It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a show that totally squandered its potential to be memorable and innovative by relying on white feminism and lazy cliches.
That’s right, it’s Supergirl!
Because I never learned to enjoy the taste of alcohol, I tend to seek solace in imaginary worlds. In a time when it seems consequences for one’s actions are a thing of the past, there’s something…comforting about knowing the heroes will triumph over evil, even if they have to get knocked around a bit first. Which is why despite the fact that in 2015 every fanboy I knew was hating on the Supergirl teaser trailer before its premiere on CBS, I was thrilled.
I’ve always loved superheroes, and the often dysfunctional House of El in its many incarnations holds a special place in my heart, so I was excited about the prospect of a show where Kara Zor-El wouldn’t be just a footnote in Superman’s story.
I tuned in the first season, and despite John and James being the only POC in Star City—apparently—there was so much potential. I loved Kara. I loved her compassion, I loved her warmth, I loved her tragically relatable social awkwardness.
Her interactions with the women around her and her memories of Krypton were heartbreaking and fascinating. I even loved seeing her choose my career. Watching her fly took me back to the time in my life where I rushed to finish my homework I could watch Superman the Animated series on Cartoon Network. And then season two happened. Enter the CW and say goodbye to sensible plots and character development.
I feel compelled to say there were good moments. Alex came out, there was Superman, we met Lena Luther and Kara became a reporter. It was a recipe for a compelling season of storytelling. But much like Kara the show had its own kryptonite: white feminism. As season two and three raged on it became tragically clear this show’s writers, like a lot of shows in the Arrowverse, wouldn’t know what intersectional meant if it walked up to them and said bell hooks.
There were glimpses of willingness to address real-world inequality with characters like James Olsen and J’ohn J’onz relaying their experiences as black men, Maggie Sawyer (not that her character’s without its criticism), and having Kara examine her own internal prejudices. Sadly, despite the fact that it markets itself as a feminist show, again and again, it fails characters of color and relies upon and reinforces systemic inequality.
It’s a sad but hard to miss truth that the few women of color that exist in this series get short changed. They’re often villains, or easily forgotten. The height of this trend can be seen when last season there was a thoroughly disturbing scene where the DEO charges into a black woman’s home and proceed to aggressively interrogate her. It turns out even though she doesn’t know it, she’s an antagonist, but still, It was an extremely tone-deaf writing choice. Black people have died in their own homes during swatting encounters, someone in that writer’s room should have thought twice about the implications of a scene like that.
And then there’s Mon-El of it all. Where to begin?
For the record, I grew up watching soap operas, I can see a ship I was rooting for go down in flames and still enjoy the ride. But, let’s be clear, it would have been fine for Kara and Jimmy’s relationship to run its course and not be endgame, but it was a slap in the face to sideline a fixture in the DC universe for an entitled, slave-owning, dudebro.
Of course, Kara’s not less of a hero for wanting love—but this was supposed to be her story, not yet another tired narrative about a woman trying to reform a poorly raised man. It was also a missed opportunity. Kara was a beloved only child and then a little sister to Alex and cousin to Clark. It would’ve been interesting to see Kara slip into their shoes and have to be the grown-up. Relate to Alex in a different way by being an older sister of sorts to someone younger and more vulnerable placed on a new planet with powers they didn’t fully understand. But, since the powers that be thought it’d be more fun to watch the girl of steel explain basic decency to a grown man, that story will only exist in fan-fiction.
What Mon-El and the writer’s room’s inability to quit him for me represents one of society’s biggest problems: an enduring willingness to give straight white men a pass for bad behavior. Because benefiting from the pain and suffering of others as the prince of a monarchy that used slaves and thrived on the pain and suffering of others is something that can be resolved in one episode, apparently.
It was grating at best and infuriating at worst to see supporting characters bend over backward using what little screen time they had to tell the audience and Kara what a “great guy” Mon-El was when his own behavior said otherwise.
To be a hero or heroine means that you set the standard for values in your community. The general idea way back when, was for characters like Supergirl to give people hope. Show the vulnerable and powerless that there were people who would do the right thing. People who’d use their abilities to fight for the helpless. Unfortunately, intentionally or not in playing into so many harmful cliches the show seems to have forgotten that.
Months ago it was announced that Supergirl will welcome a Transgender superhero into the fold. I hope this character is done justice and can be a source of representation for a community that deserves it. But for me, well, this show has shown time too many times that when given the opportunity to be brave it will rely upon every lazy, problematic trend every other show does.