need to Talk About #ElseworldsSoWhite

The Arrowverse & Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Brown People

When more details of the crossover were announced this year, one of the things that the people involved announced was that they were scaling back the size because there were too many characters. They’d focus on the core three in Barry, Kara, and Oliver as they fought alongside Superman and Batwoman. And while I thought the crossovers had certainly become harder to manage because they get bigger and bigger every year, the idea that the problem is the stars of the shows not getting enough focus is a little hard to swallow. Rather the problem is that even with the crossovers getting bigger, we still always manage to focus everything on Oliver, who has managed to swallow two crossovers whole with his relationship issues.

#ElseworldsSoWhite wasn’t just about Iris. It was about the many, many, many characters of colour who are ignored so we can tell the same story of how Oliver and Barry are best buds and Kara is allowed to come along for the ride. (To be clear, I am usually charmed by that story. I would just like a different story sometimes.)

James-X, we hardly knew ye.

Take James Olsen, for example. Quite apart from the absolutely abysmal mistreatment he got on his own show when the Supergirl writers decided that the white guy would be better for Kara, consider the fact that he, too, was left out of the journalism conversation in this crossover. Or that, despite the fact that until Clark and Lois turned up, he was one of the three journalists in the Arrowverse, he and Iris haven’t actually talked about it. In fact, James has only crossed over once – in Crisis on Earth-X, where he got a few seconds of screentime in the very beginning and then was killed by Nazis.

Speaking of Crisis on Earth-X, let’s sit with that for a minute. Because it would almost be comical just how many people of colour that Guggenheim and Kreisberg, who wrote the story for that crossover, managed to sideline or simply run out of “space” for. In his very first crossover appearance, James lasted a couple of minutes at most before he got knocked out. Wally West, despite coming for his sister’s wedding, was tasked with “looking after Joe and Cecile,” effectively taking the other two Black people into Offscreenville too. Cisco Ramon, who is often used when people want to deflect from their racism, was knocked out for a full episode for reasons. Amaya and Zari made cameos in the Legends part. The only Black character who got to say something substantial about being Black and surrounded by Nazis was Jax. I think.

Or perhaps we should talk about the fact that, for all of the diverse characters that exist on the shows, barely any of them get to interact? Joe West (Jesse L. Williams) and John Diggle (David Ramsey) have been in the same universe for five years, but they have never spoken. Amaya has never spoken to Iris. In fact, the only time two Black characters have ever had substantial interaction is when J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood) visited The Flash and got to hang out with Wally, after five years of crossovers. If it weren’t enough that social issues only remain on Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow, despite the fact that most of the cast of The Flash are people of colour, the people of colour don’t interact in any meaningful way, which reinforces the notion that they are, in fact, merely there for diversity brownie points.

As the one Black character who has crossed over almost every year, Diggle is pretty much the Token Black Guy of the Arrowverse.

Furthermore, #ElseworldsSoWhite exists in a context where these people of colour are routinely ignored even while their creators are praising themselves for how diverse they’re being – even on their own shows. We’ve talked about James’ treatment, but what about the fact that Cisco Ramon is usually the designated babysitter for the white characters on his show, often at the expense of his own storyline? Or the fact that Wally West was booted off the show, and not only did his replacement get the story arc and support that people insisted there wasn’t “space” for before, but he engulfed the plot and ruined the tone of the show with his obnoxious “humour”? Or that Supergirl has been so abysmal when it comes to women of colour than none have ever made it to series regular status, let alone to a crossover?

It also comes behind years of diversity on-screen not being reflected behind the scenes. This, too, we have talked about, as this presents problems ranging from the people of colour being ignored by the narrative to problematic tropes and storytelling decisions that would have been alleviated had there been more diverse people in charge, or even in the room and comfortable enough to disagree. Like Supergirl being about feminism and social issues, but completely ignoring women of colour. Or The Flash having a Black woman at the centre of the love story and a Black family as the heart of the show, but not doing anything to acknowledge that Blackness – or even having any Black women in the writer’s room. Or, my absolute favourite, Marc Guggenheim announcing that, in response to a fan pointing out his very white writer’s room when he said that Arrow was planning a Black Lives Matter episode, that they would be “bringing someone in.”

#ElseworldsSoWhite, despite what detractors may think, was never just about Iris. When you consider the implications behind how the people of colour have been treated in the Arrowverse since it started, it becomes much more than that. And it is rather irritating that people think otherwise.

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