We Need to Talk About #ElseworldsSoWhite

Iris West & the Mysterious Case of the Semi-Skimmed Crossovers

Being a fan of Iris West is hard, y’all. From the outset of the show, fans upset that Barry Allen didn’t love a white woman tried to diminish her, critics called for Patton to be fired and “rebooted” (read: replaced by a white woman), and Andrew Kreisberg, the former producer of The Flash fired following sexual harassment allegations, encouraged a fanon ship whose fans are notorious for sending her racist abuse and starting campaigns to get her fired. Additionally, both the network and media seemed to be unclear about the show’s leading lady was, with social media pretty much ignoring Patton’s Iris but promoting whichever white woman happened to cross Barry’s orbit. (Side note: neither Gustin nor Patton actually follow any of the show’s social media accounts any longer, and the latter has definitely noticed their mistreatment of her).

None of that, however, can compare with Iris’ treatment during the crossovers. The excuse, as the excuse is every year when Iris is left out of the crossovers again, is that the characters who cross over to other shows must make sense within the context of the story. That there must be “space” for their stories so they don’t seem forced. Which would all be very well and good if it weren’t such a giant crock of festering bullshit.

It’s good to know that SOME people are allowed to talk about journalism on The Flash. I suppose.

Take this one, for example. During the Flash portion, she was used fairly well, providing much of the comedy and heart in a storyline where Barry and Oliver switched lives. Which, in addition to Iris being heavily-used in promotion, I suppose was supposed to trick us into thinking that she would be more prominent than she was. However, even though the storyline carried on in the second and third parts of the crossover, and Iris wanted to know how it would turn out, she isn’t in the rest of it. In addition to this, the writers failed at even including Iris in scenes that would have made sense. It was announced this year that Lois Lane (played in this universe by Bitsie Tulloch) was slated to appear, and many fans hoped that even though creators had ignored any potential for Iris and Kara to talk about their jobs, only someone truly lacking in creative vision would pass up the opportunity for Lois Lane and Iris West – two of the most iconic reporters in DC lore – to meet and talk. Like…well, like having a crossover where Superman didn’t meet The Flash or the Green Arrow. And what happened? Well, Lois and Kara had a conversation about journalism. About how it affected their daily life, about social issues, about how it made them feel. A conversation between two journalists at a time when the press is both under attack and being called to do better.

But there was no “space” for Iris. It did not “make sense” for her to be part of this conversation. A flimsy excuse that has been used since the crossovers began.

The first season was semi-understandable. Iris, being a victim of the unfortunate “lie to the love interest for her own protection” trope, didn’t know that Barry was The Flash. As such, it wouldn’t make much sense for her to hang out with Team Arrow. While the reluctance to feature Iris doing anything unless it directly relates to Barry feeds into a problem we’ll come back to – after all, there was no reason Arrow couldn’t have shown Iris working on a story about the Green Arrow – it’s not like there wasn’t an excuse.

In the second, the story focused on Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee) and Carter Hall/Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) trying to escape the clutches of Vandal Savage (Casper Crump). During the episodes, Team Flash take Kendra to Star City and try to dig up some information on Vandal Savage. Correct me if I’m wrong, but research is a pretty important part of a journalist’s job, isn’t it? A great “space” for Iris, a position in which she would have “made sense”. Yet, the job of collecting information on Vandal Savage was given…to Laurel, Thea, and Diggle, who are not only vigilantes, they’re people who had significant scenes in the action parts of the crossover. So something that was tailor-made for Iris was literally handed off to people who didn’t have her skillset, who then got other things to do. But, OK, “no space.”

According to reports, Candice Patton is 5’4″. I’m pretty sure they could have squeezed her in somewhere.

Then we move onto the third crossover, where aliens invaded and alternately took over our heroes’ brains, kidnapped them, and became about the thirteen-millionth living beings to blame Barry for Flashpoint. They saved the day, of course, and they are thanked by the President at a press conference in the Legends of Tomorrow portion. A press conference. A conference where the press gathers. In Central City, where Iris lives. Yet, there was no “space” for her even to say one line. It did not “make sense” for a journalist to be at possibly the biggest news event in the city. Or, for that matter, to speak to the only journalist that came into Iris’ orbit in the third season – Kara Danvers – about journalism. Whoever was in charge of that crossover apparently did not know how to write a journalist into a press conference, which puts them on the same level of intelligence as someone who doesn’t know that you need milk to make cheese.

The problems with the fourth crossover work better in a later section, but even circling back to the latest one, it’s hard not to ignore the fact that Iris remained on her own show while Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), the only white woman on The Flash – unsurprisingly, the other two Black women weren’t even mentioned in the episode – appeared in all three episodes.

