Warner Bros. Discovery has made more of a mess with the cancellation of Batgirl than my little nephew does eating spaghetti. And for the record, he gets more of his spaghetti to stick to the wall than WB ever does.
Batgirl will go down in history as one of the many cultural artifacts ruined by white men. CEO David Zaslav has seemingly turned the film made by two Muslims and led by a woman of color into his Springtime for Hitler, shelving Batgirl primarily for tax purposes.
Don’t be fooled by Zaslav’s rhetoric about artistic vision or strategic shifts. Batgirl is a story of racism, misogyny, ego, and double standards. And it doesn’t take gadgets or x-ray vision to see it.
The Cancellation of Batgirl
Contrary to popular belief, teenage girls are not the world’s pettiest people. That title belongs to middle-aged white men in suits.
Before the April merger that created Warner Bros. Discovery, David Kilar was the CEO of WarnerMedia. In a divisive move, Kilar led an aggressive restructuring to make the HBO Max streaming service the centerpiece of WB.
We’re not here to debate the wisdom of that decision, but it has everything to do with Batgirl’s fate.
Batgirl was not a theatrical release; it was to stream exclusively on HBO Max. Now, it’s a casualty of what seems to be David Zaslav’s grudge against Jason Kilar. Since taking the reigns of WB Discovery in April, Zaslav has canned Kilar’s strategy, usurping even more creative control over DC films for himself & other executives.
And therein lies a problem. Desperate attempts to replicate Marvel’s success have led WB to repeat Marvel’s biggest mistake: edging out the creatives, a topic we discussed in a previous blog post.
But let’s back up for a minute. Even before the cancellation, WB’s decision to release Batgirl straight to streaming was problematic. The film directed by two Muslims, Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, starring Leslie Grace, a woman of Dominican descent, and Ivory Aquino, a trans woman, was the only one in the DC Universe deemed unworthy of theatrical release.
Furthermore, Batgirl had more women behind the scenes than is the norm:
- Gail Simone – co-writer of the Batgirl comics
- Kristin Burr – producer
- Christine Hodson – the lone screenwriter
- Kristy Carlson & Kate Ringsell – casting directors
- Lori Mazuer & Naomi Moore – set decorators
And there’s Natalie Holt, the Emmy-nominated composer who spent a full year working on the score for Batgirl. That one is the toughest pill for us to swallow here at The Madames Podcast, as we had the privilege of getting to know the brilliant Holt when we interviewed her last year for Loki.
A Flashing Problem
The cancellation of Batgirl adds insult to injury for women & people of color, who so often pay for the egotistical decisions of white men. While David Zaslav & his cronies insist that race & gender had no impact on the decision, we have ample evidence to the contrary. See Exhibit A:
Ezra Miller has been a DC problem child for a while now. Their long & varied rap sheet is well-documented so we won’t rehash it here. We’ll just say that Miller is a dangerous human being.
But even though its star might be sporting an orange jumpsuit by next summer, The Flash is still scheduled for release on June 23, 2023. The motto at Warner Bros. Discovery is thus clear.
The show must go on… if the show features a white male hero.
To be clear, Barry Allen (Flash) is a cis white male; Ezra Miller is not. Miller has identified as non-binary since 2018. But this whole Flash debacle shows just how strong the patriarchy still is in Hollywood. No matter how Miller identifies now, they were born a male. They look like a male. So society treats Miller like a male.
The preferential treatment is obvious at WB and in the media. Despite the serious charges and evidence against Miller, stories often describe the actor as “troubled” or “embattled.” There is an undertone of victimhood and the implication that Miller’s criminal behavior isn’t entirely his fault.
That’s white male privilege. And if you disagree, imagine what would happen to a Black man if he choked a woman & someone caught it on camera. Or think about how American authorities would treat a Muslim woman if multiple people accused her of brainwashing their children.
Some defenders of Ezra Miller also argue that canceling The Flash would be a slap to the LGBTQ community. But this is more propaganda.
Gender identity has nothing to do with all these charges. Ezra Miller is not doing bizarre & criminal things because they’re non-binary. Ezra Miller is doing bizarre & criminal things because they’re an asshole. And society must hold assholes accountable for their bad behavior, regardless of how they identify.
Furthermore, the slap to the LGBTQ community already came with the cancellation of Batgirl. The film was supposed to introduce the first major transgender comic book character in the form of Michelle Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s best friend. And she’s played by actual trans actor Ivory Aquino. Thanks to David Zaslav, the trans community will never see what should’ve been a representational achievement, and neither will anyone else.
Lastly, the lack of positive, realistic queer characters & stories is infuriating, but the same is true for women & people of color. So if a person defends The Flash on the grounds of queer representation, they’re tacitly implying that Batgirl’s other representational issues aren’t as important.
Politicians and filmmakers alike have conditioned us to believe that rights and representation are a zero-sum game. But that’s not the case. Strong representation of one group doesn’t have to come at the expense of another.
No Justice for All
As for the directors, the indignities didn’t end with the cancellation of Batgirl. After WB Discovery announced it, executives locked Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah out of the server containing all the footage they’d shot. David Zaslav reduced these two men to desperately trying to take videos of footage with their phones, and even that didn’t work.
WB Discovery paid their workers for Batgirl, but the company still stole the work. El Arbi & Fallah have nothing to show for all their time, effort, and creativity. Leslie Grace and Ivory Aquino can’t add their performances to their reels. And countless people behind the scenes have nothing for their portfolios and CVs.
Meanwhile, in 2017 Zack Snyder walked away from Justice League with a laptop containing over four hours of footage. He then used that footage to make a second film with his name in the title.
That is the white male patriarchy at work.
A Call to Action
The cancellation of Batgirl is another cultural blow to marginalized groups in 2022, one with harmful consequences for the future of representation & filmmaking. While we may often feel helpless, there are ways we can take action & promote positive change.
First and foremost, tell Warner Bros. Discovery how you feel about The Flash by not buying a ticket next summer.
Second, be more aware of the content you consume, both past & present. Reevaluate old film favorites & be open now to stories featuring people who are different from you.
Lastly, contribute to causes and organizations that promote diversity in film. And we know of one that could use your help right now. For details on how you can support our mission here at The Madames Podcast, check out Kris’s GoFundMe campaign for her upcoming appearance at the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Annual Conference.
New episodes of The Madames drop every Monday wherever you get your podcasts.