DC’s TV series continue to champion inclusivity, and we’re all for it.
When it comes to pushing boundaries, the folks at DC Entertainment tend to deliver, for better or for worse. The company’s film arm may inspire more of the latter reaction. Yet, comparatively, on the small screen, DC’s efforts have notably set a fine example in the name of representation as far as character selection and casting goes.
News dropped from Comic-Con (courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter) that The CW’s Supergirl will be making history by portraying the first transgender superhero on television. Activist Nicole Maines, who featured in the HBO documentary The Trans List, will star as Nia Nal – also known as Dreamer – in the show’s upcoming fourth season.
Nia, whom THR describes as a “soulful young transgender woman with a fierce drive to protect others,” is based on DC Comics’ Nura Nal. Nura goes by the alias Dream Girl and isn’t specified as a trans character in the source material. Despite going through several reboots in her comic timeline, her powers remain constant: Nura is from the planet Naltor and possesses precognitive abilities that allow her to have visions while dreaming. She is one of the most powerful inhabitants of her home planet and also happens to be an expert in Naltorian science as well as a master of hand-to-hand combat.
Supergirl will mark Maines’ big break, although her activist work has significantly raised her profile, too. She notably won a discrimination lawsuit against her school district in Maine over the right to use the girls’ bathroom. Really, Maines is championing some serious heroism on and off camera. As she makes known in an interview with Variety, there’s a responsibility inherent in portraying such a landmark character. Maines declares, “I’m nervous because I want to do it right.”
The character of Nia — and Maines’ role in depicting her — has the capacity to cause a discernible ripple effect on mainstream media as a whole. There’s nothing more accessible than a superhero property at the moment. To finally include a demographic that’s been repeatedly shut out of more conventional and popular cultural representations is hence remarkable, if a long time coming.
Transgender representation has been the furthest away from perfect for a long time. Trans stories have long been led by a plethora of cisgender actors (some of whom go on to win acclaim and big-ticket awards) when the opposite has frustratingly never been the case. Meanwhile, any remaining supporting trans roles relegate the members of the demographic to dire and unsavory situations. A superhero, especially one as powerful and good-hearted as Nia, is an exceptional leap in the right direction.
As Maines notes to Variety:
“We can be whoever we want, we can do whatever we want, we can be superheroes, because in many ways we are. We’ve had trans representation in television for a while but it hasn’t been the right representation. […] I think we’re in a time right now where more than ever representation in the media matters. And what we see on television has a very dramatic effect on our society.”
Elsewhere in the realm of DCTV, a different woman-led show is headed our way. Ex-DCE President Geoff Johns will be spearheading Stargirl, a show based on the original creation that pioneered his successful career as a writer for DC Comics. According to Deadline, Johns will write and executive produce a 13-episode live-action series through his Mad Ghost Productions banner for DC Universe, the company’s subscription streaming service. DCTV mainstays Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter will re-team with Johns to make his vision a reality after their prior DC Universe collaborations.
The Stargirl series will take superheroism to high school, where sophomore Courtney Whitmore adopts the eponymous mantle and draws together the very first superhero team, the Justice Society of America. Despite the mention of some “villains of the past,” the show’s logline particularly hints at the fact that Courtney’s story may not be an outright origin narrative, instead focusing on her exploits within a team setting. However, her character biography is one to remember.
In the comics, Courtney is a legacy superhero who stumbles into her cause when she finds old gear belonging to the Star-Spangled Kid while rummaging through her stepfather Pat Dugan’s stuff. Pat was once the adult sidekick to the teenage Star-Spangled Kid. As Courtney isn’t particularly fond of Pat joining her family, she dons the patriotic-themed get-up — suit, Cosmic Belt, and all — as an act of mockery towards his past.
However, Courtney is then thrust into fighting crime alongside Pat in a new robotic suit he designs, upon which they decided to form a heroic duo as Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Eventually, Courtney’s escapades lead to successful team-ups with other heroes, including Starman, who gifts her his Cosmic Staff after he elects to retire his alter ego. On her own, Courtney is already a skilled gymnast and kickboxer. The Star-Spangled Kid’s Cosmic Belt enhances her strength, speed, agility, and stamina, but the Cosmic Staff also bestows upon her the ability to fly and manipulate energy. That’s when Courtney adopts the handle “Stargirl.”
The beloved Courtney has appeared on the small screen two times prior to her upcoming solo serial outing; first in Smallville and later on in the Arrowverse’s Legends of Tomorrow. She is a definite highlight of Johns’ creative career as the first original character he produced for DC Comics. She is very much an ode to Johns’ late sister, who inspired Courtney’s personality. Despite the hardship of one’s teenage years and the responsibilities of heroism, Courtney never loses her spunk and sanguinity. She embodies the ideal mix of promising adolescence and relatability. Per Johns himself:
“To have an opportunity to tell a story celebrating this superhero was literally the first thing I wanted to do because it is so personal to me. Also, a character that speaks to being young, to a legacy and to pushing forward seems so important to me nowadays.”
In focusing on a character who exemplifies youth and optimism, Stargirl could skew more fun and even potentially light-hearted amidst the apparent grittiness of most of the DC Universe’s previously announced live-action slate. Particularly next to Titans (“fuck Batman!”), Swamp Thing, and Doom Patrol, Johns’ passion project centering on such a naturally empowered and charismatic young woman may end up being a necessary diametric opposite; the perfect antidote to all that darkness.
When it comes to leading the charge of inclusion, the DCTV realm has had a track record of superseding expectations, especially when filmic counterparts within similar superpowered parameters balk at openly representing diversity. Characters like Iris West and James Olsen are race bent in the Arrowverse. LGBTQ representation is also noteworthy, with Alex Danvers, Anissa Pierce, and John Constantine being just a few examples. The new Batwoman show aims to cast an out lesbian actress of any ethnicity as its eponymous lead character. Even simply having more women populate the onscreen space is a promising constant as more DCTV shows are announced and greenlit.
The company, in short, walks the talk. As Berlanti mentioned earlier in the year, “[Inclusion] makes the stories and the shows fresher, and it challenges the shows creatively in ways they haven’t been challenged before.” Nicole Maines’ addition to Supergirl and Courtney Whitmore’s superheroic debut thus feel like perfect additions to a revolution that DC’s serial contributions continue to advocate within the canon of mainstream superhero storytelling.