Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a very long title for a movie that, for many viewers, is simply a Harley Quinn spinoff. But the Birds of Prey part is pretty key — you just might not know it if you're not a comic book fan. DC comics readers will already know the female vigilante group, and one of the film's central figures: Birds of Prey member Black Canary. Like Harley Quinn, this hero has a colorful comic book history, too.
Who Is Black Canary From Birds of Prey?
As is the case with many comic book heroes and villains, Black Canary has been the identity of more than one person. The original Black Canary, Dinah Drake (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell in the film), was introduced in Flash Comics in 1947. This Black Canary was married to a police officer named Larry Lance, and together they had a daughter named Dinah Laurel Lance. Dinah Drake was a member of the Justice Society of America (a similar idea to the Justice League). Outside of her vigilante fighting, Dinah has been depicted as a singer, an aspect that is part of the Birds of Prey movie.
This seems to the be version of the story we see in Birds of Prey, as Detective Rosie Perez's Renee Montoya references knowing the original Black Canary, Dinah's mother, and her power in her first on-screen meeting with Dinah. In Dinah's first scene in the film, she shatters a glass while singing at Roman Sionis' (Ewan McGregor) club.
In an interview with Refinery29, Smollett-Bell explained this new big screen version of the long-running DC character: She's someone trapped in a bad situation. "She finds herself working for Roman Sionis, who is one of the most corrupt men in Gotham. The reason she's working for him is he was the only person that helped her after her mother passed, so she finds herself being loyal to him for that and he just kind of brings her in more and more into his inner circle and she's struggling to not get caught up too much and have blinders on to the corruption that he's a part of," says the actress.
In the comics, Canary often has a romantic relationship with Green Arrow and is best friends with Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle. Barbara was previously Batgirl, but after becoming Oracle, she and Dinah Lance founded the Birds of Prey. The first Birds of Prey comic was released in 1996. Fans who've seen the film know this bit gets a slight rewrite in the 2020 screen version.
What Is Black Canary's Power?
While she didn't start out with it, Dinah eventually gained her "Canary Cry" power — basically, a very loud scream that can kill people and destroy objects.
As for Dinah Drake's daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, she has been Black Canary in many different comic iterations since the late '80s, as explained by SyFy. Black Canary is a "metahuman" in some versions of her story, which accounts for her own Canary Cry. In another version, she receives the power as a result of military experimentation. She's also, according to DC Comics, "a highly-trained martial artist and master of disguise."
In Birds of Prey, she's actually suppressing this power, which she inherits from her mother because that power is the thing, at least in Dinah's recollection, that got her mother killed.
"It was important to hone in on an origin story and the one that we really connected to was this idea of this young woman who has an inner struggle with the legacy she's inherited from her mother, who was a crime fighter," says Smollett-Bell. "She has really rejected that work because her heart was broken when she lost her mother."
It's a tale as old as time in comic book lore — but not one that Black Canary will stay victim to for long, per Smollett-Bell: "She needs to be emancipated from this state of mind in which she's holding herself back from that power."
And if you've seen the movie, you know how that turns out.