Our country isn’t even ready to see a woman superhero on screen, forget a lesbian one.
Ask a 5-year-old child what is white, male and can fly? They will instantly tell you Spiderman, Batman and Superman. Tweak the question and insert female and you will see them flummox, and possibly sputter Wonderwoman as an afterthought. The lack of names is a result of our biased deification of male, white (and heterosexual) superheroes.
Which is why when Ruby Rose was confirmed to play the next Batwoman, audiences rejoiced. For the first time, an openly lesbian woman would play a lesbian character in a major superhero movie.
The LGBTQ community, still reeling from the Scarlett Johansson Rub & Tug fiasco, saw Rose as a welcome casting. And women, still reeling from Gal Gadot’s uninspiring and detached portrayal of Wonder Woman, hoped that Batwoman will be more gutsy and inspiring.
Batwoman first made her debut in July 1956. She was conceived as a romantic partner for Batman because many thought that Batman and Robin were homosexual.
She was later reintroduced as Kate Kane in 2006. But this time she wasn’t a woman who needed rescuing. Batwoman was revealed by DC Comics to be a lesbian character. She is Jewish, has multiple tattoos and a gothic dressing sense.
And Ruby Rose fit perfectly.
Rose’s casting means that the LGBTQ community will finally get to see someone outside the norms of a heterosexual and heteronormative superhero. For every queer child watching Ruby Rose on screen, it will be a powerful moment. It will tell a tale that finally connects and is relatable. Something even Rose wished she had growing up as queer.
The Bat is out of the bag and I am beyond thrilled and honored. I’m also an emotional wreck.. because this is a childhood dream. This is something I would have died to have seen on TV when I was a young member of the LGBT community who never felt represented on tv and felt alone and different. Thank you everyone. Thank you god.
Hollywood has been taking nimble footed steps towards diversifying its superheroes. So far we have got, a female Dr Who, a kiss between two male heroes in The Flash, a transgender hero in Supergirl and a harpoon-wielding woman as an army general in Black Panther.
But where does Bollywood rank in all of this?
It was only in May that reports surfaced that Padmaavat star Deepika Padukone had been roped in to play Bollywood’s first female superhero. Superhero films in our country have always been unstable gigs, with only Krrish giving results, while others like Drona, Ra.One and Bhavesh Joshi tanking. Putting a woman in a cape or mask is an even riskier step with a budget of Rs 300 crore at disposal.
Padukone’s character is said to be fashioned after Gadot but is India really ready for a female superhero who goes beyond wearing a latex suit?
As a nation, we are used to seeing our heroines as agency-less sexual beings and not as powerful leads. Women have either been the superhero’s love interests or his enemy, but always existing in correlation to him, never alone. They bring out the magnanimity of the hero. She exists to be the kinder to his power flames, never the flame.
A male superhero, on the other hand, never shows vulnerability or weakness because the creators don’t want to make us uncomfortable by upsetting the accepted gender roles. Superman’s determination and grit has to be bulletproof like his chest, his defeats can only be temporary, and his emotions suppressed but for a fleeting scene. His human side is sacrificed to make him look like a being incapable of breaking down.
A female superhero, however, holds the extraordinary power of humanising a fictional character. Our deep-seated male gaze lets us accept her vulnerability faster than Superman or Batman’s. They are acceptable even when they are not power punching and high kicking in every scene. We allow them to be nostalgic, regretful and emotive.
Our on-screen superhero portrayals not only lack women but also their humanity and relatability.
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