Pride Month Spotlight: Diversity On Camera and Off in ‘Gotham Knights’

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The CW

The CW’s Gotham Knights has been celebrated since its release for its diversity. Based on characters first created by DC Comics, the show focuses on a team of misfit anti-heroes — the Gotham Knights — as they try to prove their innocence after being framed for the murder of Gotham’s most famous resident, Bruce Wayne.

DC Comics has a strong history of LGBTA+ inclusion. They gave fans their first gay superhero in 1988 (Extraño, in Millennium #2). Since then, DC has consistently pushed forward with queer representation, building their characters with a whole spectrum of LGBTQ+ sexualities in mind. Many mainstream characters from Batwoman to Tim Drake are distinctly identified as queer in some form, and the comics (and shows and movies that come out of them, such as Gotham Knights) explore the topics, relationships, and culture that come with those characters inherent queerness. DC began exploring gender orientation and trans characters in Doom Patrol in 1989, another color of the rainbow that they are continuing to represent in Gotham Knights.

The CW has a somewhat patchy history of LGBTQ+ representation, so before Gotham Knights release there was some concern amongst potential fans about how the show’s queer characters would be depicted. Within a couple of episodes, it became apparent that showrunners Natalie Abrams, James Stoteraux, and Chad Fiveash had created not only brilliant characters but a whole world that delivered on the kind of representation fans had been craving.

By incorporating a varied and fully-realized cast of queer characters into a story that both respected and utilized who they were, the Gotham Knights writing team delivered something that fans had been crying out for in their genre media: LGBTQ+ characters whose identities were an integral part of their story, rather than the story being only about their identities.

So much of the representation that queer people have been given on television (which is still, overall, a fairly meager amount) centers around coming out stories and trauma, and often still falls prey to the trend of unhappy endings that morality tales once demanded that queer folk had. Gotham Knights avoids this trap by giving every character a fully fleshed-out story that incorporates their identity but also makes them whole people. The show does feature a coming out story — perfectly handled first “sparks” for Stephanie Brown — and it certainly includes a lot of trauma. But fans can already see that the characters involved don’t feel like they are there to just to check those boxes, and they will play key roles in the overall plot and development of the season.

There are two big reasons for Gotham Knights’ brilliant handling of this topic, and they work in perfect tandem: representation on camera, and representation behind the camera.

A fan-favorite character on Gotham Knights, Cullen Row, is transgender. This key part of his identity was established in the very first episode of the season. Cullen is portrayed by Tyler Dichiara, who — in his own words — is an actor “who also happens to be trans.” This kind of genuine trans representation has been traditionally lacking, so it’s great to see Cullen at the forefront of Gotham Knights, carrying storylines that have weight far beyond his gender identity (while also always taking his identity and worldview into account), and see him played by a trans man. In a first for network TV (at least as far as this writer is aware and can verify), we even see Cullen’s top surgery scars on screen. Just a part of him. Just there, as they should be.

Gotham Knights goes a step further than having a trans character played by a trans actor, though. Backing up Dichiara’s nuanced acting of Cullen is a writing team that includes several LGBTQ+ people, including trans writer Nate Gualtieri, queer showrunner Natalie Abrams, writer Elle Lipson, and more. The concept of “own voices” media has been gaining traction in the book sphere for several years now, and television is due to catch up. The varied and dedicated crew behind Gotham Knights goes to prove that by expanding your writers’ room, you deepen the world you create.

For queer DC fans, Gotham Knights has been a celebration of everything they have to be proud of in their fandom. For new fans, Gotham Knights is a great introduction to not only the Batman universe but to the work of many talented creators both on screen and off, who pay homage to the show’s roots while striking out confidently in their own direction.

Gotham Knights airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT. Stay up to date with our coverage on the show here. Additionally, make sure to check out Your Bat Is Dead, a Gotham Knights podcast by Nerds and Beyond! As always, stay tuned for more updates.

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