At Comic-Con's DC TV presentation this year, Arrow creator Greg Berlanti announced that DC's Mr. Terrific will be joining the cast in Season 4. Berlanti said that fans have been asking when Arrow would introduce another LGBT character (after bisexual Sara Lance, who had a relationship with Ra’s al Ghul's daughter Nyssa Raatko), "and our version of Mr. Terrific happens to be gay." Today we learned that Arrow's Mr. Terrific will be played by comedic actor Echo Kellum, who's previously guest-starred in shows like Ben and Kate, Key and Peele, NTSF:SD:SUV, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Sean Saves the World. He'll be a friend to Felicity Smoak, and I like the sound of him already.
Here's something I love about Greg Berlanti: he's one of many white men running shit in Hollywood. He's a comic book nerd, and he's been given the power to bring tons of comic book properties to life. But he's also gay, and I believe that's a big part of the reason his shows are so much more interesting when it comes to gender and racial lines than many of the other superhero properties we receive in film and on television. As a gay man in his early 40s, it's possible Berlanti has spent a good part of his life feeling "other," and his stories are set apart by that sense of otherness.
Sure, the shows he's getting greenlit are centered around white, straight men, but those men are surrounded and supported by tough and complicated women, people of color and members of the queer community. Mr. Terrific is black and gay, and that's something of a marvel on a network comic book show. Or at least it once was, but Berlanti - similar to Bryan Fuller, who notably transformed many of Thomas Harris' straight white male characters into women, people of color and LGBT characters on Hannibal - is quietly and with little fanfare diversifying the comic book world. He's making a statement without making a statement, and it's the reason I respond so much more strongly to his version of comic book properties than I do any other. As a woman, I don't feel like most comic book films and shows are made for me. I think that's probably true for many gay people and racial minorities. The Flash and Arrow, and presumably soon Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl and even the damn Archie show, feel like they're made for us.
And that's because they are. Last year, after we met Nyssa Raatko on Arrow and Captain Singh and Pied Piper on The Flash, Berlanti gave an interview to Advocate saying,
I can remember when there were storylines with gay characters on shows like Family and Dynasty and thinking, I have something in common with that person. This was way before the internet and all the visibility that has brought with it. But back then, you really felt alone and when I saw those characters on TV, I knew I wasn’t alone.
He's not only writing and fostering gay characters, but hiring gay and bisexual actors like Victor Garber (Martin Stein), Wentworth Miller (Captain Cold), Andy Mientus (Pied Piper) and John Barrowman (Malcolm Merlyn) for his shows, in addition to the numerous women and people of color he employs.
Honestly, most of the time we aren’t even thinking about that, because it really is about finding the best actor for the role and whether or not they happen to be gay is secondary. But I love it when we get to cast openly gay actors in a role that other people may not cast that person in, because it’s nice to remind everybody of what they can do.
[on racial diversity of casting] I think Shonda Rhimes is still the best showrunner in the business in terms of diversity in general and I respect a lot of what she’s done in that regard. We often say that we want our shows to look and feel like America looks, and that makes for better storytelling. It’s a conscious choice and so rewarding to do what we do.
More than half of the writing staff are women on both of the shows combined, but I say we can even be doing better with more female directors and that’s an area where I want to keep improving. It’s very easy in this business to do things the way you used to do them because it feels safe, but ultimately that doesn’t make things better. To make things better you have to commit to really making a change, and entertainment is better when there are different voices involved — it just is. So it’s nice to see the growth that’s happened over the past 15 years, but there’s opportunity for more.”
That's the difference I see in Greg Berlanti's superhero shows. It's a commitment to embracing the new and diverse, something that doesn't come naturally to Hollywood and will only become the norm with the help of people like Greg Berlanti and Bryan Fuller, who have been given the keys to the kingdom but know what it feels like to stand on the outside. Berlanti wants shows that “look and feel like America,” not just the tiny minority that is white, wealthy Hollywood. That's far more interesting to me than budget or perfect faithfulness to the comics, and that's why Berlanti's DC will always be my DC.
The entire Advocate interview is great; read it here.