Why 'Supergirl' Was Not Quite the Right Platform to Tackle Xenophobia

When it comes to alien immigration, DC's 'Supergirl' falters on the small screen.


This week’s unfocused and disjointed Supergirl episode, “Strange Visitor From Another Planet,” attempts to tap into the “silent majority” paranoia of alien immigrants. Swapping refugees for Kryptonians and Martians, the DC universe has always had its own foreigners seeking to assimilate only to be met with armed hostility. This is a timely and politically salient story that ultimately struggles for air on a show like Supergirl.

Supergirl is no stranger to addressing the uglier side of humanity. The show succeeds in introducing a senator wielding anti-alien rhetoric, and her points are sound, if not familiar: Who knows what these aliens are capable of? Why are they hiding? Her apprehension is ultimately justified as a single White Martian — the warmongering race that enslaved J’onn J’onzz’s Green Martians — kidnaps her, creating the narrative need for Kara to suit up and rescue someone who hates her. … So far, so good.

Exploring the social conscience of superheroes always make for fascinating tales, except that Supergirl altogether fails to live up to the episode’s heavy premise or the issues that it raises. The episode does nothing to address the prejudices leveled at Supergirl, or the greater xenophobia that Kara (and, presumably, Kal-El) might have to accept as an inevitability of literally floating above regular humans. Furthermore, this entry does not even bother to tell a complete arc.

Supergirl isn’t challenged by Senator Miranda Crane, and Crane, likewise, simply changes her position by virtue of Supergirl saving her. Her feelings are not anchored in any sense of plot or stakes beyond her individual safety. (Perhaps if Senator Crane were trying to pass an anti-alien bill, or a law that would sacrifice privacy for surveillance, then maybe Supergirl would think twice before flying back to CatCo. Cough.)

The White Martian, Crane’s kidnapper, is an obvious echo of Crane and her supporters’ blanket racism. In a tear-filled exposition, J’onn explains the White Martians’ industrialized holocaust against his Green Martians. Even in faraway planets people can’t seem to get over being different, which is something the episode could have benefited from exploring a bit more actively beyond a few monologues. Granted, the CGI construct of the White Martians doesn’t leave much room for nuance, but the poignancy of the overall analogy was lost on this viewer.

Luckily, in another corner of the DC Universe, Dawn of Justice proposes a more satisfying ideological battle on the topic. Xenophobia is the engine that drives Batman’s suspicion of the Kryptonian, and if the available trailers haven’t already made it explicit, this latest TV spot makes it clear that Bruce Wayne seeks to protect mankind from that alien “[that] could burn the whole place down,” as Superman is the one that “brought the war to us.” Bruce Wayne’s rancor matches Supergirl’s Senator Crane’s, but the consequences of his perspective seem weightier, as we know him to be a man of action rather than neatly-tied monologues.

Dawn of Justice will seek to strongly channel 9/11 and the anti-Muslim narrative birthed by having had a slew of Wayne employees perish as collateral for Superman’s antics in Man of Steel. It is a surprising move whose uncomfortable realism is sure to bring forth a weightier discussion of xenophobia for the heroic age than a lighter escapade like last night’s Supergirl.

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