Javicia Leslie as The First Black Batman – NBC10 Philadelphia

Javicia Leslie told herself in middle school, she’s going to make history one day. At the time, she didn’t know exactly how, but she knew she was destined to do something great.

That dream came true in 2020 when she landed the lead role on the CW series “Batwoman,” making her the first Black person to ever play the character in the DC Universe.

To celebrate black history, TODAY had the opportunity to sit down with the 34-year-old actor to discuss her ascent into the role and what her real, authentic integration looks like.

In person as Batwoman

“Batwoman” recently resumed its third season, but this is only Leslie’s second turn in a caped crusader suit. The series first debuted in 2019 with actor Ruby Rose – who is white – in the lead role, but she left after one season.

“I was the first Black Batwoman after having an actress play Batwoman,” said Leslie in a Zoom interview with TODAY. “So this kind of beautiful blessing came from the need for a new actress to play the character.”

“Before I was offered the role, when I first auditioned, I said, ‘This is great, but maybe it’s a waste of my time because I don’t see them casting a Black woman as Batwoman. she explained. “That just doesn’t make any sense.”

Leslie still went to a top audition and later learned that she had gotten the role. Once found out, she was delighted for herself, unaware of the indelible impact of her casting. But that personal joy quickly turned around when she first began to see her casting covered in the media, beginning to understand she represented a larger community.

She explained, “Once the deals went down and they named it ‘First Black Woman,’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is bigger than I’m excited. become a superhero, or I’m excited to even have a role.”

Playing Batwoman has layers and a punch-less third as it continues into January 2022. The character’s true identity is Ryan Wilder: a young, gay black woman raised in foster care. , who recently became CEO of Bruce Wayne’s multi-million dollar conglomerate The Company. This part sees her tracking down the villainous weapons Batman previously collected that ordinary Gotham citizens are now using to become supervillains. In addition, she is also busy dealing with personal issues such as her brother becoming “her own personal Joker” and connecting with her biological mother for the first time since she was born. She entered the foster care system.

“It’s got a lot of different layers and it definitely has a huge climax at the end that really takes aim at everything that’s happened this season,” Leslie said.

Leslie loves her character not only for her visibility to Black people in the superhero world, but also for all the other groups her character represents.

“The great part about Ryan, there are so many different communities that she represents her existence,” said Leslie, who self-identifies as bisexual. “She’s gay. Yes, she’s black. She’s a woman. She’s also adopted. I’ve met a lot of people who would come up to me and say, ‘This part of Ryan is the same. like me and my life’, and said to me, it’s just an honor and it makes everything that seems difficult or challenging, worthwhile.”


Leon Bennett / WireImage

Javicia Leslie attends the Black American Film Festival Honor Awards Ceremony on February 23, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.

Representation and diversity don’t just happen in front of the camera. Behind the scenes, Leslie said the team works to make sure everyone is included and seen. She says that one key way she feels supported on set is when her wardrobe is adjusted to body changes.

“I went back to season two, I was talking to the wardrobe stylist and I said to her, ‘Girl, I’ve grown a little bit thick. I don’t know what we have to do to make sure. told me to fit the suit… She said, ‘You stay the way you are and no matter what, I’ll make the suit fit. friend,“Leslie explained.

This moment of personal integration shows her the difference she is making in confirming to others that real representation is possible. Exact representation of who she is is possible without being forced to change and this can even be rewarding.

“It’s an honor,” she said. “One: That’s the best part about working with women. Two: It’s fascinating because then I can say well, you know? You’re right. Batwoman has thighs, Batwoman has a butt and it’s okay. .”

Why Leslie cares about representation and activism

Playing the role of Batwoman was a milestone in Leslie’s career. Growing up with a strong bond with her racial identity laid the groundwork for her and helped her bring this character to life.

Leslie graduated from Hampton University, a historic black college in Virginia, and said her experience there confirmed and reinforced what she already knew: community success does not exist. separate trauma. Growing up in Prince George County in Maryland – a predominantly Black area – her teachers, government leaders, and classmates were often Black, so attending HBCU was just a continuation of her exposure to what is possible for her.

“The whole point of going to HBCU for so many people in the US is so that kids who may not have access to, or may not see such success in their community, go to a place. where (usually) what they can have and what they can do,” she said. I have seen that. So getting there, it’s like a benchmark for me. It makes sense to me. ”

Leslie is one of a number of Black actors currently playing comic book heroes or historical white superheroes. Other cast members include Camrus Johnson (Batwing), Cress Williams (Black Lightning) and Kaci Walfall (Powerhouse). Then there is a host of Marvel superheroes finally get their moment, especially after the success of “Black Panther” in 2018. A sequel to “Black Panther” is also slated to come out later this year, with Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira and Lupito Nyong’o will both star.

Leslie said it was an honor to be a part of this trend, and she hopes it lasts, for the benefit of the agent.

“It’s amazing because I know those kids still can’t explain what this means for them,” she said. “They’re just living and they just see it and they think it’s normal. I like it that they think It’s normal to see black superheroes, because it’s not for me. … And what I hope is that it’s not just one Black superhero show in existence at the same time. We can have several Black superhero shows just like we have several other superhero shows that exist at the same time. There’s more room for more than just one of us. “

This requires positivity and outreach while forging ahead in her career to unlock and keep the door wide open for her colleagues and others who come after her. In doing that, Leslie said, among other things, the history of Black People lives on every day for anyone who commits the same act.

“My black history is about paying tribute to the people who truly made my way here and seek to honor them every day,” she said, adding that she intentionally credits the black people because their work has not been recognized and works towards greater expression not only in front of the camera but also behind the camera.

But above all, for her, playing Batwoman shows how acting is a form hers active activity.

“Everybody has their version of how they want to fight well. Obviously, acting isn’t the only place where I want to fight and be able to stand up for what I believe in, but it’s one of those places,” she said.

“It started with just existing as a Black woman. When you were chosen, it was your act because you are now telling the story of our people. And hopefully, you can tell a story we won.”

This story first appeared on More from TODAY: Javicia Leslie as The First Black Batman – NBC10 Philadelphia


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