Friday, March 05, 2021

New Batwoman Javicia Leslie always wanted to be a superhero

Jan 18. 2021
With Kate Kane gone, Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) is the new Batwoman. MUST CREDIT: CW
With Kate Kane gone, Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) is the new Batwoman. MUST CREDIT: CW
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By The Washington Post · David Betancourt

Last year, Javicia Leslie was asked on a podcast what she wanted her next acting role to be.

"I said I wanted to be a superhero," Leslie recalled recently toThe Washington Post.

In July, just two months after stating her desire, the star of "God Friended Me" and "The Family Business"answered the call to a bat-signal put up in the sky just for her - finding out she was the new star of the CW's "Batwoman." The announcement instantly made her the new face of the network's successful tradition of televised superheroes.

The black-and-red cape and cowl of the DC Comics-inspired character had become available in May, when actress Ruby Rose made the shocking announcement that she was leaving the titular role(due to both injury and rethinking her future while isolating during the pandemic). Leslie self-taped her audition in her Los Angeles home due to covid-19 restrictions.

She spoke to The Post from Vancouver, where Season 2 of "Batwoman" is filmed - but had arrived from the United States three days prior, so she was in a required quarantine. Leslie's official superhero debut is Sunday, when the season premieres on the CW at 8 p.m. ET.

Leslie says she's always been a Batman fan. Which Batman? Val Kilmer in 1995′s "Batman Forever."

Leslie and Kilmer are kindred acting spirits of sorts, both having dealt with the attention that comes with replacing a high-profile Bat-person upon their departure. Kilmer's solo venture as Batman followed Michael Keaton's two-film run as the Dark Knight just as Leslie must now cast a new shadow over the one Rose left behind.

And just like Kilmer's blond Batman didn't attempt to mimic what Keaton accomplished under the mask a quarter century ago, Leslie isn't trying to do what'd been done before.

"What makes me me will always be different than what makes someone else who they are," Leslie said. "We're talking about two completely different characters that are obviously going to be two completely different Batwomen."

Despite a change in secret identities from Rose's Kate Kane to Leslie's Ryan Wilder, Batwoman will remain a gay character. Leslie, who identifies as bisexual, says that was a key characteristic that had to be kept.

"Batwoman (is) gay in the comics. I think that is really important that (it) continues to be represented in our iteration of Batwoman as well," Leslie said. "Representation is so important. I can't wait until there is a trans superhero that is live-action. I think that ... this role and other roles like this are constantly breaking the barriers of what normalcy is. And it's creating a new normal that should represent everyone and not just what people think is the majority."

One norm going away is the trademark black eye makeup that every on-screen bat-hero since Keaton has worn under the mask - Rose eventually parted with it and Leslie will also decline.

"Being a woman of color, it was important that we didn't black out my eyes," Leslie said. "We wanted to play with light instead of playing with darkness to help accentuate me being a black woman in playing this role."

Leslie auditioned to be Batwoman while the Black Lives Matter movement was protesting the death of George Floyd, which happened on thesame day in May that Christian Cooper was racially harassed while birdwatching in Central Park. "Batwoman's" new season debuts less than two weeks after the violence and death that took place at the Capitol, a day where a noose and Confederate flag breached the United States' beacon of democracy not far from where Leslie grew up in Upper Marlboro, Md.

The significance of being Batwoman now is not lost on Leslie.

"I'm really saddened by the events that have happened within the last year. But it really just revealed that we have a lot of work to do as a world, more specifically as a country," Leslie said. "Life imitates art, so it's very important that what we see on television represents who we really are and that it continues to inspire people that may be voiceless or scared to (be) who they are."

Diversity in comic storytelling has shown gradual improvement over the years. It has been almost a decade since Miles Morales debuted as the half-Puerto Rican, half-African American Spider-Man over at Marvel Comics. Since then, the wall-crawler has starred in an Academy Award-winning animated film and is currently the star of one of the most popular video games on the PS5.

DC is finally catching up to Marvel's progress. Leslie is the CW's second Black superhero in a lead role, after DC's "Black Lightning." Her character's alter ego, Ryan Wilder, recently made her comics debut. The company also just introduced a Black Batman and a Brazilian Wonder Woman in the pages of its new publishing initiative, "Future State." Milestone Comics, a DC imprint, will resume publishing some of the world's most popular Black superheroes after a long hiatus, with plans to grow on big and small screens.

Leslie is proud to take part in such bold ideas.

"To be a part of (the Batman franchise) in the capacity where I'm the one saving the day ... I think it's so powerful," Leslie said. "I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that my version of a superhero would have been something that was so groundbreaking."

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