Last week it was announced that the Australian actor Ruby Rose had been cast as the first openly gay superhero in a TV series in the role of Batwoman. After the announcement was made, Rose took to Instagram to express her gratitude and remarked that ‘This is something I would have died to have seen on TV when I was a young member of the LGBT community who never felt represented on tv and felt alone and different.’
Like with the all-female casting of the reboot of Ghostbusters, it would be expected that criticism would arise from some sneering conservatives disgruntled with the attempt to diversify and expand. Instead, criticism arose from the fandom itself. The criticism proved to be so intense that Rose announced she was leaving Twitter just two days after the initial announcement.
Much of the criticism thrown at Rose centred around her gender fluidity, with accusations being thrown that her identity meant she was not a true lesbian so should not be cast in a role that was so important to the community.
Additionally, a recurring critique was that Batwoman should be played by a Jewish woman and that the character should have been used to elevate an unknown. The character has been around since the 1950s when she was first created as a love interest to Batman to dispel rumours of homosexuality. She was then reintroduced in 2006 in the comic books as Kate Kane, a Jewish lesbian.
The harassment thrown at Rose and at the casting decision has raised a point about what true representation actually means and whether it is ever attainable. Accurate representative casting is seemingly, and finally, coming to the forefront of Hollywood’s consciousness with a number of instances over the years proving that insensitive and inaccurate casting in entertainment is coming to a close.
Though this does not mean it no longer happens. From Scarlett Johansson playing an Asian-American in Ghost in the Shell to Scarlett Johansson attempting to play a transgender man – jokes, she’s not the only guilty one but she’s not the greatest when it comes to accepting roles that would better suited for someone from the community represented – there are still instances when the layer of diversity and inclusivity that the entertainment industry tries so hard to present breaks down and the cracks begin to emerge.
Despite this, the almost immediate backlashes that such decisions result in exemplify the way in which these situations are no longer being tolerated and swept aside and that representation on screen is an issue that movie fans take seriously.
While instances of miscasting in the case of race is an obvious mistake and shows a reluctance to cast minorities, miscasting when it comes to sexual orientation and religion is a different matter. In the case of Ruby Rose, it is offensive and inappropriate to judge her sexuality on a scale that will always be weighed against her. Criticising her for being too gay or not gay enough is a frustrating and unproductive argument that undercuts this watershed moment for gay characters on screen.
Representation of LGBT+ characters in film and TV are still severely limited, which is why the success of Love, Simon seemed like such a landmark moment. When such characters do appear, they are often played by straight actors. Take the announcement that came the other day of straight Jack Whitehall having been cast to play the first major openly gay Disney character in The Jungle Book. The casting of Ruby Rose shows an emerging understanding of the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles and presents a broadening of what it means to be a leading lady.
So while it would have been nice to have also seen a Jewish woman in the role, the decision to cast Rose is a turning point moment in on-screen representation for LGBT+ characters and needs to be welcomed, not undermined.