So, there’s been a lot of talk recently about supporting cast in superhero adaptations. In case you haven’t heard we’ve seen some major announcements about recasting, members dropping out, and new actors across mainly DC Comics adaptations, in particular The Flash, Batman v. Superman, and Gotham. On Gotham the series is dropping Victoria Cartagena, who played Renee Montoya, and Andrew Stewart-Jones, who played Crispus Allen, from their position as main character. While they’ll still be on the show they won’t appear as frequently or take up visibility in promotional material. Meanwhile Batman v. Superman has reportedly cast Scoot McNairy as Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, replacing Rebecca Buller who played the gender-swapped version of the character Jenny Olsen in Man of Steel. The rumor is that McNairy’s Jimmy Olsen will be handicapped after injuries he sustained during the battle of Metropolis in Man of Steel. Finally CW’s The Flash has cast Keiynan Lonsdale as Wally West, the Kid Flash, for their second season. The whole thing is a pretty convoluted rigmarole but it’s got me thinking about the importance of diversity and representation in supporting cast.
As far Batman v. Superman goes the casting is a strange attempt at a compromise that really doesn’t work. Rebecca Buller didn’t get the chance to do much in Man of Steel at Jenny Olsen, like most of the Daily Planet cast, but I that doesn’t mean the idea of giving Superman a platonic female friend was a bad one. What’s more I don’t think there’s anything inherently male to the stories that could be told with Jimmy Olsen’s character, there’s essentially no reason to recast this part other than to continue WB’s attempts to break ties with Man of Steel. The idea of making Olsen differently abled is an interesting attempt at a work around though it feels more than a little cynical and token. There’s a very distasteful undercurrent to the decision that smacks of “swapping one minority for another” thinking, similar to Marvel white washing the ancient one but recasting the part as a woman to try to assuage the decision. What’s even more puzzling is that there are a lot of rumors swirling that Barbara Gordon, Batgirl, is also in Batman v. Superman. I’m one of the few people who thinks Barbara Gordon is better as Oracle than Batgirl but I get why she’d be a useful addition to the film. However, it would’ve been incredibly simple to cast Jenny Olsen in the role of Oracle while Barbara Gordo gets to be on the streets as Batgirl. Instead we’re left with this curiously cynical decision that seems predicated on the fear of having more than 2 or 3 central female characters in the film.
That’s not too surprising, Dwayne McDuffie once said that if a story ever includes more than three minority characters they will instantly be accused of forcing diversity and that’s proven depressingly accurate. However, the central outlier in this group is easily CW’s The Flash. CW’s Flash is easily DC’s best live action adaptation since The Dark Knight and a big part of that is how incredibly diverse its cast of characters is and continues to be. The series never short changes any of the supporting cast, everyone is well realized and often afforded their own subplots and personalities to the point that this is less of a Flash show and more of a “Flash and Friends” series. That’s why I’m not that surprised Keiynan Lonsdale is playing Wally West, even though Wally is traditionally a white character. What’s more Flash stands as a great counterpoint to the claim of “forced diversity,” thanks to how much their characters aren’t defined by their race, gender, religion, or sexuality. I’m sure that some folks look at The Flash with a tendency to shout something about “tokenism” in their broad spectrum of representation but that’s just as much a form of representational gate keeping as claims of “forced diversity.” Even if Flash’s casting and writing is meant to present us with a diverse group of characters it’s a lot better than the alternative that Gotham and Batman v. Superman seem to be heading for.