Yesterday, it was announced that Spartacus: War of the Damned star Cynthia Addai-Robinson has been cast as Amanda Waller in season two of The CW’s Arrow. This casting news came pretty quickly considering rumors of Waller appearing in Arrow only surfaced a few days ago. Confirmation of her presence in the Arrow-verse is further proof that season two will be including more of the DC Comics mythology than was delivered in the first season. In addition to Waller, there will be story arcs involving Deadshot and Bronze Tiger (played by Michael Jai White) which pretty much confirms that the Suicide Squad is coming to Starling City (Is it wrong that I’m still bothered by the name of the city in this show?), not to mention the much-hyped appearance of The Flash/Barry Allen some time during the season.
Addai-Robinson’s take on Amanda Waller won’t be the first stab at the character in live action. In fact, multiple actresses have tackled the role in recent years, showing that The Wall is a major structural foundation of any iteration of the DC Universe (ha, see what I did there?). After the jump, we’re going to look back at all of the acclaimed actresses who have brought Amanda Waller to life. From CCH Pounder to Pam Grier and Angela Bassett, Cynthia Addai-Robinson is going to have some rather large shoes to fill (well, not that large, since it seems The CW is going with the slimmed-down and sexed-up New 52 version of the character. Ugh, have I mentioned how much I dislike the DCnU?)
First, here’s a quick primer on who Amanda Waller is (or was) in the comics. Created in 1986 by John Ostrander, John Byrne, and Len Wein, Waller has been one of the most complex characters in the DC Universe ever since. Neither hero nor villain, Waller has led the Suicide Squad and Checkmate, respectively, and is often at odds with the likes of Batman and other JLAers. It’s also important to note that Waller is one of DC Comics’ most notable women of color and has always been depicted, until recently, as a woman of size. She is also one of DC’s most media-friendly characters having appeared in several live action and animated incarnations. Cynthia Addai-Robinson will be the third actress to portray Amanda Waller in live action and is the fifth actress overall if you include Waller’s turns in the animated series Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice. Let’s take a quick look at the others who have come before, starting with the most recent version in a most forgettable film.
Oh Green Lantern, what an awful, terrible movie you are. If there was ever an argument for why Warner Bros. could not justify tying together their cinematic DC Universe, the abomination that was Martin Campbell’s Green Lantern is the main culprit. And it’s unfortunate too because other than Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan and Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, the rest of the main cast was pretty spot-on. Mark Strong made a great conniving Sinestro, and Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan brought necessary gravitas and personality to iconic GL characters like Abin Sur, Tomar Re and Killowog. I would have liked to have seen Angela Bassett’s too-brief role as Amanda Waller expanded in subsequent sequels (or serve as a Nick Fury-like lynchpin for the DC movies) as well. Because she didn’t have much to do in the film aside from glowering a little and then getting thrown against a wall. (PS, that’s not why she has the nickname, by the way). To be honest, I wouldn’t be mad if WB chose to retain the GL continuity — but forgo Hal Jordan — if they ever wanted to bring Green Lantern in to their eventual JLA movie. Who needs Hal anyway? John Stewart as the Corps’ lone representative on the JLA is all you need. Besides, there’s a whole generation of potential ticket-buyers who grew up with John Stewart as the go-to JLA GL anyway. Oh, I guess you’d have to get rid of the awful CGI-costume design from the movie though. Oh okay, let’s blow up Green Lantern and forget it ever happened.
I make no bones about my unconditional love for Smallville. I know it has its detractors, but it’s still my favorite television show, warts and all. I’d never argue it’s on par with, say, The Wire or Breaking Bad, but I don’t know anyone who’s making that argument either. Just because it isn’t great, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. I admit, the stuff it gets wrong, it gets spectacularly wrong. But the stuff it gets right… Look no further than the two leads of the (final seasons of the) show. With apologies to Dean Cain & Teri Hatcher, Christopher Reeve & Margot Kidder, Henry Cavill & Amy Adams, (do I even have to mention Brandon Routh & Kate Bosworth?), Tom Welling and Erica Durance are my definitive live action Clark Kent and Lois Lane. And to me, that kind of casting has always been one of the show’s strengths. Pam Grier as Amanda Waller is no exception. Debuting during the two-hour Justice Society episode “Absolute Justice” (that’s right fanboys, Smallville featured a live action JSA. So suck it, haters!). Waller was eventually revealed as Season Nine’s main human antagonist (with Zod and the Kandorians being the other baddies). The mastermind pulling the strings behind the scenes as Checkmate’s White Queen, Grier’s Amanda Waller, while only appearing in a handful of episodes, was a presence even in episodes in which she didn’t appear. The best thing about casting Grier (other than the fact that it’s Pam Grier!) is that despite being a CW show, the producers didn’t have to compromise the character’s physical traits to conform to others’ standards of beauty (I’m looking at you, New 52!) because Grier’s Waller was sexy without being “sexy.” (Hello, it’s Pam Grier, after all!)
What DC often gets wrong in the live action versions of their mythology, they always seem to get very right in their animated ones. Two of the best DC animated series ever are Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s Justice League and Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman’s Young Justice. While Waller appeared briefly in Young Justice, during the first season episode “Terrors” as the warden of Belle Reve penitentiary, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph brought the grit to the performance that the character requires.
Amanda Waller’s presence on Justice League Unlimited, however, was much more prominent. As the head of Project Cadmus, Waller was in charge of a group that was designed to rein in the League should they ever go rogue. While she often played the antagonist, especially to Batman, Waller’s role in the animated Justice League is arguably the character at her most heroic. In the Timm-verse continuity, Waller is the one responsible for creating Project Batman Beyond and watches over Terry McGinnis in the animated universe’s future. Moreover, CCH Pounder’s command of the role has probably made her the definitive actress to play Waller thus far.
While Amanda Waller may not have the name recognition of other icons in the DC Universe, the sheer number of times she has been represented in multiple media proves she is an important cog in the DC machine. It’ll be interesting to see how Arrow depicts Waller in the upcoming season, but one thing is for sure. Cynthia Addai-Robinson joins some distinguished company the moment she slips into character.
8 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Amanda Waller”
Great post, Keith. One thing I wish we could talk about is DC’s (questionable) decision to take a strong and empowered woman of colour character like Amanda Waller whose complexity was part of her attraction and to turn her in recent years into a conventionally pretty woman.
Part of Waller’s appeal to me was the comics’ willingness to highlight a large, full-figured woman as intelligent and compelling. I’m not saying that her current incarnation isn’t those things, but the decision seems (to me) to be an attempt to sexify a character that doesn’t need to be sexified. As if an intelligent woman can only be interesting if she’s also conventionally pretty; as if a large woman can’t also be sexual.
Related to this point is the fact that a formerly dark-skinned Black woman is now distinctly light-skinned. Again, is this part of an effort to sexualize a character that was distinctly feminist because she was explicitly not sexualized (in a medium where most women exist to at least in part tantalize heterosexual male readers)?
That being said, thank you for this post. With amazing actors like Pam Grier, Angela Bassett and CCH Pounder having played the role, Addai-Robinson has some big shoes to fill.
Thank you for this post. I was wondering if I was the only one who noticed that, in addition to being thinner, Amanda is sporting distinctly more caucasian features as well. Talk about adding insult to injury. If this was to make her “sexier”, the implications are even worse as it’s equated with whiteness.
Question. Why is it that when they want a non sexual, multi-dimensional female character it has to be an OBESE older black woman??? Where are all the obese older white female characters in DC? Oh right. There aren’t any. This screams of racism and the the “mammy” stereotype. Which I DESPISE!!!
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