ClexaCon ’22: “Batwoman” Herself – Javicia Leslie

ClexaCon ’22: “Batwoman” Herself – Javicia Leslie

The bat-gloves were off when we talked to Javicia Leslie herself about the importance of being Batwoman, the changes we’ve seen (or not seen) in queer rep for people of color, the real reason (maybe…) that Wildmoore happened, and who to thank for going all in on Ryan Wilder.

LezWatch.TV, Meemoeder, and Tagg Magazine round-tabled with her on the important subjects as well. Like that batsuit!

Transcript

LezWatch.TV: Batwoman is one of our shows that we call our favorite shows, where all the editorial staff sits down and says “That one!” When you took over the role, and I am a huge Batwoman fan, I have the original run of the comics, immediately I was super excited. I went and looked up other things that you’ve done and I thought this has the potential to change things and elevate the story of Batwoman from showing one minority, which is Jewish lesbian, to showing another minority that is even more important today. How did you feel getting to be this kind of iconic role and take it to that next step where you’re getting to be Batwoman for a whole generation of people?

Javicia Leslie: As an artist we are very grateful for the opportunity to work, that’s the first step, you know? The first step is just being grateful for the opportunity to work. I think that we get these opportunities and we always just wish we could do it, so we give it our all. But really it’s just a wish, or a manifestation or a dream, you know? For me, what has always been important is being able to do something for my community while also doing what I love, I don’t think that there should be a separation. I don’t think there should be a separation for my spirituality, I don’t think there should be a separation for what I do for a living and I don’t think there should be a separate what I do for my community. I think they all can coexist within each other and that is what the show did for me – it checked all three of those boxes in this really beautiful way. 

Now I get to come to events like this and see the reflection of my character in all of these different people. I was asked yesterday when I was leaving a convention, we were at the airport and the guy said “Do you like being an actor?” and I listened to myself respond as though it wasn’t me responding and I said “I love it, I love it.” I get to do what I love and the way it affects people is something that you— it’s a feeling that is, it just cannot be described.

To hear the stories, the genuine stories. I interact like! If you’re following me on Twitter, I constantly interact if you @-me I will @-you back! Just hearing the stories, it’s so motivating and to know that it’s strictly just because I love to do my art. I think that that’s that’s a blessing. 

I didn’t go into the role thinking that I was doing something monumental, I just went into it because I love the art and it just so happens that I check a lot of the boxes of the character. That wasn’t what I thought I was doing, but to see something monumental happen from, it was really beautiful.  Really, really honoring, Thank you, thank you. 

Meemoeder.com: In 2021 you said that the representation you are now giving young people would have had a huge impact on you growing up, and that young people figuring out their identity can now see a superhero that represents them. How does it feel to be that person? 

Leslie: That’s cool! [laughter] I was just thinking about that. That’s really cool. I don’t know, y’all, it’s so crazy because you can get any kind of role! So to get a role that makes this kind of impact — it’s really — it’s just — it almost takes away words. Because I could have gotten any role that would have taken me out of the running to even be Batwoman! At the time I was auditioning. God Friended Me had ended and I was doing auditions all the way up until we got Batwoman. I always look at that as a reminder to just kind of just keep going because when one door closed it just gives space for another door to open, that might be the door for you. To know that I am that representation, to know that those doors closed so that I could become that representation, I think that that’s so that’s so weird and so cool.

Growing up, I didn’t see — my representation that I saw, I saw black female actresses. I didn’t get to see a black female superhero other than Storm. And I would love to be Storm, so I’m just going to put that out there. But I didn’t get to see I didn’t get to see black female superheroes.

And that’s not just about being black. That’s not just about being queer. That’s not just about being a superhero. I think that’s also about showing strong women, that we didn’t get to see a lot of growing up. It’s always like a woman has to need help, and we need a man to come help us. So it’s kind of cool, being upstairs [at the con floor], and just like being able to meet everyone. It just shows the strength of the femininity regardless of how you identify. The strength of the feminine is just something that I think that is very understated and film and television and I love that I get to tell a story that shows it.

Tagg Magazine: I’m wondering if you could speak to the importance of queer black representation and your character’s relationship with Sophie. I think that’s something that we don’t see enough of on tv

Leslie: The importance— again you’re talking about people being able to see themselves and I think the moment you see yourself you believe you can do it. You know? Otherwise it feels like an idea but the moment you see someone that looks like you — it’s like the first black president right? It just didn’t seem like it could ever happen. Almost felt like it was just like “Oh yeah, sure, whatever.” 

