DC Comics is bringing the young heroes of the Teen Titans to live-action for the first time in new series Titans. When images of several heroes hit the internet, fans had very strong reactions to the new versions of the beloved heroes, particularly Starfire. Granted, the costume was not great, but the more important conversation lies in the choice to cast Anna Diop, an actress of color, in the role.
Black Panther was a runaway hit and an incredible achievement for those trying to make stories about underrepresented communities. Specifically, in the realm of superheroes, the film’s immense success should result in bringing other heroes to the big screen. Marvel’s Kevin Feige has discussed increasing representation in the MCU after Black Panther’s release and we’ve seen more movement in films about Batgirl and whatever DC is cooking up for Harley Quinn next. The difference between these projects and Titans is that Starfire is not a black character in the pages of comic books. Choosing to have an actress of color play the hero from the planet Tamaran is a new type of step forward when it comes to representation.
The casting choice does not change anything about Starfire’s story. After being forced into slavery by her traitorous sister, the young princess travels to Earth from her home planet. Inspired by the heroes of Earth, she takes up the mantle of Starfire and uses her powers to save the people on the new planet she calls home.
But that fact has not stopped people from reacting negatively to Diop’s casting. When she made a response about the leaked images, which she did not feel reflected the great character she gets to play, she revealed that people were making racist comments while complaining about the first look at Starfire. “For the sake of our incredible fans — I hated that this is the first picture people are seeing. It’s out of context and it’s a misrepresentation of the incredible character I get to play. And also a misrepresentation of the phenomenal production behind it all. With that said — the hate speech that followed was deplorable,” she wrote on her Instagram post.
Part of the fun of comic books and superheroes is the exploration of the fantastical worlds the stories inhabit. The alien races, the new galaxies, and realms, it’s not the world we live in. That allows for a high level of freedom in storytelling. And, in casting. The Avengers are about to go to war with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, a villain that could have been played by an actor of color.
Starfire is the latest example of casting a person of color to play an alien or being. Thanos will have to fight Gamora in the MCU, a character played by Zoe Saldana. On television, Supergirl chose Sharon Leal to play Miss Martian, a character whose younger version was depicted as white in Young Justice. It’s great to give viewers from unrepresented communities heroes that look like them.
Now, all Titans has to do is stick the landing. Diop getting the role is important, but the show giving the character great material and storylines is just as important. Supergirl serves as a great example here as well. The casting of Mechad Brooks as James Olsen, a white comic book character, was a bold move, but the show has relegated him to the sideline after having him suit up as Guardian. Luckily for Teen Titans fans, Starfire is one of the leads, so this is less likely for Titans, but the follow-through is just as important.
The leaked image wasn’t a great look and that’s a story, but it shouldn’t be the story.