There has never been a time in the entertainment business when there has been such a saturation of comic book characters on the screen – Hollywood blockbusters, network TV, and cable TV. Superheroes are hot. Whether it’s the sexy bodies in tight spandex or the need for us to escape our social and political roller coaster with some heightened fantasy and the belief that there are good heroes out there, the demand for more caped content is high. Though entertainment critics and die-hard comic book fans might not love all the filmed content, there is no denying that the box office doesn’t care. Avengers: Endgame made more money than the entire U.S. box office of 2020, granted we had COVID affecting many of those months, but the boom of on-screen superheroes shows no sign of slowing down, so it was just a matter of time for LGBTQ representation to become a reality.
Any mention of homosexuality in mainstream United States comics was forbidden by the Comics Code Authority (CCA) between 1954 and 1989, gay and gender identity themes were only hinted at with hidden subtext. The CCA was established as a response to the psychiatrist and author Frederic Wertham’s book, Seduction by the Innocent, which called out the comic book industry for influencing youth with themes of violence and sexuality, and pointedly, homosexuality. He called Wonder Woman a lesbian and suggested that the Batman character may illicit gay thoughts. In the ‘70s, gay creators started to publish underground publications to tell their story and to comment on the current political world.
The two leading mainstream American comic book publishers, DC, and Marvel, have historically only presented a heteronormative point of view. Interestingly enough, gender identity was explored in a common storyline of a superhero changing their sex through a supernatural or technological occurrence. Underlying gay themes can be inferred during what is called The Golden Age of Comics (1938 – 1956) that gave birth to Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and Wonder Woman. Besides the sapphic assumptions of Wonder Woman and her female-only tribe of the Amazons, gay jokes about superheroes and their sidekicks have been a staple of conversation and even highlighted in Saturday Night Live’s cartoon skit series “The Ambiguously Gay Duo.”
As censorship by the CCA would come to an end in the late ‘80s and during the AIDS epidemic, representation of our community would start to develop. The first gay DC character came in 1988 with the creation of Extrano (Spanish translation of “strange”), and though the word “gay” was never used, he personified the gay stereotype as being extremely effeminate and calling himself “Auntie.” The character caused a stir behind the scenes at DC as well as with readers, Extrano writer Steve Englehart wanted to explore more with the character with a storyline about HIV, DC editors did not. A sprinkle of LGBTQ characters would appear on the sidelines during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. In the late ‘90s, DC’s Midnighter would appear as a gay major superhero, who, along with husband Apollo, would serve as the gay version of the Batman/Superman partnership. Growing representation would be lauded and supported by the LGBTQ community with honors by GLAAD and LAMBDA for storylines covering gay-bashing and AIDS/HIV themes.
In 2006, a major character in the DC world would join the LGBTQ ranks. To media fanfare, Batwoman would get a reboot as a lesbian character. Later found out to be Bruce Wayne’s distant cousin, Batwoman would work on her own and, in the fan world, would gain her own following with a monthly comic. In 2019, the CW ordered the first season of Batwoman, starring out lesbian actor Ruby Rose. Ruby left the series after only one season and it was announced that the character of Ryan Wilder, introduced as a brief character in DC’s Batgirl, would take over the Batwoman character. The CW took the opportunity to take LGBTQ representation even further by casting actor Javicia Leslie, making her the first black, bisexual actor to step into the role.
It is a blessing and an honor to be a part of this time of change. To be able to use my art as activism has always been a driving force for me. To know that this casting makes people feel represented in this amazing and epic franchise solidifies my purpose, which is to stand and fight for the underrepresented.
Putting on the Batwoman costume for the first time would be a moment in history for Javicia as a role-model to minority youth as well as for the character.
The moment I put the suit on, I immediately felt the responsibility of what this suit represents. It’s not about the person wearing the suit, it’s about the history this suit has in our society. The Bat symbol represents over 80 years of true superhero imagination that millions of people filled their childhood with! To be a part of that story is life-changing and truly an honor!
DC fans are represented in all communities, so it is very important to be inclusive in our superheroes as well! We should all have a hero that we can see ourselves in.
With the increased spotlight on LGBTQ actors and characters in Hollywood, it is easy to forget that the comic book world is late to come to the party. The ideas of different personalities as superheroes being somewhat new.
Since being cast as the first black Batwoman, I have received a lot of hate messages and disgusting remarks from people who feel Batwoman should not be black. This world has a long way to go, and I am just happy to be a part of a much-needed shift.
A complete opposite of Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane, Javicia’s Ryan Wilder is a bit messy, goofy, and untamed. Ryan has spent years as a drug-runner, dodging the Gotham police, masking her pain with bad habits and living in her van with her plant. A girl who would steal milk for an alley cat and could kill you with her bare hands, Ryan is the most dangerous type of fighter – highly skilled and wildly undisciplined. An out lesbian. Athletic. Raw. Passionate. Fallible and very much not your stereotypical All-American hero.
Ryan stands up for people who are not able to stand up for themselves. There are so many people in our world who are looked over because they do not look like the majority. It is important for me to be a representation for those people! It is important for me to fight and rally for those individuals. Everyone deserves fair and equal justice, that is what I stand and fight for!
Because of Ryan’s childhood, growing up as a foster kid, she is very guarded and does not easily trust people. I feel I am a bit more open and trusting of people … more of an “innocent until proven guilty” with me.
