Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Pride Spotlight: Naomi McDuffie from ‘Naomi’

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2022 Pride Month Series! For the entire month of June, we will be highlighting different members of the LGBTQIA+ community who we think are great examples of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and in mainstream media. Today’s spotlight shines on Naomi McDuffie, the titular heroine of Naomi on The CW. 

Danny Delgado/The CW

Naomi made her debut in comic book form back in 2019 as part of her own DC Comics series. A teenager on an alternate version of Earth, Naomi grows up believing herself to be an ordinary human. But when Superman bursts into her world and awakens her long dormant powers, she is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her origins as she fights the forces trying to bring her back to her home planet. 

Despite her short history compared to more established DC heroes, the character was quickly tapped to lead her own series at The CW. It’s easy to see why. Naomi’s journey towards discovering her alien origins while dealing with all the drama of being a teenager was a perfect fit for a teen network, and her comic book connection to heroes like Superman fit well within the established Arrowverse shows. Throw in Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship as creators, and the result was an engaging and unique superhero show. Naomi was also anchored by its talented leading lady, Kaci Walfall, who prior to being cast had only appeared in guest starring roles as a child actor. 

Danny Delgado/The CW
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While the central conflict in Naomi revolved around her investigating her alien origins and training for the eventual battle with her nemesis Brutus, the series balanced the sci-fi premise with normal teenage hijinks. Walfall and the rest of the cast are all actual teenagers, and this refreshing change of pace from 20-something actors playing teens instantly made their storylines more relatable. Naomi is portrayed as bisexual from the pilot episode onward via a simple acknowledgement that she has plenty of romantic suitors regardless of gender. She flirts just as much with prickly comic store employee Lourdes as she does with ex-boyfriend Nathan or buddy Anthony, and it is utterly unremarkable to both her friends and family. 

It’s true to her Gen Z roots, which Blankenship noted was a motivator in making sure Naomi’s sexuality was addressed without fanfare: “Kids these days’ attitude toward sexuality and their aversion to labels is so inspiring and rooted in reality. We wanted to bring that to the show and have it running through the series.” Naomi is just Naomi, and the tired coming out storyline is rendered unnecessary. Her parents Greg and Jen don’t even bat an eye. Naomi is free to explore the confusing swirl of emotions that is adolescent love without fear or angst beyond the usual love triangle twists. 

Nathan Bolster/The CW

Naomi also told a more complex and necessary story about the heroes we admire. From the first episode, Naomi is obsessed with Superman. He’s adopted like she is, and those parallels are enough to draw her in. When he first appears in town and triggers her powers, her main priority is finding him, thinking he is the key to understanding her situation. But by the final episode, she knows she can’t rely on Superman to save her. She becomes a hero by herself: young, Black, and queer, the utter opposite of the character she revered. She finds her own voice and her own strength separate from that of her parents or the various aliens vying to control her abilities. 

That’s a powerful statement, one that champions the importance of intersectional identities. As Walfall told DC Comics, “It’s just been a privilege to play this character. Stepping into this world allows representation in so many ways. It allows representation for people who look like Naomi, but it also allows for representation for so many people.” Naomi also taps into the traditional depiction of alien characters as “other” by making that alienation fit both the human and non-human sides of the character. Naomi isn’t just othered by her extraterrestrial origins; she’s also Black and bisexual in a world with racism and biphobia around every corner.

“We’re very special, and we have power within us. I hope that Black girls will see that in themselves and know that we are so much bigger than we sometimes think we are.”

Kaci Walfall, New York Times
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While the series chose to be more subtle in how it brought in real world prejudice, it’s there, despite Naomi’s popularity and sunny disposition. The way that she triumphs in both her human and alien worlds is more than an inspiration. It’s a wish fulfillment fantasy that makes Naomi into a hero worth emulating like her more famous idol Superman. Black girls around the world will be able to put her poster on their walls and know that she is their hero, and that kind of legacy will live on past the show’s cancellation.

Naomi is available to watch in full on The CW app. Stay tuned for more spotlights this month!

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