This week saw the release of the first image of Ruby Rose as DC’s Batwoman. The picture was concept art of the Australian actress/model, and was released ahead of the forthcoming Arrowverse crossover event, ‘Elseworlds.’
For the uninitiated, the Arrowverse is The CW’s Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. It will be the character’s first live action appearance, and naturally fans have strong opinions about how Kate Kane and her alter ego of Batwoman should be portrayed.
Fans have already being weighing in on the subject, with debate still ongoing about Rose’s casting. Even the suit itself was generating some controversy. In fact, Rose’s casting has provoked such a backlash amongst certain fans that the star was forced to close her Twitter account. Some of that backlash centred on her abilities as an actress, with one view being that she has neither the talent or the range to carry of the role.
The fact that a live action adaptation of a comic book character should provoke such heated reactions should come as no surprise. Of course, it’s sad that the response in some quarters was such that Ruby Rose felt she had to leave Twitter. There have been a number of examples of celebrities withdrawing from certain social media sites because of negative comments from members of the public. It should go without saying that, no matter how strongly you might feel about a subject, personal abuse is never justified.
Aside from the predictable hysteria, one of the things that stuck out to me about this whole situation is how some fans are pleased with Rose’s casting as Batwoman because of her sexuality. Batwoman is a lesbian, and therefore some felt that a lesbian actress should play her, rather than Rose, who identifies as being gender fluid.
Whilst I can understand that diversity and representation is important, and casting a lesbian actress in the role of such a prominent lesbian comic book character means a lot to certain fans, I still find the insistence interesting.
It cuts to the heart of what acting is about: an actor or an actress pretending to be something that they’re not. Yes, they will find ‘ways in’ to connect with their character that will help with the performance, but ultimately we’re watching people being something, and someone, that they’re not.
The sexuality of the actress playing Batwoman shouldn’t be an issue. What matters is whether she can convince as both Kate Kane and her costumed alter ego. That’s really the most basic box for any actor or actress to tick: do you, as the audience, believe they are who they’re pretending to be? Does their performance convince you or not?
The CW has also cast gay actors to play heterosexual characters in its Arrowverse shows. For example, John Barrowman, Colton Haynes and Wentworth Miller are (or were) respectively Malcolm Merlyn/The Dark Archer, Roy Harper/Arsenal and Leonard Snart/Captain Cold. All three are openly gay, but their characters are heterosexual.
The reverse is also true, as Caity Lotz plays the bi-sexual Sara Lance/White Canary, despite not being bi-sexual. The same goes for Katrina Law as Nyssa al Ghul. In other words, Barrowman, Haynes, Miller, Lotz and Law are all acting.
So Ruby Rose’s sexuality shouldn’t be an issue. It obviously shouldn’t disqualify her from the part, but it shouldn’t be what qualifies her either. If Rose is to be a good Batwoman or not will rest on her ability to portray a vengeful, highly trained vigilante, who’s also a member of one of Gotham’s richest families, as well as being a former soldier. That, and not Kate Kane/Batwoman’s sexuality, is the part of the role that will be the biggest stretch, and achieving it (or not) will probably determine whether her casting will be seen as a success.
Obviously, there will be occasions where only certain actors or actresses are appropriate for a particular role. However, my fear is that we’re expanding that to cover an increasing number of roles, and in the process limiting the potential pool of talent available. As well as also forgetting the point of acting in the first place.
I’ve seen some comments online to the effect that, even if Ruby Rose lacks the acting skills for Batwoman, she can be saved by good writing and directing. I disagree. Writing and directing are vital roles in film and TV production, but they’re only part of the jigsaw puzzle. Every role and every aspect of the production matters.
I remember once hearing or reading that a large percentage of the success of a film (or TV show) is casting, casting, casting. Although that’s an oversimplification, it nevertheless speaks to the importance of getting your casting decisions right. Put simply, there’s not much you can do to disguise a miscast role.
You could have a multi award winning director, and a similarly award laden screenwriter (or screenwriters), but even they won’t be able to compensate for an actor or an actress that does’t have the talent and/or range to play the part. That’s not something that you can direct or write your way out of as a filmmaker or screenwriter.
None of this is to say that Ruby Rose won’t be a success as Batwoman. I’m a huge DC fan, so I hope very much that she will be, and that we get the potential Batwoman series as a result. And as with every comic book adaptation, I also hope they do justice to the character and the source material. As to whether Rose is the right fit for the part will depend not on her sexuality or gender label, but on her talent as an actress.
As ever, if you have any thoughts or opinions, please feel free to comment : )