From the monochromatic offering of Academy Awards nominees (#OscarsSoWhite) to the head-scratching casting choices for minority characters (Scarlett Johansson as The Major in Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange), there’s no shortage of instances that prove diversity in Hollywood is very much still work in progress.
It’s a problem that has long plagued the superhero genre as well, and while strides have been made to level the playing field, finding a superhero in a TV series or film who isn’t a white, heterosexual man can often feel like flipping through the pages of a Where’s Waldo book.
However, the CW network’s shared DC TV universe (a.k.a. the Arrowverse) has a habit of moving the needle forward and the current seasons of #Arrow, #TheFlash, #LegendsofTomorrow, and #Supergirl are continuing to break new ground.
These are just five ways the Arrowverse is changing depictions of superheroes on TV for the better.
1. (Super) Girl Power
Who runs the world? Super-girls. Literally. With the arrival of Supergirl, a woman is currently the most powerful character headlining a superhero series in the Arrowverse. In fact, she’s the most powerful character headlining any series currently on TV.
Other powerhouses like White Canary and Vixen on Legends, Jessie Quick on The Flash, and Speedy on Arrow regularly prove females can kick ass just as hard as their male counterparts.
Conversely, characters such as the tech-genius Felicity Smoak on Arrow, Dr. Caitlin Snow on The Flash, and even the shrewd CEO Cat Grant on Supergirl are all examples of women whose super-intellect commands equal respect.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the introduction of TV’s original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, as the President of the United States in Supergirl season 2 verifies the fact that the glass ceiling hasn’t merely been shattered in this universe—it’s been obliterated.
2. With Great Power Comes Great Visibility
Combining the inclusion of well-loved characters of color like Cisco Ramon (better known as the sonic superhero Vibe to comic fans) with new characters such as Oliver Queen’s right-hand man John Diggle on Arrow, was a great step in a more inclusive direction.
Candice Patton as Iris West, Jesse L. Martin as Detective Joe West, Keiynan Lonsdale as Wally West, Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen and Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold are just a few examples of the smart casting choices that make the world of DC TV look more like our own.
The real world is filled with people from all walks of life and these shows are a much improved reflection of that.
3. Super Equality
When Arrow debuted in 2012, LGBTQ characters in a superhero TV series weren’t just a rare find, they didn’t exist. Five years and an additional three shows later we’re finding the DC TV universe has become a fantastically queer-inclusive space.
Bisexual badass Sara Lance/White Canary and her romantic relationship with Nyssa al Ghul, as well as the ongoing evolution of Curtis Holt/Mr. Terrific as a gay superhero-in-training are refreshing takes on some of the genre’s classic tropes.
Likewise, the inclusion of supporting characters such as gay Flash rogue Pied Piper and the introduction of lesbian Detective Maggie Sawyer on Supergirl have expanded the Arrowverse in new directions.
Furthermore, the upcoming animated series Freedom Fighters: The Ray will be the first of its kind to feature a gay lead superhero in the form of Raymond “Ray” Terill – making the DC TV universe an even brighter beacon for LGBTQ visibility.
4. Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number
From teen titans to super sixty-somethings, the never-ending battle is fought by soldiers of nearly every age in this incarnation of the DC Universe. Victor Garber’s Dr. Martin Stein/Firestorm and John Wesley Shipp’s turn as original Flash Jay Garrick are a welcome contrast to the inclusion of youthful newcomers like Keiynana Lonsdale as Wally West/Kid Flash and Violett Beane as Jesse Wells/Jesse Quick.
5. Diverse Storytellers = Diverse Stories
The architects of the Arrowverse are nearly as diverse as the shows themselves. Led by co-creator and executive producer Greg Berlanti (who is an out gay man himself), the men and women putting these shows together are a rich chorus of voices. Women, people of color, and LGBT creative minds are involved in every level of production from the director’s chair to the writing room. In fact, fifty percent of those who will helm an episode of Arrow in season 5 will be diverse.
Berlanti has made no secret about his desire to assemble the most diverse team possible because he believes diverse storytellers create authentically diverse stories. He explained his approach in a 2015 interview with The Advocate.
It’s very easy in this business to do things the way you used to do them because it feels safe, but ultimately that doesn’t make things better. To make things better you have to commit to really making a change, and entertainment is better when there are different voices involved — it just is.
Of course these shows are by no means perfect and there’s still plenty of room for improvement in the diversity department. Nevertheless, each series has changed the landscape of television for several groups of underrepresented people – especially within the superhero genre.
However, like the superhero teams we love, these individuals are stronger when they're fighting together for truth, justice, and more diverse entertainment.