When I heard the news in 2021 that Afro-Dominican actor Leslie Grace was cast as Batgirl in the Warner Bros. superhero film of the same name, I was ecstatic. Amid ongoing news of Covid-19 variants and Capitol insurrection developments, this story coming from the entertainment world felt like a breath of fresh air — a cause for celebration during a chaotic moment in time. With the conversation of representation in Hollywood taking center stage after the #OscarSoWhite hashtag, it also felt very intentional, like maybe the film production company was finally saying what I’ve always known: Black Latinas are worthy and capable of being leading ladies in hit movies. Then Warner Bros. changed its mind, about the film and, apparently, about women like me.
On August 2, the New York Post reported that “Batgirl,” which was then in the final stages of post-production, would not be released on any platform. At that point, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah had finished shooting the project, and its star, Grace, was giving interviews about what landing the superheroine role meant to her. Nearly complete, the film, which was slated to premiere on HBO Max, had cost Warner Bros. Discovery $90 million total. According to The Guardian, it now ranks among “the most expensive canceled cinematic projects ever.”
Understandably, the death of the film confused Hollywood and fans alike, with media outlets asking, "Why would Warner Bros. throw all this away?" Some have suggested tax write-downs, while others have pointed to a change in the company’s vision with new CEO David Zaslav. On Thursday, Zaslav explained that he shelved "Batgirl" simply because he didn't think it was very good. “We’re not going to release a movie unless we believe in it,” he said, adding that the company is “focusing on quality” and “Batgirl” did not live up to that standard.
Reading this, I feel like there are bigger, more important, questions that need to be asked: Will Hollywood ever find value in Black and Brown women, and should we even keep waiting on them to see our inherent worth and brilliance?
While Latines make up 18% of the population, we only accounted for 4.6% of movie roles in 2019. Within that number, it is difficult to calculate how many of those roles even go to Latina women, particularly Afro-Latinas, and even more so dark-skinned Afro-Latinas who face colorism within the community. Our absence has dire consequences. The world of television and entertainment is a mirror of society, defining beauty standards and influencing our perception of self. I know this personally. When I was a kid, the underrepresentation of Black women in TV and film affected my self-esteem. I often felt that I was ugly and wished to have green eyes or straight hair. This was the image that I saw on the screen. This is what I learned was beautiful, what had star potential. I’m not alone. Research has consistently shown that a lack of representation “can lead to negative psychological outcomes for those with identities that are underrepresented or negatively portrayed.”
Filming a movie that pushed back on this narrative and then canceling it feels deliberate — like a slap in the face.
My heart breaks for all the young Black and Brown girls, including the numerous DC Comics fans, who won’t watch the film they’ve been anticipating and gushing about on forums for months. Most of all, my heart aches for Grace, who allegedly found out about the cancellation after the story broke, together with the general public. Still, she released a graceful message on Instagram, saying she’s proud of the work she and the team did together. She wrote: “To every ‘Batgirl’ fan, thank you for the love and belief, allowing me to take on the cape and become, as Babs said best, ‘my own damn hero!’”
I hurt for Grace because she is yet another woman of color who has put in the work to be excellent, but whose near and deserved accolades were stolen by a system that refuses to hold us up. From the chart-topping queen Beyoncé’s 2017 snub at the Grammys to the cancellation of Cristela Alonzo’s primetime show after becoming the first Latina to create and star in one, the entertainment industry seems to snatch opportunities from Black and Brown women left and right. This month, HBO Max also canceled “Gordita Chronicles'' after one season, even after a stellar performance by newcomer Olivia Goncalves and rave reviews.
But impeccable talent and endless excitement about a project won’t save Black and Brown women. If we’re talking about quality, as Zaslav suggested, there are few actors more equipped for the role of Batgirl than Grace. Gotham is allegedly modeled after New York City, the city where the actor-singer is from — the city where countless Black and Brown girls hold each other down, walking along the streets laughing, arms locked, creating a shield from the evil and harms of a world that has never loved us. Grace’s quote from the character of “Batgirl” rings true: We are our own damn superheroines.
Black and Brown girls have seen our women be superhuman in a world where we have had to fight for our survival for so long. Our mothers often raise us as single parents who make less than non-Latine white women. Our nurses put their lives on the line at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 to protect us. Our educators navigate meager budgets to provide us with educational tools to succeed. Black and Brown women have also been on the front lines of our social justice movements and struggles, including Indigenous women who fought to stop the construction of the Keystone XL Pipelines, Black women leading the Black Lives Matter movement, and Latinas on the frontlines of the immigration justice fight. The moment we were finally going to see our superpower reflected on the screen, it was ripped away from us, another struggle in our fight for proper representation of our own humanity.
As a multi-billion-dollar production and studio company creating the DC Universe, Warner Bros. is building an entire world that impacts the global imagination. Thus, it has a responsibility to viewers to paint one where they can see themselves, even with evil villains, imperfect heroes, and gloomy cities. A complex character with a difficult backstory like Batgirl, who fights crime all while overcoming personal struggles, can show young girls of color that they are worthy of being celebrated, even while struggling with issues at home. Furthermore, showing an Afro-Latina with superpowers has the exciting potential to enrich the imagination of young girls, empowering them to become the leaders of tomorrow. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds them that they do not need to change anything about themselves in order to do so.
But Hollywood has, once again, proven to be irresponsible and unaccountable. In slashing “Batgirl,” Warner Bros. refuses to recognize the value in our stories. In Zaslav’s own words, our narratives don’t live up to his standards, the same benchmarks set across the white male elite entertainment industry.
Still, we continue to be our own heroes — as we always have been. We have taken to social media to increase representation, creating movements like #BlackGirlMagic to uplift and validate ourselves and our beauty, producing our own series after facing constant erasure, and making space for ourselves everywhere we go. While we don’t need Hollywood, I still do hope for the day that gatekeepers treat our stories with the love and respect that they deserve — not because we need their validation, but because we are more than worthy of it.