And then the moment happened, little black kids can literally grow up saying “There’s a chance I can actually be the president and it doesn’t matter what race I am!” I think that everything that my character represents is a community that felt like they couldn’t be, and now that they’ve seen it, they can see that they can be it. I love to be able to tell that story.

When we started this journey, I was told that Sophie and Ryan were not going to get together and so when third season started happening and that started happening, that was the most powerful thing ever to see. I thought that that was so powerful to see two black women in love. We never see that. Ever. And then it’s your lead. It’s not like these two side characters that they barely develop the story for, because that’s another thing that they do to our characters. They throw us as sidekicks or supporting characters, but not as the lead romance in a hit television series. To watch that and to watch the impact that that made and to feel, to see so many people feel like they see their relationship in our relationship, I think was really beautiful.

And it was really beautiful to see black skin and black skin like that. That seems small, but it’s not common for us, especially like major networks. To see that was like really powerful. One of my favorite movies is Love Jones, and there’s this scene where like you see Nia Long’s complexion against Larenz Tate’s complexion and you don’t see that! You just don’t. It’s not a very common thing in projects that are shot well to have a high budget that have high viewership and to be able to do that. I love that. I think that that specific episode that we’re talking about is an episode that will go down in history for being able to show the beginning of that kind of representation.

Tagg: Thank you. A quick follow up question, do you know if your characters got together kind of as a result of fans, and like fan speculation, or fans sort of asking for it?

Leslie: I don’t think so. Caroline is not that kind of person. I think that it kind of started to become an inevitable thing, and it’s something that I think the writers wanted to see. You really kind of wanted to see these two women love each other, you know? I think that it might slightly be a little bit my fault because when Eric Wallace from The Flash called me before the crossover episode, he was like, “So, you know, I’m down to do whatever you want to do. Are you and Sophie together in this make believe world?” and I was like, “Well, it’s make believe sure, let’s be together!”

That was actually my decision. I was like, “Yeah, they’re married, maybe they’re dealing with trying to have a kid, you know what I mean?” I just said it like that and then we started our season after I had already said that. So it might be a little bit because of that as well.

LezWatch.TV: Thank you. Absolutely. We went batshit for it. 

Leslie: [laughter] I love it!

LezWatch.TV: You’ve kind of briefly touched on this. But how have you seen representation, specifically of queer black people, change on mainstream media over the last few years?

Leslie: I didn’t for a long time. Literally, it was probably like the last three years, and my first time really seeing it was Pose. Pose is huge for me, personally, because it was a community. I didn’t get to know a lot about growing up and to be able to see just — oh my God, I fell in love. I watch that show so much. I’m obsessed. I was so heartbroken when it ended. But I’m super excited for the actors because now they get to go spread that magic in other places.

But that for me was the beginning of seeing beautiful, ethnic, representation in our community. Getting able to hear a story that hadn’t been told authentically, because they had writers that were representation of the show itself. Also in show runners and directors, like Janet was able to direct a few episodes also leading in the writing room. Getting able to know that you’re hearing a story and it’s authentic.

I think that when you’re learning about things that you may not know about. The hardest part is you think you’re learning it and you’re not. It’s not that community that’s telling the story. It’s like a cis white man telling the story, and how do you really know? You know? I think that having true representation in the writer’s room, having true representation behind the scenes, gives the authenticity that these projects need. So that way people can truly learn the real story. That show opened up that door for me.

Meemoeder.com: I have a bit of a simpler question. I just really want to know … what does it feel like to put on the bed suit, both physically and mentally?

Leslie: So physically it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of work.

The first season I needed people to help me and then towards the mid part of that — towards the end of that season […] I wanted to change that because it was almost like a here or there type of situation where it was like “Hey if you’re gonna take that long, then you won’t be able to do your own stunts for this shot.”

And it was one of those situations there was an episode where we did the Candy Lady episode, and um the kid is getting ready to shoot Dougray [Scott]’s character [Jacob Kane], and I stopped him. I fly out of the scene and they were going to use my amazing stunt double, Aisha, they were going to pull her out and I’m like “No it’s important that the camera shows Ryan’s eyes in this moment because it’s a connection!” I don’t want it to all of a sudden flip to her back as she leaves. 

This represents a kid who is a part of her community. Seeing a superhero that cares about him has also been through what he’s been through, I want to be that person and they’re like, “Oh no it takes too long for you to kick ass” and I was like “We gotta figure this out!” I took it off and I quickly put it back on and I was “Oh! I can do it, I can do it now!” And then from that point on I was able to put the suit on myself. 

It’s still a lot of work because it’s a lot of squeezing.

Meemoeder.com: What’s the material?

