Birds Of Prey Star Jurnee Smollett-Bell Is Getting A Very Questionable Tattoo — In The Name Of Sisterhood
You don't need to know an ounce of comic book history to understand what’s happening when Jurnee Smollett-Bell's character enters Birds of Prey by shattering a glass with nothing but the sweet sounds of her voice. From that moment, it’s clear Black Canary’s kind of a big deal. If that doesn't work, however, it doesn't take Warner Bros.' new Harley Quinn vehicle long to drive that point home. Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, busts into Harley Quinn's (Margot Robbie) life at a pivotal moment: Distraught over her breakup with the Joker (once played by Jared Leto in the much-maligned Suicide Squad, aka Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film), Harley finds herself, well, hammered. It's at this precise moment that a lecherous club goer takes it upon himself to prey upon this woman who can barely stand, let alone consent to any bedroom activities. Seeing that this usually quite capable Gotham badass is clearly in need of some assistance, Dinah, clad in a gold bra, heeled boots, and bell bottoms, swoops in to take down the letch and his equally shitty pals. She's dressed for the club, but she's not being cute or striking sexy superhero poses — she's angry as hell and kicking would-be rapists in the face. This, it turns out, is Smollett-Bell's happy place.
"It was very exciting to be a part of an R-rated action comic book, girl gang film. You know, I cannot remember that having been done before," she tells Refinery29 over the phone during the film's London junket. Our conversation is keeping her from the rest of her evening — drinks with the other Birds of Prey gals, she says — but she's willing to take a few minutes to fawn over her latest project. "It's a dream for me."
Part of what makes the dream work is the team behind it. Smollett-Bell gelled with her fellow Birds immediately — a group that includes the legendary Rosie Perez, newcomer Ella Jay Basco, and indie darling Mary Elizabeth Winstead in addition to Robbie. Some time after the aforementioned drinks, Smollett-Bell and Robbie are doing their own spin on the famous Avengers cast's post-Infinity War move and sealing their friendship with a tattoo.
"I'm now so fortunate that I've got an extended girl gang of the women that I've worked with in this film," she says before excitedly blurting it out: "Margot is going to give me a tattoo. She says she's not very good at the tattoo gun, so we've got to make it something simple," she laughs. "Don't worry, she says they've agreed to put it somewhere hidden "in case it's messed up."
Behind the camera, it's been widely hailed that Chinese-American indie director Cathy Yan was given the reins to Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Her vision can be seen throughout the film, from its lack of male gaze on its lead characters, to the camera’s artfully crafted romance with Harley's beloved bacon egg and cheese sandwich. But Smollett-Bell wants to make sure the entire team gets its due, including the film's writer Christina Hodson, who worked with Robbie to pitch the film to Warner Bros. in the first place. Her script is also dotted with myriad details that make it extremely clear that Birds of Prey was not penned by a man — a comfort, according to the Black Canary actress.
"I love the little bits that feel like, That was definitely written by a woman," Smollett-Bell says, pointing in particular to a tiny moment in the film's final battle. Between blows, Harley offers Canary a hair tie "because it's so ridiculous to fight with your hair down. We don't go to the gym with our long luxurious hair hanging down. You tie it up," Smollett-Bell points out. It's a short moment, and not something that viewers might even notice if it weren't for the fact that one gender has been markedly and woefully underrepresented in the comic book-action genre.
"You tell the stories that you know, you create the art that is your experience. And look, we've got a long way to go, and the number of women behind the camera is so dismal, but it's also exciting," says Smollett-Bell of what she sees as a turning point in blockbuster films. "I'm hopeful because it does feel like there are so many people who are not waiting for a seat at the table to tell our stories. They're building their own tables."