Despite being superheroes in real life, Black actresses are often excluded when it comes to donning a cape on the big or little screens. Javicia Leslie is defying those odds as the CW’s Batwoman. The Hampton University alumna replaced “Orange Is The New Black” actress Ruby Rose in the series, becoming the first Black woman to ever play the iconic character.
Fortunate for me, I had the chance to catch up with Leslie during a press run to speak with her about her role as Ryan Wilder, what it means for her as a role model to younger Black women and girls and how she taps into her fashion and beauty superpowers on a day-to-day basis.
First thing’s first, we got down to business by talking about “The Family Business” on BET+. Leslie portrays Paris Duncan, the youngest daughter of the Duncan clan and the smart, spoiled and seductive badass who knows what she wants and how to get it. The actress revealed to me that originally the Carl Weber created series was supposed to be a movie, as told to her during her 2017 audition, but later got picked up as a television show.
“It’s so much fun. I’ve never played a role like this,” Leslie said. “Paris Duncan is fearless and gets the job done even though sometimes she’s the reason why the job has to be done because she probably started the drama from the get-go.” She continued to praise her character’s unapologetic nature and how Paris has helped her evolve as a woman outside of her role “to just go” and “there is no such thing as too much.”
As we transitioned into speaking about her action-packed role as Batwoman, I asked how the two roles of Paris Duncan and Ryan Wilder compare to one another. “They’re both very much women badasses. They’re not scared to fight, they’re not scared to go against the man, they’re not scared to kick behind. They’re both very strong,” Leslie said about the two characters. The word “badass” had been used about ten times only five minutes into our phone conversation, so I had to ask her what her definition of the term was, especially as a Black woman in the entertainment world.
“In entertainment, it’s making sure you constantly go for what you believe in. You’re not willing to back away from that or change who you are to fit the comfort zone of other people. I always knew our stories were valuable but everyone else is starting to realize our stories are valuable and there’s money behind our stories. There’s movie tickets, subscriptions and streaming behind our stories,” she explained passionately. Leslie told me about her time on web series Black & Sexy TV and how viewers would tune in and subscribe for the quality content produced by the cast and crew. “That was at a time where none of the stuff that’s happening right now was happening. You had choices and you still chose to pay for the subscription because it was quality Black TV. If I had to center anything about being a Black woman right now that’s super important in entertainment and society, it’s to always stand up for [our stories], always support them and always fight for them.”
Javicia Leslie is coming into 2021 strong and fighting crime as Gotham’s famed vigilante Batwoman. With the current cultural and sociopolitical climate, she sees vast importance in being tapped as the first Black woman to ever take on this role. “It’s obviously a responsibility, but it’s an honor. It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the underrepresentation that it represents. It gives a little brown girl another opportunity to look at the TV and say, ‘Hey, Batwoman looks like me. I could be Batwoman.’ I love that my mom and my girlfriends can watch a show and feel represented by Ryan or Paris because they’re strong women that don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, no man is gonna tell them ‘no,’ they’re gonna get what they want and if someone doesn’t give it to them,they’re gonna take it.”
“I know I didn’t have that so I want to continue to keep that in my mind and I look forward to what else it can do. It’s really dope that my grandchildren will be able to say, ‘My grandmother was Batwoman,’” she laughed as I joined.
When she said the word “responsibility,” it hit differently. Her role Batwoman is important to the culture, but her recognizing her power and platform made the conversation that much better. As a sexy, smart Black woman, Javicia Leslie’s characters are breaking the stereotypical molds of Black women being damsels in distress or more than just the object of sexualization, poor circumstances and trauma. However, the actress recognizes that all Black stories matter when we really break down the true meaning of representation in television and film.
“All of it matters. I know actors and actresses who play those roles well and it all matters. The thing about television is it’s a representation of people’s stories and real people’s lives,” she said. “Yes, it’s super amazing to be part of the strong story but I do think it’s important to show the other stories too because this is what real people are going through. When I look at all of my characters, I’m very fortunate to represent such strength. These are truths for us and this is really what it is.”
Offscreen, Javicia told me that she has a few superpowers of her own – in the realm of style, beauty and fashion, of course. “My ability to play with androgyny. I love the idea of things that may be considered masculine and I can turn it into something that fits a woman perfectly. I have a male best friend that literally said to me the other day, ‘You have the style I would want if I were a girl but even the style I want as a guy,” she admitted as she laughed.
“I’d have to say that my superpower is really being able to take masculine looks and create my own energy with it where it’s neither masculine or feminine – it’s just me.”
When it comes to her personal relationships with Ryan and Paris, Javicia has a few style similarities between her two roles. “I’m an all-black everything kind of person [and] both of those characters are like that. They both play in the darkness and I love the color schemes of both of my characters with black, red and bold colors,” she explained. Javicia is also a fan of staying ready so she doesn’t have to get ready to kick butt, especially when it comes to her shoes. “It’s really important for me to have a shoe that really grabs my foot. In Paris’ style, I love her tall black boots that come all the way up her legs. In ‘Batwoman,’ I have these killer platform boots that I fight crime in. I love a good boot!”
We could talk about how Batwoman is our superhero, but I wanted to ask Leslie who her style and fashion superheroes are – and she couldn’t have picked a better choice. “I love me some Tracee Ellis Ross. That’s my girl. She’s so versatile, has so much fun with her style and she can really honestly do no wrong,” Leslie fangirled over the Black-ish star. “I find similarities in that when it comes to feeling like I don’t have to be one specific way with boots, sneakers and colors. That’s something that she does.”
The season premiere of “Batwoman” will air on Sunday, January 17 at 8pm EST/7pm CST on the CW. The second season of Carl Weber’s “The Family Business” is available now on BET Plus.