Diversity Aboveground: Does Supergirl Soar or Suck?

Jul 19, 2015

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Supergirl

Earlier this year, the first preview for the new Supergirl television series was released. The concept of CBS airing a DC television series on Monday nights at 8 PM was mind-boggling alone. The preview itself was divisive. In one corner were fans and viewers who were excited about the first show headlined by a DC female superhero since the WB canceled Birds of Prey. In the other corner were those who found the preview deeply troubling with its stereotypical female roles and a scene that seemed homophobic. Which group was more blind about what they were really seeing from a short six minute preview?

Technically, the pilot of Supergirl won’t be aired until October 26, 2015 but unofficially, the pilot can be found in less than ten minutes online. If you want to remain surprised, you might want to skip to the end.

At first glance, Supergirl looks every bit as bad as the original preview made it out to be.

Even Krypton is less than enlightened towards gender roles. A male from her home planet tells Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl that “on my planet, females bow before males.” The whole purpose of sending Kara to Earth is that she can protect her cousin, Kal-El, because he’s the only one that really matters, right? It’s not like it would be nice to send her away so she doesn’t die like everyone else?

Kara's parents on Earth.

Gee, that scientist couple looks familiar…

After being stuck in space for twelve years, the thirteen year old crashed on Earth, was rescued by her cousin and adopted by a scientist couple. Since Superman is perfectly fine without her, she decides that he doesn’t need someone to watch over him and Earth doesn’t need a second hero. Almost half the episode makes it sound like she had been told her life needed to revolve around a man and when he didn’t need her, she had no other purpose. Instead, she uses her extraordinary abilities to hear her boss coming or know who’s at her door without getting up from the couch.

Like Jurassic World, Supergirl continues the idea that the only way men’s romantic advances can be thwarted is by being attached to another man. Kara is saved more than once by a man coming to her rescue.

Supergirl also has the two closest women in Kara’s life be the stereotypical bitch. In order to be successful, females must be cold and cruel, right? The worst offender is Cat Grant; a rich businesswoman who’s head of her own publishing empire, CatCo which should not be confused with the actual CatCo company that makes catalytic converters. Grant has been upgraded from the comics where she was queen of gossip for The Daily Planet. Kara describes her job as, “I went to work for Cat Grant because I thought working in a media company run by a powerful woman who actually shapes the way people think would be the way that I could make a difference, but… instead I just fetch layouts and coffee.” Grant never gives Kara more to do than that and almost fires her when she objects to the new hero being called Supergirl. This scene was one of the most offensive in the six minute preview. When seen in context, it’s clear that Grant is incredibly scared by this new threat to her superiority. As Kara attests, Grant is “the most powerful woman in National City. At least… for the next few days.” and Grant herself complains, “I¬†know many of you… are used to being second best but it’s new to me.” Grant makes that speech about how wonderful being a girl is as a way of belittling Kara and even says right before that, “Didn’t you say she was a hero? I’m the hero. I stuck a label on the side of this girl, I branded her. She will forever be linked to CatCo, to the Tribune… to me.” Grant is nothing more than yet another strong female on television who gets special joy from tearing down other females.

Kara and Alex Danvers

Then, there’s Alex Danvers. Danvers is Kara’s adoptive sister and is a brilliant scientist in bioengineering with a specialty in alien physiology. She seems to be supportive until Kara starts being Supergirl. However, unlike Grant, Danvers comes to a realization and admits to Kara that, “Before you came to live with us… I was the star. And then, I mean… How could I compete with you? With someone who could touch the stars? And I was happy when you decided not to use your powers. You know, you… feeling like less somehow… made me feel like more.” From that moment on, she becomes Kara’s number one fan and tells the government agency she works for, “And if you want anymore of my help, we’re gonna let her.” The first part is sweet but the “let” is still cringe-worthy. Can’t a woman be allowed control of her own body and what she does with it?

 

With the contrast of Cat Grant versus Alex Danvers in mind, it appears that the show is deliberately overdoing the sexism as evidenced by the final battle of the first show. Danvers explains to her boss’ doubts about whether Kara can win, “Why? Because she’s just a girl? It’s exactly what we were counting on.” Oh yes, it’s like the Black Widow fake-out in the first Avengers film except with an added twist. It appears that as the show progresses, Kara is going to use all those sexist thoughts against them, taking those negative ideas and turning them into empowerment that she’s better than them.

In a similar way, surely Kara will also show that a female doesn’t have to be the stereotypical cold-hearted bitch to be successful. She doesn’t tear others down who don’t deserve it.

One can’t help comparing Supergirl with Agent Carter especially when both battle the forces of misogynist pigs. Since Agent Carter happens just after World War II, it’s a little more understandable that she would have to put up with food errands, being underestimated and having others take credit for her work. The fact that Supergirl, taking place in 2015, is about a woman picking up food for her boss, being belittled and unappreciated and having others take credit for her work borders on a sad and pathetic commentary on our current culture. In the season finale of Agent Carter, Peggy Carter decides “I know my value, anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” Kara should show more care about what others think of her, not in terms of letting the sexism win but that she can be more than just an assistant. Agent Carter goes on to be a Director of SHIELD. While it’s great to be Supergirl, Kara also needs to be recognized on her own merits. What does she really excel at? What is she really smart at? Or does she not really know so the audience can discover it with her?

Jimmy Olsen

Making James Olsen into an African-American is great and Danvers’ boss at the super top secret alien agency is also African-American. However…that’s basically the extent of using people of color except the Asians who portray escaped convicts from Krypton…

It was recently announced that Supergirl would be adding Lucy Lane to the series. In the comics, Lane dated Olsen before marrying Ron Troupe, an African-American. For the series, she’s described as an ex-girlfriend of Olsen and it seems very likely that they have combined Olsen’s character with Troupe’s character, eliminating Troupe altogether.

The second most cringe-worthy moment in the original preview was Kara telling her coworker the exciting news but before she can actually admit to being Supergirl, he guesses, “Oh, my God, you’re a lesbian. Oh, Kara, that is why you’re not into me. This is… this is great news!”

Yep, it’s not great news that Kara would be able to reveal such an important part of herself or be comfortable about her sexuality. It’s great news because why else wouldn’t Kara want to date her coworker? Women should be expected to date any eligible man in sight, right?

She's not gay.

Kara corrects him by saying, “No. I’m not gay! I am… I’m her! The woman who saved the plane!” Wow, that’s a pretty enthusiastic negative. It’s a very stressful situation for her since she never seemed to learn communication skills but it can still be misconstrued as being homophobic. Even in the series Seinfeld, they were quick to add. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” when denying being homosexual. Besides, what would be so wrong with having a lesbian Supergirl?

Supergirl’s executive producer is Greg Berlanti who has also been an important force behind Arrow and The Flash. Both series have included people of all races and sexualities. CBS has done the same on previous series like How I Met Your Mother. If Supergirl doesn’t improve on including more people of color and characters of various sexual orientations, then answers should be demanded. Otherwise, Supergirl holds a lot of promise and should improve as the season goes on.

Berlanti should hold some importance for Marvel fans because his show Everwood had the first hit roles for Chris Pratt and Emily VanCamp. They played siblings.

Chris Pratt and Emily VanCamp

Way back in 2002…

*******************************************************

Remember how with her parents, Hope van Dyne should be an awesome scientist?

Yeah, she was basically the villains’ assistant in Ant-Man. While it was crucial to foiling his plot, it’s still disappointing and hopefully, future appearances will make her science skills more noticeable.

Next week…would Juliet Capulet be considered a feminist by modern standards?

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