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Su­per­girl, Dalya’s Other Coun­try, Crazy Ex-girl­friend, and more.

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When it pre­miered in Oc­to­ber 2015, Su­per­girl beat the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse and the DC Ex­tended Uni­verse to the punch by fronting a su­per­hero story with a fe­male char­ac­ter. In the in­ter­ven­ing years, we’ve seen Won­der Woman smash records and Cap­tain Marvel step into pro­duc­tion, but the lit­tle Kryp­to­nian who could is still the only woman fight­ing for justice on our tele­vi­sion screens week af­ter week. Yet, as the show closes in on its third sea­son, it’s still strug­gling to jug­gle its brand of em­pow­er­tis­ing with actual sub­stance.

Kara Dan­vers (Melissa Benoist) is a girl and that think­ing per­me­ates much of the first sea­son. From Cat Grant (Cal­ista Flock­hart) nam­ing Kara’s al­ter ego Su­per­girl to Kara’s push­back at what she sees as an in­fan­tiliz­ing moniker, much is made of the fact that girls have power. Many of the show’s ma­jor char­ac­ters are young women who are find­ing their own per­sonal and pro­fes­sional strengths. Strong fe­male bonds run through the show’s dna, man­i­fest­ing in Kara’s re­la­tion­ships with the women around her, in­clud­ing Cat, her sis­ter Alex Dan­vers (Chyler Leigh), and her neme­sis-turned­friend Lena Luthor (Katie Mcgrath).

The prob­lem, as it of­ten is when fem­i­nism finds its way on­screen, is that Su­per­girl largely ex­cludes girls of color from its “em­pow­er­ing” nar­ra­tive. The show’s fem­i­nism is flimsy, re­ly­ing on the propen­sity of fe­male char­ac­ters to use vi­o­lence with equally as much vigor and skill as men. In con­trast to the re­cently can­celed Agent Carter, which used items coded as tra­di­tion­ally fem­i­nine to fight the pa­tri­archy, Su­per­girl sim­ply has its fe­male he­roes de­feat male vil­lains in bat­tle; it mea­sures fe­male strength by its abil­ity to con­form to ideas of tra­di­tional mas­culin­ity. But plat­i­tudes have their place, and girls of color de­serve ac­cess to the same trite con­fi­dence boost­ers as ev­ery­one else. It would serve the show’s mes­sage of tol­er­ance and in­clu­siv­ity to in­tro­duce other fe­male char­ac­ters of color

so that Mag­gie Sawyer (Flo­ri­ana Lima) doesn’t bear the weight alone. While Mag­gie played an in­te­gral role in bring­ing to life one of the most well-re­garded com­ing-out sto­ries, her La­tinidad is never ex­plored on any mean­ing­ful level. If there were other ma­jor women char­ac­ters of color, that nar­ra­tive hole might not have been as con­spic­u­ous.

But Su­per­girl has shown it­self to be less than adept at han­dling racially charged nar­ra­tives. While the show traf­fics in ra­cial metaphors on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, it fal­ters when deal­ing with them head on. Hank Hen­shaw (David Hare­wood) and James Olsen (Me­hcad Brooks) are main char­ac­ters por­trayed by Black men, but Hank is an alien from Mars who chooses to present that way. As the sec­ond sea­son tack­les alien im­mi­gra­tion as a not-very-sub­tle par­al­lel to the on­go­ing de­bate over un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in the United States, there is am­ple op­por­tu­nity to deal with race in a more di­rect way. In­stead, the show re­lies on ba­sic tropes of de­cency in the face of dif­fer­ence. Why not ad­dress the fact that the Pho­ri­ans (a race of tele­ki­netic aliens who present as Black) might be con­sid­ered more men­ac­ing be­cause of their Black skin and the es­tab­lished big­otry of hu­man be­ings? Why not lean into the fact that life is eas­ier to nav­i­gate for the aliens who are able to “pass” as hu­man? In­stead of delv­ing deeper, Su­per­girl of­fered a be­la­bored plot­line about James con­nect­ing with a young Pho­rian boy over the sim­i­lar­ity of their lives. The show banked on their shared skin color to do the heavy lift­ing in­stead of writ­ing bet­ter arcs for them.

How­ever, the show’s big­gest dis­ap­point­ment has been sidelin­ing James. Af­ter Cat’s exit in the sec­ond sea­son, the pho­to­jour­nal­ist is named act­ing ceo of Catco, a me­dia em­pire where Kara works as a re­porter. But rather than run­ning said em­pire, James sulks about be­ing on the out­side of the Depart­ment of Ex­tra­nor­mal Op­er­a­tions (the fic­tional gov­ern­ment agency where the rest of the main cast all works in some ca­pac­ity), and even­tu­ally de­vel­ops Guardian, his own su­per­hero iden­tity. Be­tween this non­sen­si­cal plot and the abrupt end to his ro­mance with Kara, there isn’t much more to ex­pect from his char­ac­ter. It would be great to see James em­brace his power as a jour­nal­ist to speak truth to power in­stead of box­ing him­self into the nar­row def­i­ni­tion of “su­per­hero” to which the show sub­scribes. Beat­ing up poor peo­ple isn’t the only way to make a city safe, and Bat­man al­ready ex­ists in this uni­verse.

In two sea­sons, Su­per­girl has done a lot of things right, but it’s made many mis­steps too. With a new sea­son’s worth of sto­ries to tell, we can only hope that it will be more cognizant of the way it co-opts the lan­guage of the op­pressed to make a point about char­ac­ters who would never be ha­rassed or abused in the real world.

Su­per­girl’s fem­i­nism is flimsy, re­ly­ing on the propen­sity of fe­male char­ac­ters to use vi­o­lence with equally as much vigor and skill as men.


Be­low: Stills from Geeta’s Guide to Mov­ing On.

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