Let’s go way, way back to a time that maybe a lot of us don’t quite remember. It was a simpler time — before global pandemics, when a worldwide conflict was perhaps a bit less of a certainty — a bygone era known as “2017.”
A lot was going on in the world at the time, but for the sake of relevance and mental stability, let’s just pretend the most important thing happening was the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. No, not the four-hour two-part epic that launched on HBO Max four years later, but the theatrical cut that only clocked in at about half the runtime. That version, more chopped and screwed than a Faheem Najm song, released to critical and audience vitriol. Just, absolute cruelty. Those who had no faith in the coveted DCEU thanks to prior attempts by studio Warner Bros. joined forces with those who believed the superhero ensemble film was taking too many notes (and the bad ones too) from that other big-budget studio ensemble film that came out years prior.
Funnily enough, the director of said superhero film, Joss Whedon (aka “He Who Shall Not Be Allowed To Direct Women Ever Again Please”), took over directing duties for Snyder following an unforeseen family tragedy. Already mired in controversy, you would think that the only direction for the Batman and friends cinematic universe to go is up, but the truth is liable to digitally remove your mustache clean off.
After an abysmal run in theaters, fans demanded to see the director’s true vision for Justice League: the “Snyder Cut.” The only issue was that nobody was certain it really existed, and we wouldn’t until its official announcement three years later. On top of that, DC’s premiere super group had already been severely disbanded in the time being.
In the beginning, there was nothing. But then WB said, let there be white.
While Aquaman and Wonder Woman were coasting on “not terrible” solo ventures, pretty much everybody else was placed on the back burner. A follow up to Man of Steel was tossed into development hell for eternity, Batfleck retired, and the Flash movie was coming out…allegedly at some point in mankind’s future. The deepest wound that came from the impact of Justice League was the treatment of one Victor Stone, aka Cyborg, aka Ray Fisher. Fisher portrayed the cybernetic crime fighter in his first (and so far, only) live-action theatrical appearance. Before, the character only appeared in animated films and the criminally underrated Doom Patrol a year prior (portrayed by Joivan Wade).
In a space occupied by a white majority — inspired by another space also occupied by mainly white characters, often heralded and gate kept by a shockingly vocal white fan minority, Cyborg’s big screen debut was a big deal. Fans were excited to see the former Teen Titan, one of the earlier representations of African-American heroism, on a huge scale for the first time.
Fans were equally as livid when his screen time was severely cut, his role reduced to a mopey one-liner machine who gets only a fraction of the attention his colleagues received. Oh yeah, we didn’t forget. Fisher and Stone’s story is ever present in the minds of those who remember how dirty he was done — especially in recent times, where another shocking character cancellation has DC fans scratching their heads once more. And shocker, it has to do with a pretty diverse hero.
Okay, we’re almost caught up in the timeline here, but let’s take one more detour; to a time we all might wish we could forget. A time called “May of 2021.” A Batgirl film, thrown around across writer’s rooms like a tragic game of hot potato, has finally found its footing. Previously helmed by Joss Whedon, the world thankfully corrected itself, and he left a year later. The project the fell into the lap of Christina Hodson, shocking WB when they realized people actually love it when women get to direct stories about women!
In May of 2021, after years of silence, Batgirl was in the news cycle again with details about its directors. Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah (Ms. Marvel, Bad Boys for Life) joined the project, now set to be an HBO Max original. Not a theatrical release, but it was something. And what it was was inspiring.
Barbara Gordon is a character as important to the Batman mythos as Bruce and Dick themselves. Starting off as the daughter of Batman’s greatest ally, Jim Gordon, Barb would eventually go on to become an even bigger help to the caped crusader than her old man. She became Batgirl, a masked crime fighting persona of her very own. But don’t let the “girl” thing set off any internal prejudices, Barbara isn’t some scaled down version of Bruce. She’s quicker, more agile, and in some cases even smarter than her mentor. Batgirl isn’t the only moniker she takes on, but it’s certainly Barbara Gordon’s most infamous. Hence the movie.
The film, originally set to release sometime in late 2022, starred Leslie Grace in the titular role. Grace’s role is noteworthy, as this marks the second time that Barbara Gordon is depicted as woman of color, and the first time for live-action. Grace is Afro-Latina, born to Dominican parents, and her heritage would allegedly play a big role in Batgirl’s story.
