At DC FanDome, the BIPOC women of the DC Universe came together to talk about what makes them BAWSEs and why that’s the way they want to navigate the world.
Going into this panel, I wasn’t sure what BAWSE meant—it’s not a term I’ve heard very often, but I was excited to learn. I couldn’t find a definition in the dictionary, but the Urban Dictionary defined a bawse as “a human being who exudes confidence, turns heads, reaches goals, finds inner strength, gets hurt efficiently and smiles genuinely—because they’ve fought through it all and made it out the other side.”
— Geeks of Color #BlackLivesMatter (@GeeksOfColor) August 22, 2020
Hosted by celebrity D-Nice—the only man on this DC FanDome panel—and Grammy Award-winning singer Estelle, the panel featured Meagan Good, who played the superhero version of Darla on Shazam!; Javicia Leslie, who was recently announced as the new Batwoman; Candice Patton, who has played Iris West on all six seasons of The Flash; Tala Ashe, who has portrayed two versions of Zari on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow; Nafessa Williams, Black Lightning’s Anissa Pierce/ Thunder, the first Black Lesbian superhero; Chantal Thuy, who plays Grace Choi, Anissa’s fiancée; and Anna Diop and Damaris Lewis, Starfire and Blackfire on Titans.
Meagan Good was the only actor from the DCEU, which is testament to how far the big-screen properties need to go, especially as her character is an aged-up version of a child character. However, playing a child allowed Good a kind of freedom she hasn’t always enjoyed. Having spent most of her 20s playing sexy characters, she found it fun to lean into a goofier side that only her family gets to see.
However, Good was quick to proclaim that there is nothing wrong with sexiness, as long as the character is also humanised and relatable, which is not something we always see on film. Good mentioned that Black actors don’t get to lean into every aspect of being Black women, and she hopes to see more of that.
Candice Patton opened with a moving anecdote from when the first season of The Flash aired. A mother tweeted at her saying that her daughter saw Iris West on the show. Seeing a Black woman who was beautiful and looked like her, the child asked her mother whether she was beautiful too. Unsurprisingly, the panelists were all deeply moved by this story.
And Patton wasn’t the only one to make waves in her community. Nafessa Williams was met by a weeping fan at a comic convention. The young Black woman said Anissa made her feel normal for being lesbian.
This was definitely an emotional DC FanDome panel for the actors on screen but also for everyone watching. As happy as I am to see these amazing women on screen as an adult, I can’t imagine what a difference it would have made to my life to see characters like them when I was a child or a teenager. I take solace in the fact that young people are getting to see them now.
The importance of seeing people like themselves was highlighted several times by the actors. As Williams said, when little girls see Anissa “in the hood, with cornrows,” they can see themselves.
Chantal Thuy spoke about her idols, Maggie Cheung and Sandra Oh, not only because of how they’ve paved the way for Asian actors, but also because they used their craft to change their own lives and those of others. Much like Thuy’s grandmother, who escaped on a boat with her ten children many years ago to give them new lives in the USA.
Javicia Leslie, the first Black actor to portray Batwoman, also looked back at a woman that paved the path for Black women today: Eartha Kitt. Interestingly, Leslie was inspired not just by Kitt’s acting career but mainly by her years of activism and how she used her craft to help people.
It wasn’t just about seeing themselves, however. Tala Ashe, whose Zari on Legends of Tomorrow is the first Muslim-American superhero onscreen, made a valid point that Brown children, especially girls, don’t often get to see themselves as heroes; I know this feeling a bit too well. Though Ashe felt a great deal of pressure as the first Muslim-American hero, she worked hard to bring her Iranian-American heritage to the character.
It helped that the Legends of Tomorrow team hired a Muslim-American writer— Ubah Mohamed—to make the character more authentic. Lived experiences can’t be true to life if we can only “see” people who look like us but who don’t behave like us. And as Ashe pointed out, for so many people who may not have had the opportunity to meet Muslim-Americans in person, seeing Zari onscreen gives them a way to connect to people like her.
Of the panelists, Diop was the only one to open up a little about the negativity surrounding her casting as Kory Anders/Starfire on Titans during the DC FanDome panel. A small, yet vocal, group of viewers took offence to an orange-skinned alien being played by a Black woman, rather than a white woman. Diop was subjected to a ton of abuse on the internet, and found herself having to rely emotionally on her friends, family, and even her faith, to get through. For the record, Diop’s Kory is one of the best characters on Titans, and it is impossible not to adore her from the very start.
Patton, who has had to deal with years of abuse for being the Black love interest to a while male superhero—because some fans would rather the white woman on the show be the romantic centre instead—didn’t speak about her negative experiences much. But when asked what she thought being a BAWSE meant, she did talk about being labelled difficult, or a diva, because she would speak up. But she is now “proud to be a BAWSE” because it means that she is speaking up and doing the right thing for others.
And being different is part of being a BAWSE. Damaris Lewis has made a career of being different until she finally realised that that was her superpower. Not having many people who were different like her to look up to, she has had to pave her own way. And now as a BAWSE, she thinks that her role is to create more BAWSEs.
I may not have known what BAWSE meant going into this DC FanDome panel, but I know that I got to see BAWSEs in action during this discussion. Here’s hoping they pave the way for so many more BAWSEs in the future.