The DC FanDome panels highlighting injustice, racism, and marginalisation have been some of the most interesting content from the event.
In the Truth, Justice, and the DC Comics Way panel, Supergirl actors David Harewood and Nicole Maines, Black Lightning’s Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, Titans’ Anna Diop, and The Flash showrunner Eric Wallace came together to share their experiences with seeing—or rather, not seeing—people like them in entertainment media, and how to pave the way for others like them. The panel was moderated by writer, journalist, and critic Evan Narcisse.
This was one of the best panels of DC FanDome, in my opinion. It wasn’t always an easy watch—some of the experiences that the actors described were disturbing, yet all too common—but they still managed to fill me with hope for a better future.
From the outset, Wallace made it clear that he didn’t see himself in comics, books, or most media as a child. What formed his origin story—if you will—was Night of the Living Dead, where the protagonist was a Black man, speaking truth, and his reward was death at the hands of white people, essentially.
He’s never forgotten the message of the film and has used it to propel his work on The Flash, especially to show the found family that is the West-Allens; Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Iris West (Candice Patton) were essentially raised by Joe West (Jesse L Martin), and as adults, they’re happily married. Wallace was adamant about the importance of showing that family dynamic in every single episode—not just with the West-Allens, but also with Cisco and his partner Camilla, who are also people of colour. I love the diversity on the show—I think it could do with more grounding in the real world, but I like that the characters can just be, regardless of their race. (If only the ‘fans’ who hate Iris so much would have a similar reaction.)
For Harewood, his career as a classically trained stage actor has pitted him against racism and hostility. The UK often projects an aura of a “post-racial society” but that is not true—I only lived there a year, and I had a few experiences that still make me angry. Harewood has obviously experienced much more, but he’s always felt that it has to be kept under wraps and controlled; and it’s those emotions that he uses to portray Martian Manhunter on Supergirl.
Diop, who moved to the US from Senegal when she was six years old, spoke about how she’d come from a country where everyone looked like her to a place where nobody did. She has since felt out of place, and that’s a feeling that she poured into the Tamaranean Koriand’r/ Starfire who finds herself stranded on Earth.
In an earlier panel during DC FanDome, Diop had spoken about the vitriol she had faced when she was cast as the orange alien, Starfire, because the fans believed she should be played by a white woman. White is seen as default, and Diop asked for viewers to start the “anti-work” that would change that mindset.
Despite this experience, the feedback Diop’s got has been immensely positive—not just from Black people, but from people from other marginalized communities. I was quite heartened to hear that the positivity has been so overwhelming as to drown out the vitriol from when she was cast. As an aside, Diop’s Kory is the best part of Titans and I look forward to seeing more of her.
Diop later spoke about wanting the white Titans team members to do some of the anti-racist work or to show allyship that Black characters are expected to do—or to at least have a conversation about it. I would love for that to happen and, in all honesty, we really should be seeing this in more shows already.
While Martian Manhunter and Starfire have comic origins, Maines’ Nia Nal/ Dreamer is vastly different from Dreamgirl in the DC Comics, who is not trans. Maines wanted to imbue Dreamer with the same awe and enthusiasm she had about being a superhero but was also aware of the pressure of being the first trans superhero on-screen.
Want to hear more about your favorite characters coming to life? Check out the Truth, Justice, and the DC Comics Way Panel now at #DCFanDome!#Supergirl #BlackLightning #DCUTitans #TheFlash @TheCWSupergirl @blacklightning @DCTitans @CW_TheFlashhttps://t.co/5cpGMZBE6N pic.twitter.com/WaNYfAGdn5
— Warner Bros. TV (@warnerbrostv) September 13, 2020
However, with more trans characters joining superhero properties—like Chella Man’s Jericho on Titans—Maines has been able to relax a bit as have the storylines for Dreamer. She doesn’t have to be perfect—Dreamer’s mistakes in the diegesis won’t spell doom for trans heroes in the foreseeable future.
And this directly led to one of the best episodes in Supergirl season 5, “Reality Bytes,” where Dreamer’s reaction to a violent transphobic group came across as anti-heroic and aggressive. But the show could do that because Dreamer wasn’t the only trans representation available.
Some of the backlash against Dreamer has been that she was created to “force representation” on viewers—but when there’s nothing to work off of, you have to create it from scratch. Fans… seriously.
I was interested to hear from Jones III—who plays Tobias Whale, one of the primary antagonists on Black Lightning and an all-around terrible person. As one of the few Black actors with Albinism, Jones III found himself represented nowhere so Whale is paving the way for others like him.
Despite the character’s actions, viewers are shown how and why Whale became the person he is—the discrimination he faced from his own family because of his Albinism, and how he was made an outsider in spaces where he was meant to be safe, pushed him to villainy and aggression.
Jones III also spoke about the importance of how Whale is presented on the show. That he is a man with power, who drives fancy cars—people with Albinism are often told they can’t drive—so being able to flip the narrative was important for him and has given him a lot of hope for the future.
I like what Jones III had to say, but one of my primary grievances with Black Lightning has been how cruel Whale is, so I think he’s letting his show off a bit lightly here.
How does truth meet justice in the world of comics? Join @EvNarc, @DavidHarewood, @NicoleAMaines, @KRONDON, @TheAnnaDiop and @ewrote for the “Truth, Justice, and DC Comics Way panel in WatchVerse NOW! pic.twitter.com/s69cvUE7kF
— Warner Bros. TV (@warnerbrostv) September 13, 2020
I do hope that sometime in the near future, Whale will be able to turn over a new leaf—Jones III mentioned during this and the Black Lightning panel that he wants Whale to speak his truth and be a hero. I think that would be a great turn of events for the character and for representation for people with Albinism.
In light of recent events and the changes brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement, panels like these have been necessary to interrogate media portrayals of people from marginalised communities because representation is still badly lacking across the board.
This was a powerful and emotional panel; despite the discussions of fan-rage, and actual violence that the panelists faced as children, there was so much hope and positivity for the future. It was a wonderful, uplifting discussion that makes me excited for the future of entertainment.