More details would surface about the Batgirl project. Micheal Keaton’s return as Batman hinted at a multiversal influence (perhaps a connection to the upcoming Flash movie?), and the announcement of Brendan Fraser as villain Firefly caused the internet to implode with joy.
But the sun sets for us all, sooner for some than others.
The Killing (Joke) of Batgirl
Just as the public opinion surrounding DC’s shaky cinematic universe was starting to pivot, those rascally Brothers Warner decided to make some changes to their lineup. One of the most notable being the Batgirl film’s cancellation.
Before it even had a chance to get out the door, Barbara Gordon’s first live-action solo venture was completely scrapped in a move that shocked and confused Hollywood and the internet. How did a film that was 90% complete and headed into post-production unceremoniously killed with seemingly no hesitation? According to WB Discovery CEO David Zaslav, it all boils down to a lack of belief from the company.
Zaslav notes a push for “blockbuster scale” films and a focus on quality as reasons for Batgirl’s axing, with WBD and DC allegedly taking a page from Kevin Feige’s MCU playbook.
It’s hard to say what audiences would have thought of Batgirl, but reportedly test screenings didn’t go well. Regardless, it seems a bizarre move for the film to be canned so suddenly — not even the film’s cast and crew knew — rather than the studio attempting to make back the $90 million it had put towards it.
The killing of Batgirl has raised more questions than answers, with several (you’re truly included) a bit unsatisfied with the reasoning behind it. It contributes to a larger conversation regarding DC’s cinematic relationship with diversity.
DC’s Dance With Diversity
Ray Fisher deserved better, let’s be honest. The actor, despite being attached to a lackluster project, never gave up hope that one day, the world would see his full performance. The version he worked on with Zack Snyder, before the cuts, edits and major studio interference. His dreams would come true in March of 2021, when Zack Snyder’s Justice League was released on HBO Max. A move that was godsend considering it’s runtime is the length of two football fields.
It wasn’t an easy journey getting Ray Fisher justice, and truthfully it’s a journey that hasn’t yet ended. While the actor was successful in seeing his role as Cyborg reinvigorated and completed, he had a larger battle on the horizon.
Since his time working with Joss Whedon on Justice League, after Snyder’s departure, Fisher was the subject of many accounts of workplace abuse. Discriminatory and vile remarks from Whedon, and an unfavorable response from studio higher-ups left Fisher fighting this battle mostly on his own. Though the “Snyder Cut” was out, Fisher had been ostracized from the DCEU, his solo film canned and ha involvement in future projects written out. But he didn’t care, because the truth had come out, a hole in the armor revealed.
As news of the Batgirl cancellation spreads, echoes of Fisher’s treatment and removal can’t help but be heard across the multiverse. A tragic stifling of another chance at representation masked as a business move.
DC isn’t necessarily awful with diversity. They’re about as good at showcasing their diverse gallery of heroes and villains as Marvel is. Which is to say, they’re getting better, but still have a long way to go. However, that really only describes the comics. On the film front, they’re even further behind their longtime frienemy.
Of the DCEU films, both past and future, the only ones to star non-white actors are Aquaman, Wonder Woman and its sequel WW1984. Soon, we’ll have Black Adam, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and Blue Beetle to add to the list.
Those films show at least a growing interest in adding diverse characters to DC’s cinematic blueprint, but just barely. Black Adam is heralded by Dwayne Johnson, an A-list actor who pushed for this role to come to fruition. Whilst Lost Kingdom has the advantage of being an anticipated sequel, one also heralded by a prolific actor. That leaves Blue Beetle, which despite a move from streaming to a theatrical release, still may have reason to worry — if Zaslav’s Batgirl comments are anything to go by.
If the studio couldn’t have even a little faith that a film about one of comic’s most inspirational female figures, starring a breakout star (Leslie Grace had previously starred in In The Heights to critical acclaim), what could they believe in? Was it doubt in the film’s abilities to draw in an Afro-Latina crowd, or did a lack of care for the prospect of a POC Batgirl within the walls of WBD lead to the killing of the project?
It’s unclear, but it seems like every time the DCEU gets close to featuring some real representation, it bites its own tail. Be it Ray Fisher’s complete expulsion or Batgirl’s unfortunate cancellation, DC continues to treat diverse projects, and actors, as expendable. Meanwhile, a movie like The Flash — so soaked in controversy thanks to star Ezra Miller’s recent GTA LARPing in Hawaii — is still set for a June 23, 2023 release date. One can only wonder white.