#ElseworldsSoWhite wasn’t something that fans of Iris West cooked up in our evil Negro labs of anger, adorned in our all-powerful shipping goggles while we stirred our cauldrons full of fanfiction. It exists in the context of Iris West, and by extension, Candice Patton, not being given the respect she deserves.  It comes after years of seeing the only Black leading lady ignored, over and over. It comes after being undermined by her own producer promoting white women over her, after the social media accounts cropping her out of photos, after the writer’s room encouraging fans who are most notorious for harassing journalists for not making videos about a relationship they made up in their own heads. The crossovers are marketed as DCTV’s answer to Marvel’s shared universe, promoted endlessly at press events and in interviews, yet the people in charge of the Arrowverse never seem to think that the most important woman in Barry Allen’s life needs to be worked into the episodes.

The hashtag comes into play because there is always space for the white characters There is always “space” for the Oliver-Barry comedy hour, even though we all know by now that they’re friends. Up until this year, there is always “space” for each and every show to remind us that Felicity Smoak exists, whether it’s for Iris’ bachelorette party, or an alternate universe on Legends of Tomorrow. And there is always, always “space” for Caitlin Snow to crossover, even though for reasons not yet properly articulated to me, we are all still pretending that the summation of Caitlin’s character means she can’t be replaced by a medical dictionary and an industrial freezer.

Of course, Iris is not allowed these mini-crossovers. In fact, Iris getting mentioned on a show that isn’t her own is a near-miracle. Despite claiming to be close friends with Iris, Felicity doesn’t talk about her on Arrow, even though everyone always talks about Felicity on The Flash. When Barry visited Kara for the first time on Supergirl, he made an entire speech on love without mentioning Iris or Joe – but he was quick to mention the white people he worked with (and Cisco, who is not the get-out-of-racism-free card that people like to pretend he is). And Barry Allen tried to sacrifice himself in this crossover, the last one, and the one before that – all without informing his wife or even thinking about his wife or family. Marc Guggenheim actually responded to a fan’s question about this, saying that they wrote a scene in which Barry acknowledged the fact that he was leaving Iris during the third. What happened to it? Why, there wasn’t any “space” for it.

Yes, I can imagine how much space this took up.

Of course.

Now, I am not advocating for these women to get less screentime, and I’m not attacking their actresses. I think we all know that the Arrowverse needs to do much, much better by their women. But Candice Patton is the leading lady of The Flash, and Iris West is the most important person in Barry Allen’s story. The idea that she has the same level importance as everyone else is the same as saying that Lois Lane is about as important to Superman as Jimmy Olsen is – and since Barry and Iris are among the only characters from The Flash mythos on the show, it’s like saying Lois Lane is about as important to Superman as Harley Quinn. That the crossovers see her as an afterthought is irritating, and that they can never find “space” for her is insulting. Oliver brings Felicity because they had a deep relationship before they got together, and now they’re married. Kara brings Alex because her sister is the person she loves most in the world, and they’re partners. Barry brings Caitlin because Danielle Panabaker is white.

And, to be clear, before anyone starts bleating at me about how “Caitlin is a scientist” and “Caitlin has superpowers”, allow me to point out that Caitlin has been crossing over since before she got superpowers, and the Arrowverse’s science is laughable at best – as everyone was quick to point out when it was Iris’ science that turned to nonsense. Moreover, this idea about who “makes sense” to cross over is the height of stupidity. I’m a writer. I write original fiction. If I want a certain character in a story, I will write them into it. If it doesn’t work, I’m the one with the power to adapt the story. In terms of my story, I am God.

The people who write the Arrowverse crossovers are not wringing their hands, going without sleep because writing Iris into a crossover is so hard it’s keeping them up at night and they’ve failed yet again. They simply do not care that she’s not in them. If they’re writing before casting and Iris isn’t a priority but the white woman is, it’s racist. And if they realise they haven’t included her and don’t care to work her into it, it’s still racist. Because, for whatever reason, while being quite eager to collect the diversity points that come with having a Black leading lady on a superhero show, they are reluctant to acknowledge it outside that superhero show, misuse her when others come to visit that superhero show, and do their level best to ensure that their promotional materials exclude her lest people think she is an important part of that superhero show. I don’t know if it’s CW President Mark Pedowitz who tells Berlanti who’s going to get paid for crossing over, or Berlanti who tells him. Maybe they’re reading it in their tea leaves.

But the fact of the matter is, Pedowitz, Berlanti, their tea leaves, or whoever it is can never quite manage to fit the Black woman in a universe that keeps expanding every year.

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