FEMINIST CONVERSATIONS: The ‘Supergirl’ TV Series Cast & Crew Edition

Supergirl

C’mon, you knew it was only a matter of time before this feminist conversation happened! CBS’ new superhero series ‘Supergirl’ has finally made its way onto TV screen across the US amidst a growing group of superhero-themes shows such as ‘Arrow’, ‘The Flash’, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’ and the forthcoming Jessica Jones Netflix series.

As with any female-driven topic in a normally male-dominated arena, there are always trepidations and expectations on what women can bring to the table, especially when it comes to the world of superheroes. We are still waiting for an entirely female-lead superhero feature to hit the big screen, but in the meantime TV has become a more inclusive and welcoming place for the female narrative in the superhero genre. Side note: it has been 40 years since an American TV series featured a lead female super heroine (the last was ABC’s ‘Wonder Woman’ from 1975–1979), so needless to say this show is well overdue!

After watching the first episode of ‘Supergirl’, we can firmly say we are excited to see what is to come of the series. Melissa Benoist plays the title character of Kara Zor-El, who is Superman’s cousin sent to earth to look after him (she was a teen girl, he was a baby) when her home planet Krypton was in trouble. But Superman ended up landing on earth years before she did and by the time she arrived, Clark Kent had already made his mark on the work.

Kara grows up and starts working at a major media corporation, similar to Clark working at the Daily Planet. Only this time, the big boss is a woman, played by Calista Flockhart. So already we are seeing some major gender flips in the script. The diversity doesn’t stop there as Kara’s love interest is photographer James Olsen, played by Mehcad Brooks.

calista-flockhart

The decision to have a man of color play her love interest is another step in a progressive and inclusive direction. There are many things we love about this show which we will get to in a minute, but first we want to share some quotes from various cast and crew members on the notion of whether this show is a feminist win.

Show creator Greg Berlanti, in an interview with Vulture, says they absolutely did include feminism in the show, but in their particular way.

“It’s part of who she would be as a character. Kara’s life experience is going to be different because she is a woman, and that’s part of the story. She’s out in the world working, and we want to get at things like that, but in our way. Not in a preachy way,” he said.

He also alludes to the fact that there may be story lines in the future that deal with themes such as equal pay, and we can’t wait to see how that plays out in a superhero context, but there are plenty of other issues they will be tackling in the meantime.

“There’s an episode early on where we deal with Kara’s rage and anger and why is it okay for a man to yell and scream in a workplace, but if a woman does it, she’s called nuts. Kara lives in the world we live in,” he said.

In a recent Democratic Nation Committee Women’s Leadership Forum, 2016 Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton shared a statement that spoke to this exact issue, sharing a response to a comment Bernie Sanders made at the first Democratic debate where he said “all the shouting the world” will not help pass effective gun legislation.

Hillary responded by saying “I’ve been told to stop shouting about gun violence. Well I’m not shouting. It’s just when women talk, people think we’re shouting.”

We love that the show will be including topics like this and bring them to the forefront in a different vehicle than, say, a political forum.

Emma Gray, executive women’s editor at The Huffington Post calls ‘Supergirl’ the “feminist superhero we’ve been waiting for”.

“It happens to have a distinctly feminist bent… I was excited to see what ‘Supergirl’ might bring to the dude-dominated superhero landscape. Of course, being on CBS and aiming to appeal to a wide audience, ‘Supergirl’ isn’t some radical feminist piece of art. But it is entertaining, empowering and totally unapologetic about its protagonist Kara Zor-El’s gender,” she wrote.

She reiterates what Greg Berlanti said about she show exhibiting female empowerment in a non-preachy way. In the first episode, after the female superhero is discovered by the media, Kara’s boss Cat dubs her as the “supergirl” and Kara takes offense to this without trying to give away her secret identity, by insisting she should be called a “woman” instead. But Cat takes offense to her complaining and it is a brilliant feminist moment.

Supergirl

“What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’? I’m a girl and your boss and powerful and rich and hot and smart. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?” she says, as if speaking directly to the female empowerment movement we are seeing in mainstream media today challenging the stereotype that doing anything “like a girl” should be perceived as weak or less than what a guy can do.

But wait, there’s more!

Actress Laura Benanti who plays Kara’s birth mother told Huffpost that there is another very specific way that the young superhero’s journey reflects the way women are often perceived in society or in the workplace.

“I could be completely off the mark here, but for me, Kara’s stifling her superpowers provides a metaphor for what so many women do; hide their light and strength in order to seem ‘nicer’ or ‘less threatening.’ The unbridled joy on her face when she steps into her own power is a thing of beauty, and I hope it inspires many girls and women to step into theirs,” she said.

It’s almost as if once Kara learns to “lean in”, she finally finds her footing.

And what about the show’s star herself? Where does she lean on the feminist meter when it comes to her portrayal of Supergirl? Melissa is firmly of the belief that it is a feminist series that is not isolating by any means.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, she says it is a show for everyone, because finally we get to see a female version of what Superman can do.

Supergirl

“What’s feminist about it is that it’s for everyone. She has all the same powers he does,” she said to much applause, as you can see in the video below. Stephen claims he got goosebumbs when watching the show and says that she will be a role model to many young girls.

We hope she will be that and so much more. That this show will be used as a powerful vehicle to challenge existing societal stereotypes that surround women and girls even today. We love that they cast a girl-next-door type who wasn’t excessively muscly or didn’t need to fit some pre-existing mold in order to seem “super human” in any way. We see many scenes where Kara is fighting the bad guys, who are much bigger and who seem as if they are physically or mentally stronger than her, but the way we see her succeed is not just winning physical battles, but also battles of perception.

For us, we think it is important that young girls, and boys, get to to see a female superhero character who is just as flawed, normal and complex as any male, but who can hold her own against the powers she is tasked with taking down. It sends a message that any one can be super human, and any one can defy the odds if they truly want.

Here’s to a long-running ‘Supergirl’ series that will not only bring in the ratings, but fight against the pervasive and damaging messages about girls and women in the world that still exist.

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  1. Pingback: Toy Brand Goldieblox Asks "What If All The World's Famous Action Heroes Were Girls?" - GirlTalkHQ

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