Javicia grew up in a military family, born in Germany and raised primarily in Maryland. The structure and support of being in a military family would teach her the value of hard work and dedication. She went from high school class president to attending Hampton University, the prestigious, historically black university. She got the performance bug early on and started with small talent shows for family and would graduate to leading roles in theatre, live poetry, and ultimately her onscreen career. Her move to Los Angeles to pursue acting was inevitable. Her Los Angeles early days would shape her life forever.
Learning that you are your own business is the biggest thing I had to get used to. That means from the moment you wake up until you fall asleep, you must treat your day like you are a running business. There was no such thing as “free time” before 7pm. I auditioned, studied, took classes, worked out, and learned new skills. This allowed me to go into my acting career with the same hard work and dedication I had in my 9 to 5 with the Army. The other hard thing to get used to is Los Angeles traffic, I learned to always assume everything was at least an hour away.
Another early acting lesson would be about the difference between stage and film, especially as it relates to auditions.
My first audition was with my current manager. See, prior to LA, I had only performed in plays. I walked into her office and performed the most dramatic theatre scene I knew. At the end, she looked at me and said, “Okay, maybe we can go for something a little smaller, you know, something more TV/film-friendly.” Eight years later, I completely understand that a monologue from Chicago might be a little much for a TV audition. (LOL.)
Her first break would be in Lifetime’s Killer Coach in 2016 which would make way for her recurring character on the MacGyver reboot. She then moved on to BET’s The Family Business, consistently ranked as one of the top 10 cable shows on TV during its run. She would get major exposure on CBS’ God Friended Me as Ali, a quick-witted lesbian.
Javicia’s own bisexuality, for her, was a non-issue and never something to keep hidden.
My mom and I never talked about it. Once we did, she said, “I’m your mother, I’ve known since you were a child.” That was all I needed to feel supported and loved. I knew she had my back, no matter what! She is my best friend!
Being bisexual means bravely walking in my truth to love whomever it is I love. Everyone should have the right, the respect, and the safety to love who they love!
I am happy to represent all of me, and I believe there is a place in this industry for every “title” I carry.
She is a spokesperson for the bisexual community, fighting assumptions and classifications every chance she can. The biggest misconception about being bisexual?
That because I am attracted to both men and women, I should choose which is more socially accepted. That is not how sexuality works. It’s about choosing who makes me happy regardless of gender. It’s about choosing love.
A bisexual actress playing a lesbian character making television and comic book history, there was no trepidation in taking over the role from Ruby Rose.
It was a childhood dream of mine to play a superhero. That is the only thing that crossed my mind when I first booked this role. “OMG, I’m a superhero!” I loved comic book characters growing up. Specifically, I loved all the colorful characters of Batman.
The casting happened in a whirlwind and what can often take months of callbacks, especially for such a high-profile role, was quick.
I received my audition material via email and submitted a self-tape. Two weeks later, I was “pinned” and told I would have a producer’s session via Zoom. Pinned means a production is interested in the actor and wants them to hold/block the dates that they would be working just in case they are chosen. I then auditioned in front of the executive producers, studio, and network representatives. Two days later, I received a call from my manager asking if she could “speak to Ryan Wilder!”
Developing a strong character was so important. The role of Ryan is not just a sequel to Ruby Rose’s Kate, it is an entirely different character. With the pressure of representing as the first black Batwoman also comes the pressure of carrying on the LGBT ideas behind the scenes.
Preparing for Batwoman, I sat daily for hours imagining my Ryan life. I saw myself in my foster homes, playing with my best friend, meeting my adoptive mother. Every day I filled every blank in my Ryan world using ingredients I received in my scripts. This work supported me when it was time to play on set. I knew why and how I viewed life as Ryan and that was the most important part. It also allowed me to give Caroline Dries, our show creator, ideas of Ryan’s life prior to episode one.
The physical aspects of the role would also play a part in Javicia’s preparation. Fitness has always been an important part of Javicia’s life, having been a competitive track runner. She is trained in Muay Thai and lives a vegan lifestyle.
To prepare for Batwoman, I started to focus more on stunt training. I practice daily so that I can train my body and mind to react instinctively to our fight choreography during filming.
Her biggest takeaway from filming Season One?
I have learned that I can commit myself to anything when I give my all! At the end of every filming day, I feel proud of myself for leaving everything on the table. Each day I make it a point to have no regrets. I have fun and I try absolutely everything while working.
Season Two of Batwoman will be action-packed and full of your favorite superhero drama! I am super excited for everyone to see all the work this amazing crew and cast have put together. Also, I am doing my own stunts, so I cannot wait for that either!
Javicia hopes her presence on the screen as both a member of the black and LGBT community can inspire a closer relationship between the two minority groups. Given the history made with our first black, female U.S. Vice President, this is a very timely role.
I believe that if these two very underrepresented communities came together, we would be the majority! If the leaders in the LGBTQ community spoke out against racism, it will reinforce the imperativeness in our fight for justice! Author James Baldwin spoke so much about how scary it is to be a black gay man in America, I do not believe much has changed.
Batwoman Season 2 premiered on January 17th on the CW.
You can follow Javicia on IG: @Javicia
Last modified: February 4, 2021