Ruby Rose will play the lesbian superhero Batwoman, joining “Supergirl” and “Black Panther” in having diverse role models that boost bottom lines.
Mainstream superheroes are finally starting to look like the people who look up to them — on TV, anyway.
The CW has made history yet again in casting Ruby Rose as DC’s comic superhero Batwoman as the first openly lesbian superhero ever on TV, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Rose, who identifies as gender fluid, will play the character described as “an out lesbian and highly trained streetfighter.”
The 32-year-old rose to fame as inmate Stella Carlin on the hit Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black,” and has been candid about her gender identity and sexuality in the past. She will first appear as the comic character in the CW’s DC crossover event before starring in an original Batwoman series, set to be released in the 2019-20 season.
“The Bat is out of the bag and I am beyond thrilled and honored,” Rose wrote in a post on Instagram on Tuesday, after news of her casting broke. “I’m also an emotional wreck.. because this is a childhood dream. This is something I would have died to have seen on TV when I was a young member of the LGBT community who never felt represented on tv and felt alone and different.”
The Bat is out of the bag and I am beyond thrilled and honored. I’m also an emotional wreck.. because this is a childhood dream. This is something I would have died to have seen on TV when I was a young member of the LGBT community who never felt represented on tv and felt alone and different. Thank you everyone. Thank you god.
This isn’t the first time the CW has made an effort to have more inclusive casts. Last month the network announced that trans activist Nicole Maines would play Nura Nal, aka Dream Girl, on “Supergirl” as television’s first-ever transgender superhero next season. The series has also been praised by GLAAD and the LGBTQ community for how it handled the storyline of Supergirl’s adoptive older sister coming out as a lesbian.
But these aren’t the only heroines making headlines. Fox is rebooting “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” as Deadline reported last month, with plans for an African-American actress to stake her claim as the vampire hunter first played by blondes Kristy Swanson and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the ’90s. The producers told Deadline, “Like our world, it will be richly diverse, and like the original, some aspects of the series could be seen as metaphors for issues facing us all today.”
And when the BBC hit “Doctor Who” returns this fall, a woman (Jodi Whittaker) will play the ageless, shape-shifting, time-traveling alien for the first time in the franchise’s 55-year history — and perhaps even more importantly, ScreenRant has reported that the upcoming season will feature the first writers of color to ever work for the show. And the entire editing team will be made up of women.
Entertainment is starting to reflect its audience, according to Darnell Hunt, the dean of social science at UCLA and coauthor of the annual Diversity in Hollywood Report, who noted that about half of Americans are female, and minorities made up almost 40% of the U.S. population in 2016, and are poised to become the majority in a few decades.
“Clearly, people of color and women, diverse audiences at large, are driving what’s happening in television and film right now,” he told Moneyish. “If you’re going to excite and interest these viewers, you have to have characters that they can relate to. And they want to see themselves and their stories represented on the screen, which means you have to have major characters representing a diverse range of groups — and not just acting as sidekicks to the white lead.”
And having women, people of color and LGBTQ members featured as superheroes is particularly important, because these characters embody strength and power. “Being a superhero is about taking control and making a difference, which goes beyond the victim narrative that people of color and women [and LGBTQ members] are often relegated to,” added Hunt. “With something like ‘Black Panther,’ you see an almost all-black cast that is all-powerful, they all have agency, and they are all making their mark on the world, which is really refreshing and exciting to groups who have historically been the victims.”
Nancy Wang Yuen, author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” told Moneyish that having a trans superhero is particularly important when you consider rates of anti-LGBTQ bullying are at an “unprecedented high,” according to a recent report, which found “LGBTQ students are two to three times more likely than their peers to be physically assaulted or threatened at school,” which can also quadruple the likelihood that they will attempt suicide.
“Superheroes aren’t just role models for kids; they are signals to society of who people can look up to,” she said. “So having a transgender superhero role model — not as the butt of a joke, but someone powerful — goes even deeper than your self-esteem; it will really help with bullying to have a positive representation of people who are still being marginalized and persecuted.”
But the color that catches the most attention in Hollywood is green — and so it also helps that diverse superheroes drive paying audiences. San Diego Comic Con attendees told Refinery29 that this year’s nerdgasm — the biggest gathering of comic book fans in the world — drew more black guests and panelists than in years past. “I saw a lot more Black bloggers, hosts, and cosplayers than I usually do. There were a lot more Black women on panels this year than usual,” said one guest.
And devoted fans spend money. “Black Panther,” the first mainstream superhero movie with an almost entirely black cast, earned a record-breaking $699.9 million domestic haul ($1.3 billion globally) at the box office this spring. And last year’s “Wonder Woman” became the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman ever, lassoing $412.6 million domestically and $821.8 million abroad, while the female-fronted “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that opened in December 2017, which also featured the franchise’s first major Asian female character, commanded $620.1 million in the U.S. and $1.3 billion overseas.
That aligns with what the Hollywood Diversity Report has found over the past five years: Movies with diverse casts make more money. In 2016, films with 21% to 30% minority actors had the highest median domestic box office ($62.5 million), while films with majority minority casts had the second-highest median domestic box office ($42.1 million) — but movies with minorities making up less than 10% of the cast earned a fraction of that, at just over $20 million.
And on TV, the report found that median 18 to 49 viewer ratings (as well as median household ratings among Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans) peaked during the 2015-16 season for broadcast scripted shows featuring casts that were greater than 20% minority; on cable, median ratings peaked for shows with casts that were from 31 to 40% minority.
While those same metrics weren’t calculated for films and TV series with LGBTQ casts this year, Hunt said that, “I imagine something similar is happening with sexuality; it’s another dimension of diversity. And we’ve seen the same pattern for the past five years: shows and movies with characters that represent all Americans on average do better than those that don’t.”
This story was originally published in July 2018 and has been updated.
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