Right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, a buddy of mine in San Quentin asked me who my favorite on-screen Batman was. Michael Keaton? Ben Affleck? Christian Bale? Val Kilmer? George Clooney?
“None of those dudes can mess with Ruby Rose,” I answered without hesitation. “She kills it as Batwoman.”
That got him all riled up. “There you go with that lesbo, gender-bending, role reversal shit,” he said. “I’m talking Batman here, not no damn Batgirl.”
It’s fun to mess with these guys and their outdated institutional mindsets. But I’m totally serious in my opinion of Rose’s television portrayal.
“Get it straight. It’s Batwoman — ain’t no GIRL about it,” I told him. “And she’s exactly what the Dark Knight’s supposed to be: somber, moody, conflicted. A super badass with tons of psychological baggage.
“Not to mention, she’s sexy and cool. And, one straight guy to another, who would you rather see rolling around in bed with some hot chick? Ben Affleck? Or another hot chick?”
Forgive me for being honest, but when it comes to watching superhero protagonists engage in obligatory boudoir scenes with Gotham’s morally questionable femme fatales, I’d choose Ruby Rose any day. Lesbian or not, she’s drop-dead gorgeous.
Casting Rose to launch the CW Television Network’s Batwoman franchise is one example of the network’s longstanding commitment to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. LGBTQ characters and persons of color are integrally woven into all the network shows’ scripted storylines, in full accord with their slogan — Dare to Defy.
Another example is Nicole Maines, the trans actor who plays trans superhero Dreamer on the CW’s Supergirl. A hero in real life herself, Maines successfully led a discrimation lawsuit against her former high school for trying to force her to use the wrong bathroom.
I remember over 10 years ago when I was at Calipatria State Prison, two Black male characters in a CW show, The LA Complex, were in the middle of a heated argument and about to come to blows. But out of nowhere, they stopped, looked each other intensely in the eye — and then began passionately making out.
Watching my TV from inside a cell in a high-security level IV prison, I could hear Blacks throughout the building yell at their own screens in anger and disgust.
“Fuck the CW. I ain’t never getting caught like this again. This show was kinda cool — until all this bullshit.”
CW’s inclusive approach was tried out a few years back in Fox’s Gotham series too. They went so far as to reimagine the Riddler as an unrequited gay love interest for the Penguin, a dramatic plot point that actually worked well to lend those villains deeper shades of tortured humanity.
Little by little, as the years have gone by, LGBTQ characters have become an important element in TV storytelling, and we have come to accept it without flinching anymore.
It’s only natural. I’m sure almost everyone in prison — just like everyone outside — has an LGBTQ relative, friend or coworker somewhere. More importantly these days, most folks aren’t so scared to admit it. Those stigmas of mere association continue to erode.
Moreover, the comic book world always speaks to the misunderstood and underappreciated amongst us. It always represents the heroic within the underdog.
Ruby Rose as a lesbian crimefighter made perfect sense. Executive producer Greg Berlanti developed an intricate story around her as Bruce Wayne’s younger cousin stepping in to fill the void left by Batman’s mysterious departure. Spurned by her one true love’s refusal to be open about their queer sexuality, Rose’s character takes her angst and frustration out on the bad guys.
Gotham desperately needed Batwoman. That’s why it broke my heart to hear Rose decided to opt out of the show’s second season during its prolonged 2020 COVID-19 hiatus.
How would such a great series recover from the loss of its iconic breakout star?
Enter newcomer Javicia Leslie to don the Batsuit for season two. I can’t think of any prior television series that so artfully replaced its lead actor and switched out its title character without missing a beat.
Before the second season began, I worried that forced and clunky rewrites might inevitably relegate Batwoman into oblivion.
But to the contrary, Berlanti used this opportunity to reshape Batwoman into an even stronger symbol of social justice reform.
Leslie’s turn as a reluctant Gotham hero followed a plot twist that not only explained Rose’s character’s absence with creative aplomb and ingenuity, it afforded the show an awesome platform to confront issues of racial profiling, implicit bias, police brutality and prejudice against the formerly incarcerated — as well as LGBTQ awareness.
Leslie’s alter-ego character, Ryan Wilder, is Black, LGBTQ, orphaned and fresh out on parole. Her past is strewn with the debris of undeserved run-ins with law enforcement, a tragic grudge against super-villain Alice, and a life-altering past chance encounter with Rose’s own Batwoman.
Shakespeare couldn’t weave a more telling and complex backstory, believe me.
Good television can be a valuable commodity at the end of a long day of incarceration. For me, new episodes of Batwoman on Sunday nights are always something to look forward to and savor.
But don’t take my word for it. Do yourself a solid and binge the first season with Ruby Rose, then watch Javicia Leslie carry the baton farther and bring her own form of justice to the role.
We all need our heroes to look up to — whether they be real or fictional. The CW’s Batwoman evokes messages of empowerment, perseverance and hope. Give the show a shot. You just might get hooked.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.