White Feminism Is Killing the Arrowverse


Diagnosis: Type I, Type II

While not as dire as a show that claims it’s feminist but only knows white women, Arrow’s white feminism issues are problematic given that comic book Green Arrow is a self-styled social justice warrior. As well as the fact that as the “grittiest” of the four Arrowverse shows, they’ve been handed the most opportunities to showcase real-life issues. And since Marc Guggenheim, Arrow’s former head showrunner, was notorious for treating even the white women awfully, it’s not surprising that they need to do better in this area.

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

Arrow’s track record with women mostly consists either of a long line of women killed or injured so that Oliver could be more determined than ever to do whatever it is Oliver has to do this year, or various iterations of Dinah Lance, who’s had her legacy chopped up into little pieces and handed to every third woman who walks onto the show. And they’re all white – with the exception of Juliana Harkavy’s Dinah, whose mixed race roots are never acknowledged. So the fact that its minority women fare exponentially worse isn’t surprising, but no less troubling.

To the show’s credit, there were women of colour in the beginning: Laurel’s work colleague Joanna (Annie Ilonzeh), an early love interest of Oliver’s, McKenna (Janina Gavankar), and Carly Diggle (Christie Laing) supported the main characters in their stories, while Shado (Celina Jade) and China White (Kelly Hu) grew in prominence later on. However, Joanna, McKenna, and Carly disappeared completely, Shado was killed for Oliver’s manpain, and China barely appears. Women of colour have been few and far between ever since, either cast in small background roles or as villains that only make sporadic appearances. All of that aside, Arrow’s biggest sin is white-washing.

While Sara is one of the most awesome characters in the Verse, it’s frustrating that she took the name of an Asian heroine.

The first example comes in the form of Sara Lance, who eventually becomes the white Canary. Sara’s history as the White Canary is controversial because the White Canary in the comics is she’s part of the Twelve Brothers in Silk, and she has her own origin story with the Black Canary. She’s also Chinese, which means the show gave woman of colour’s mantle to a white woman instead of honouring that character’s story and coming up with literally any other name to give to Sara.

Then there’s the whitewashing of practically every person of colour in the Green Arrow family. In the comics, Oliver has a child with the half-Korean and half-Black Sandra Hawke. That child is Connor Hawke, who eventually meets Oliver and trains with him after his mother is paid off. On the show, she’s just another white woman whose name had to be changed to Samantha after all the backlash. Sin, who in the comics is an Asian girl rescued from a village by Dinah Drake, was white-washed when they cast Bex Taylor-Klaus in the role. There’re Nyssa (Katrina Law) and Talia Al-Ghul (Lexa Doig), who in the comic books originate somewhere in the Middle East. While they’re played by WoC, neither are Arab, which suggests the showrunners think that brown women are interchangeable. Which doesn’t ever get any of us killed, or anything. And top it all off, their father is played by a white man.

Arrow suffers from the Supergirl problem of not knowing any women of colour for more than a few

Sin and Sandra Hawke were both whitewashed when they were cast with white actresses. Sandra even had her name changed.

episodes, but the whitewashing is worse. Arrow wants the diverse stories from the comics – it just doesn’t want them told by the Black and brown people to whom they originally belong. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if there were an abundance – or even a couple – of women of colour to make up for it. After all, the Sara example might just be an unfortunate consequence from their problems with adapting the Black Canary character, and she’s great representation for bisexual women. But the show has consistently cast white women for roles while only keeping women of colour around to be brutally murdered – like Lydia Cassamento in season 6 – showing that like Supergirl, it only sees a certain woman worthy of having her story told.




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

Unsurprisingly, the minority women who make it onto the show aren’t treated with much respect.

Amanda was killed in the most disrespectful way possible and then forgotten about, while Samandra is typecast as aggressive and antagonistic.

There’s Shado, who we’ve already mentioned. But there’s also Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), shot in the head so her job could be given to a white woman who’s barely around anyway. They may have needed to write her off due to DC’s restrictions, but killing her with a bullet to the head and a lingering shot of her bleeding wound was the height of disrespect. And then everyone forgets about it. Or Nyssa, a lesbian, being forced into marriage with a man to show how evil her father is. Or Samanda Watson (Sydelle Noelle), the aggressive, arrogant, antagonistic detective in charge of prosecuting Oliver for being the Green Arrow. Like Supergirl, the show has been abysmal at casting Black women, but as soon as they need one to antagonise the hero, both cast a dark-skinned woman and made sure to give her natural hair.

Even the white women aren’t safe, as soon as they lose their privilege. Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) was shot and paralysed during the fourth season’s Christmas episode. Fans were looking forward to the possibility of some disability representation, but those hopes were quickly dashed when they realised it was for nothing more than drama. Felicity barely spent any time in the wheelchair before she was basically cured by a well-timed iOS update. To make matters worse, during Arrow’s questionably-executed gun control episode, Felicity isn’t allowed to voice an opinion. Let me reiterate – a woman who was shot and paralysed, was denied a voice about gun control. Emily Bett Rickards has expressed dissatisfaction that the storyline didn’t last longer, and I’m sure many agree – but I’m sure just as many are relieved that the show hasn’t been given any more opportunities to butcher such a delicate storyline.

Quite apart from the fact that the Arrowverse’s Oliver Queen clearly wants to be Batman when he grows

Many complained that the time Felicity spent in the wheelchair was too short.

up, the show being unable to handle minority women adequately is unfortunate in the face of Oliver Queen’s social justice roots, and another instance of diversity without substance. And once more, it’s the little things that add up to give the idea that the show lacks an intersectional view when it comes to women and their stories. Malcolm Merlyn levelling a section of the Glades because his wife died there, ignoring the implicit racism and explicit classism of getting rid of a ghetto full of poor Black, brown, and white women because of the death of a wealthy white one. Felicity, a Jewish woman, being put in a gas chamber on Hanukkah. The gun control episode involving no Black women despite the fact domestic shootings affect Black women the most.

Marc Guggenheim once expressed interest in doing a Black Lives Matter episode, and when Black Twitter confronted him with the astounding whiteness of his writer’s room, he said they would be “bringing someone in.” Given that the movement was started by Black women and centers queer and transgender people – something that Guggenheim has never been remotely successful at doing – I felt an astounding amount of pride in my skinfolk for immediately telling him no. Because an episode about such a topical issue on a show that struggles to leave its straight white women alive would be akin to going for the 100 metre freestyle while still wearing inflatable wings.

Entertaining as that would be.

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