If you're mad because "Batwoman was never black," there's something you need to know...
TV's newest incarnation of Batwoman, Ryan Wilder, is Black.
The CW's Batwoman has always had a progressive streak. In the first season, Orange Is the New Black alum Ruby Rose plays Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne's cousin who dons the Batwoman cowl to protect Gotham City. Just like every other superhero show, Kate's romantic life factors into the plot. Unlike the rest, however, Kate is an out lesbian, making her the first leading lesbian superhero in television history.
But after the first season, Ruby Rose announced that she was leaving Batwoman for unspecified reasons, allegedly related to burnout from the ridiculously long work hours required from a superhero series lead. This meant that in order for Batwoman to continue, the CW would need a new star.
Enter Javicia Leslie, former co-star of CBS comedy-drama God Unfriended Me. Prior to Leslie's casting, fans of the show wondered how Batwoman might handle the transition of actresses. Would Kate Kane just look completely different in season 2 with no canonical explanation?
Nope. As it turns out, Javicia Leslie's Batwoman will be an entirely new character: Ryan Wilder.
"I am extremely proud to be the first black actress to play the iconic role of Batwoman on television," said Leslie. "And as a bisexual woman, I am honored to join this groundbreaking show which has been such a trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community."
While plenty of fans are incredibly excited about the announcement, there's another demographic that, both unfortunately and unsurprisingly, always seems to come out of the woodwork when a Black person is cast in a major role: racists.
But even though it's easy to chalk their complaints up to unabashed racism (mainly because their complaints are so deeply racist), there's a good chance that a lot of these complainers don't actually understand how racist they are. After all, when you dig into the content of their gripes, practically everything they say is based on logical fallacies and gaps in understanding.
@warnerbrostv @CWBatwoman Batwoman was never black. If white voice actors can't play white characters, black actors… https://t.co/xQ0oIIVYdl— Ben The Human (@Ben The Human) 1594252584.0
There are two core arguments that (almost always) White Guys Angry About Black People on Their Screen like to offer:
1. The character is not Black in the source material (or as the guy in the above tweet puts it, "Batwoman was never black").
2. Why is it okay for Black people to play white characters but not for white people to play Black characters?
The answer is multifaceted, so let's start with the obvious.
Source material and their adaptations are, by design, canonically separate. The events in CW's Arrowverse, in which Batwoman takes place, hold no bearing on the events in the DC comics. In fact, the Arrowverse is only loosely based on actual events from the comics, and as such, there is no prior "canon" that the show even claims to be following.
Moreover, even in official comic series, superhero mantles are nebulous. Kate Kane is the first and best-known identity of Batwoman, but plenty of other characters have undertaken the role of Batwoman across various storylines—Brenna Wayne in Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty, Bette Kane in Titans Tomorrow, even Selina Kyle in Superman/Batman. There is no singular "Batwoman."
If you have a problem with Ryan Wilder, a brand new character, being black, but not with all the other spin-offs where Batwoman is any white woman other than Kate Kane, then congratulations: That's your racial bias on full display.
Next time one of these people posits, "Why don't they just make a new Black character instead of changing one that already exists?" you can feel free to reference Batwoman's Ryan Wilder and point out that they still whined about it.
But for the sake of argument, let's say that in the Arrowverse, they really did choose to depict Kate Kane as a Black woman instead of making the Black Batwoman an entirely new character. So what? Again, it is a loose adaptation, and even straight adaptations are allowed to take liberties. Tyrion lost his entire f*cking nose in the Game of Thrones books. The show made him significantly less hideous. Who cares? If you don't like it, become a director and make your own superhero movie.
Now onto the second part. Oftentimes, these complainers wonder why everyone else seems so fine with Black people portraying canonically white characters, but not the other way around. One of their most common examples, nowadays, is Black Panther. "Imagine if they made Black Panther a white person?" they suggest.
What they don't seem to realize is that Black Panther is literally the worst example they could use. Black Panther is a character whose entire background and history is part-and-parcel with his Black identity. He is the first superhero of African descent and the prince/king of a Sub-Saharan African country called Wakanda that is heavily based on Black African culture. Black Panther is not a character who happens to be Black. Black Panther's blackness is a significant part of his story.
The same cannot be said for the vast majority of white characters in comic books. After all, in Western countries, whiteness has historically been the default. Whereas most Black people in the West share common experiences of racism and discrimination, white people don't actually have any shared cultural experiences as a whole. There's Irish culture and Nordic culture and Russian culture (etc.), but there's no such thing as "white culture."
Thus, whiteness is not an integral part of the vast majority of white characters' actual stories. Rather, white characters' experiences tend more to reflect the default imaginary experiences of a nerdy kid in the big city, a rich crime-fighting vigilante, or a woman from an island of warrior women. Those imaginary experiences can, presumably, apply to someone of any color skin because those characters' skin color is effectively irrelevant.
Of course, if you want to write a story about a white guy who lives in the Sub-Saharan African country of Wakanda and dons the mantle of Black Panther in order to lead a group of people based on Black African culture, you're welcome to do that. That said, you'll have some very challenging story roadblocks ahead of you if you want that character to be believable, as you'll actually need to dive into his white identity in relation to the plot if you want to make the story work.
But the much broader answer to the overall question of: "Why is it okay for Black people to play white characters but not for white people to play Black characters?" is that the vast majority of big-budget movies and TV shows that get made are based on long-existing franchise properties starring default-white characters—and that leaves far fewer roles for anyone who isn't white.
That's why so many white voice actors have recently been stepping down from their non-white roles of their own volition. It's not because they're being forced. It's because they realize that they have access to a lot more roles than non-white voice actors currently do, and they want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
If we want the characters we see onscreen to be representative of the diverse groups of people who make up "American culture," that means that sometimes we'll need to give the roles of once default-white characters to actors of color instead. The reverse—casting white actors in the roles of non-white characters—only serves to further the problem of limiting roles for actors of color.
Back to Batwoman. Remember that guy who said "Batwoman was never black?" He's right. There was never a Black Batwoman before. Thankfully, now there is.