Nicole Maines proves a ‘real-life’ su­per­hero, too

Trans­gen­der ac­tress takes off as Dreamer in ‘Su­per­girl’

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE - Bill Keveney

BUR­BANK, Calif. – Nicole Maines un­der­stands the sig­nif­i­cance of her new “Su­per­girl” char­ac­ter by imag­in­ing what some­one like Nia Nal/Dreamer would have meant to her when she was a child.

“If I had had a trans su­per­hero, some­one who looks like me wear­ing a cape, (while) grow­ing up, that would have changed the game. That would have been an en­tire new level of val­i­da­tion in my­self,” says the trans woman, 21, who joins the CW ac­tion se­ries in Sea­son 4’s opener (Sun­day, 8 EDT/ PDT).

Nia, who is in­spired by and an an­ces­tor of 30th Cen­tury DC Comics char­ac­ter Nura Nal/Dream Girl, marks TV’s first trans su­per­hero. She’s in­tro­duced as a re­porter work­ing for Kara Dan­vers/Su­per­girl (Melissa Benoist) at CatCo World­wide Me­dia. Her iden­tity, her su­per­power (Dreamer is an alien “pre­cog” who can dream the fu­ture) and her icy-blue suit even­tu­ally will be re­vealed.

Pro­duc­ers were com­mit­ted to adding a trans hero to the DC Comics TV uni­verse headed by megapro­ducer Greg Ber­lanti (“Ar­row,” “The Flash”), says ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Robert Rovner. Nia’s iden­tity is part of her ori­gin story, adds ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jes­sica Queller, and is con­nected to “why and how she’s in­her­ited these pow­ers.” As with Kara in Sea­son 1, she will have to come to terms with her power.

Af­ter spend­ing a sig­nif­i­cant part of Sea­son 3 off-world, Kara/Su­per­girl & Co. are back in Na­tional City for the new sea­son. Nia shows am­bi­tion and some youth­ful awk­ward­ness, re­mind­ing Kara of an ear­lier ver­sion of her­self.

The new char­ac­ter also meshes well with the up­com­ing sea­son’s fo­cus on a grow­ing cam­paign against aliens, in­clud­ing su­per­heroes, led by a charis­matic leader, Agent Lib­erty. The al­le­gory par­al­lels top­i­cal dis­cus­sions about im­mi­gra­tion and ac­cep­tance of peo­ple re­gard­less of race, eth­nic­ity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity.

In cast­ing Nia, “we were look­ing for some­body who em­bod­ied the in­no­cence, strength and in­tel­li­gence of a young Kara, which was Nicole, who also hap­pened to be a real-life su­per­hero in our eyes,” Rovner says.Long be­fore be­ing cast in “Su­per­girl,” Maines was a win­ning lit­i­gant in a 2014 Maine Supreme Court case that gave peo­ple the right to use the bath­room of the gen­der with which they iden­tify.

At­ten­tion “ex­ploded” af­ter she was in­tro­duced in July at San Diego ComicCon. Although there has been some neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to her “Su­per­girl” cast­ing, it has been mostly pos­i­tive.

“It’s the same that trans women, trans men face on so­cial me­dia ev­ery day,” she says. But there has been “an out­pour­ing of love and sup­port from fans of the show and from folks who don’t watch the show (and) are so ex­cited to have some­one who looks like them, not just on tele­vi­sion but wear­ing a cape (on TV). It’s so val­i­dat­ing.”

Op­por­tu­ni­ties for trans ac­tors are grow­ing, in Ama­zon’s “Trans­par­ent,” Net­flix’s “Or­ange Is the New Black” and FX’s “Pose.” But they’re still rare. That iden­tity shouldn’t be all-defin­ing for the char­ac­ter, how­ever, and it isn’t for Nia.

“What’s amaz­ing with Nia is we have a trans woman who has per­son­al­ity and growth out­side her trans-ness. … She’s a re­porter, a su­per­hero. … She has a per­sonal life,” Maines says, adding glee­fully: “Oh, Nia! How do you do it all?”

ROBERT HANASHIRO/USA TO­DAY

Nicole Maines will play Nia Nal/Dreamer, TV’s first trans­gen­der su­per­hero, on Sea­son 4 of CW’s “Su­per­girl.”

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