The CW, I believe, is a network that tried really hard to get things right. Their show across the board—especially genre shows like sci-fi and superhero shows—have diverse casts and they tackle a lot of social issues. However, when they don’t try hard, they really mess it up. Their pattern of five steps forward, three steps back needs to stop.
I preface the rest of this article by saying that I genuinely enjoyed a lot of these shows when they first started. I just believe that we need both sustained and consistent positive LGBT+ representation.
Spoilers for Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, The 100, and Jane the Virgin
DCTV (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow)
The Arrowverse is simultaneously one of the more progressive television universes (they really try!) and also a hot mess. Greg Berlanti, the mind behind all of these shows is a gay man. He’s mentioned his need and desire to make his shows diverse, and it shows.
I mean, Sara, a bisexual woman, is revived and leads her own team in Legends of Tomorrow. Pretty incredible considering the consistent usage of the Bury Your Gays (BYG) trope, especially after the Spring Slaughter of queer female characters in 2015-16. At the same time, White Canary in the comics is Asian. Given Hollywood’s broader issues with whitewashing, this doesn’t look great. Then again on the positive side, Sara gets to be wholeheartedly bisexual on the show and has multiple love interests.
Yet on Arrow a lesbian of color, Nyssa, is forced by her father to marry Oliver. And not as a commentary on something that actually still happens, but rather just to further a ridiculous plot. (The entire League of Assassins deserved better, truly.) I hope she’s still alive and gets to take over the League.
Then there’s Supergirl. It was criticized in S1 for heralding itself as feminist but lacking female characters of color as well as for utilizing the coming out narrative—Kara figuring out her role as Supergirl—without any specifically LGBT characters (yet). S2 seemed primed to make up for some of those shortcomings with the addition of LGBT+ characters and a woman of color in a recurring role. Then the debacle surrounding Floriana Lima’s casting happened, and that complicated matters. So did the entry of Sharon Neal as Miss Martian. While a step forward in that she’s a woman of color on the show, she was also yet another black woman painted as an alien.
As for the actual #Sanvers relationship, it is too soon to tell what will happen in the upcoming season. While there are rumors, I can’t speak to anything until its confirmed by the show. However, if the relationship ends poorly after all of the positive news around it, (so many fans have fallen in love with Sanvers) it’ll just follow the pattern of another CW show, the 100.
I do have to say that Russell Tovey, who is gay, has been cast as gay superhero The Ray for this year’s crossover. Once again, a step forward. Yet, the premise of the crossover is that Earth X villains crash the Westallen wedding. Oh and those villains are actually Nazis in a world where they won WWII. Meaning the Holocaust continued and Barry, Oliver, and Kara among others are Nazis. Sigh.
Steps forward, steps back.
I’m not going to speak too much in detail about Lexa’s death in this article particularly because so many have already done so. Autostraddle created an entirely depressing infographic about the sheer number of dead lesbian and bisexual women. They also published a list (still growing) of 188 lesbian and bisexual women who died on TV shows. This list doesn’t even include those killed in the line of duty by being a character on a crime show.
When Lexa was shot by a stray bullet right after having a tender, loving moment with Clarke, a bullet actually meant for Clarke, many of us were straight (heh) fed up! The BYG trope has existed for ages and it seems like we still can’t escape it. Of course anyone could have died! It is a post-apocalyptic genre show after all. But! Like Kylie said, “Lexa was hit by a Stray Bullet of Plot Convenience.” Her criteria in that article for what makes a death realistic and further the plot in a successful manner honestly should be given to writers for every show.
Not everyone needs to stay alive, and we don’t need to have a resurgence of Gays are Special. Yet, there’s also something to be said for both the respectful treatment of gay characters by not killing us off for plot convenience and straight-up thumbing your nose at BYG, as showrunner of Wynonna Earp Emily Andras has done with her unkillable LGBT characters this past season.
Jane the Virgin
Finally, there’s Jane the Virgin. I enjoy Jane for the most part. Their commentary on undocumented immigration is incredible and important. However, Puerto Ricans portray a Venezuelan family. Why not just cast and then adjust the family (Puerto Ricans aren’t necessarily immigrants, so that’s another issue here).
I do have trouble with the one gay relationship between Rose (a drug lord) and Luisa, which is given prominence in the show near the beginning. Fearing a lawsuit after inseminating Jane instead of Petra, Luisa calls in her ex-flame and step-mom Rose. They have an affair. Luisa, a recovering alcoholic leaves, then returns to confront Rose, who to avoid telling the truth commits Luisa to an institution!! A bunch of stuff happens, a time jump occurs, and Luisa almost gives up the locations of Rose’s victims to the police. (This is after more back and forth between the two.) That is until she finds out Rafael lied to her about his cancer and takes over the hotel…
People aren’t perfect, and bad guys are bad for a reason. But the only not straight relationship on Jane is between a murderess and a woman who clearly needs professional help. Luisa’s entire arc also highlights the ableism in Jane, as both Rose and Rafael call her crazy. One of the first villains pretends to need a wheelchair, and after Michael’s shooting, the tone shifts because the fear he’s paralyzed.
Again, I don’t think that by itself the relationship is a bad thing. There are plenty of unhealthy relationships and portraying them is important. That is, if the show would condemn the relationship. Sure characters don’t like Rose, (she’s a serial killer!) Even Luisa is shown to at times grapple with that fact, but their romance is still couched in terms of true love and fireworks.
I really hope that after the hotel issue is worked out, Luisa gets to date someone incredibly down to earth, and not a serial killer. She deserves that.
Look, I assume if you’re reading this article then you’re like me. I love television and what media can do for young kids who don’t live around people who look or act like them.
We know from research that seeing yourself in media is really important for positive self-image development. We also know that media frequently depicts everyone who is not a Straight White Guy in harmful ways. Muslim terrorists, black gangsters, nonsexual model minority Asians, hypersexual Latina women—the list goes on.
The CW is actually the network that made me realize I am bisexual. Legend of the Seeker was another genre show with many bisexual and lesbian women. (Though the premise involved surviving torture as young girls before they train to protect the evil king…) And I think many of the producers and network brass, do want to have positive representation even if only for capitalist reasons. But, their execution needs a lot of help.
Ultimately, what we need is to have consistently plotted and sustained representation of all types of people. Not as tokens, and not as a way to get people to talk about the show. (I’m looking at you, Riverdale with your discourse baiting.)
Hopefully, as a new season of shows begins, their new shows succeed and treat their LGBT characters well without three steps back. Anissa on Black Lightning deserves the best!