The eternal rivalry between Marvel and DC is a constant source of innovation. The free market of superhero movies means nonstop competition, and DC’s latest casting announcement proves this by making superhero movie history.
The Batgirl movie was already looking interesting, with star Leslie Grace playing the hero and an appearance by none other than Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. But the recent announcement that actress Ivory Aquino will bring beloved character Alysia Yeoh to the big screen is trailblazing; she’ll be the first trans character in any mainstream superhero movie.
Previously, trans actors have played cis roles (Elliot Page in the X-Men movies), and trans characters have been a part of superhero TV for years thanks to Supergirl’s Nia Nal, portrayed by trans actress Nicole Maines. But this is still a major step forward for the genre.
Alysia Yeoh was introduced to the Batgirl comics in Batgirl Vol. 4 #1, penned by Gail Simone. She was Barbara Gordon’s roommate and briefly dated Barbara’s brother, but ended up marrying a woman named Jo (which led to a truly delightful wedding featuring music by Black Canary).
Her casting is a watershed moment for superhero movies. As a transgender woman Ivory Aquino is perfectly prepared for a role that, in previous years, might have gone to a cis actor. Furthermore, the comics dealt with many aspects of Alysia’s trans identity, which suggests that we’ll see these issues tackled in a superhero franchise that’s always paid attention the humans involved.
Hopefully this is a sign of the stories to come. In January 2020 Marvel President Kevin Feige promised a trans character in Marvel’s near future, but two years later a trans story has yet to be told. Maybe a successful portrayal by DC will be the motivation Marvel needs to finally tell the stories of those who need to see themselves as the hero.
Batgirl premieres in 2022 on HBO Max.