Leslie: It’s like a dive suit?

LezWatch.TV: Neoprene?

Leslie: I guess? I don’t know. It feels like it’s kind of like rubber leather-ish type but it doesn’t retain temperature so it’s cold or it’s hot. Like it’s either or. You’re never comfortable. So that’s the feel and then mentally you immediately feel like a superhero because it has a lot of wiring in it. So like how I’m sitting like this [relaxed], I would have to sit like this [sits straight up]. I naturally have to stand tall.

Plus we shoot a lot in downtown Vancouver and these kids are outside so it’s, okay, let me walk like a superhero. I don’t want to mess up anybody’s like depiction of what a superhero is based off of how I’m carrying myself.

Tagg: I’m curious what kind of stories you’ve heard from the fans about the impact of the show.

Leslie: So many favorites, some of my favorite — It’s funny because I’ve heard it from both shows, even God Friended Me, because my character was gay and God Friended Me — that being a religious show — people who had parents that religious needed to be able to explain to their parents who they are and they felt like Ali’s conversation with Reverend Finer helped guide them in their conversation with their parents.

And then for for Ryan, what I love about Ryan is Ryan didn’t have a trauma story. A lot of times they tell their stories and it’s like they’re just coming out of this like very traumatic life changing situation that makes it where they have to then go through a period of shame and guilt. Ryan didn’t have that. You really got to kind of just see this person be who they are. 

I think that that was really powerful for a lot of people to see that that can exist, and to show their parents that it can exist, and to show their family members and their loved ones that it can exist.

So some of the stories that I heard … I know a lot was the representation of Sophie and Ryan. Some black women telling me how they feel like their love was shown on that show, that was really powerful because that’s a huge community. You hire a black queer actress to play a black queer role. You’re gonna attract a lot of black queer women. 

And it’s one thing — I don’t care what race you put me with — but it’s one thing to see her have a relationship with another woman that’s of a different race. But then to see her have a relationship with a woman that is of her race. That was very powerful. 

I think that we were in it and we just did it. I’m working with Meagan every day so it doesn’t really change anything for us. But culturally, that was a very powerful move and really, honestly that was Caroline, [Dries]. I feel like she doesn’t get the credit that, I think, I should be hearing more. I hear a lot when it comes to me or I hear a lot when it comes to Meagan.

Caroline, she’s the woman who hired me, she chose me. She could have chosen anyone, you know, I tested against other people. She could have chosen anyone, She could have gone any kind of way. She could have hired a white actress, she could have— She’s the one who asked for Ryan Wilder. The network could have said, hey, let’s stick to just recasting Kate.

These are all Caroline taking these chances and I don’t think that she’s gotten the credit for for really like spearheading what we are all impacted by.

Her choosing to make Meagan and — excuse me ,Sophie and Ryan follow up, that was her choice.

She was an amazing showrunner. I just want to give her her credit because a lot of what we’re talking about this shift and this change in this impact on culture started from here and it was Caroline.

Tagg: That’s awesome. We’ll make sure to mention that in the article, That’s great.

Meemoeder.com: So some of your scenes take place in the Hold Up [bar]. I was wondering, what are your artists, would your character listen to?

Leslie: Um, Kehlani? But then I wonder if it’s just me! [Laughter] That’s just like Kehlani,

LezWatch.TV: How does it feel to know that you’re in comic books now.

Leslie: That’s so cool. That’s epic. I grew up as a comic book fan. To know, and I don’t feel like it’s me in comic books, I feel like it’s a character that we created and that’s even more powerful right? Because I would I praise that there are going to be a bunch of different Ryan Wilder’s as time goes on. I don’t want this to be the end of this major — of this character.

I want that when they bring Batwoman back in films. She’s Ryan, why not? And I do appreciate the Kate Kane story as well. I just want to make sure that we don’t lose our Ryan story. I think that that’s beautiful 

LezWatch.TV: Wouldn’t a double Batwoman story with Kate and Ryan solving crime—

Leslie: That would be dope!  And please end all the silly back and forth! Let’s just do it together.

Meemoeder.com: Have you noticed any differences in how fans respond worldwide? 

Leslie: Oh my God. Yeah. I think the international fans are my favorite. Like I want to go to Brazil just so I can say that! Brazil turns up. I love the international fans. I was funny — I mean Puerto rico is technically international — but it’s just to show like the impact. I I think I have a very normal voice but I was in the car with Karen and the guy in the front seat was like “Man, you sound just like Batwoman.” And I was “Hey that’s me!”

That’s really cool that it’s making that kind of impact. You know what I mean? That no matter where we are, we can still touch the people.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.

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