In ‘Naomi’, a black girl becomes heroic

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“What if everything you believe about the world turns out to be wrong?” If we really opened our eyes, what would we see? “

These are the questions you hear in the opening scene of the new superhero drama “Naomi”, which premieres Tuesday on The CW. The voice belongs to the main character, a black teenage girl with glasses who gradually becomes sharp as she looks at herself in a mirror.

This is your first glimpse of the latest in a line of racing men who challenge notions of what an overpowered champion can look like. If you still believe that only men with chiseled chins can save the day, she’s about to open your eyes to other possibilities.

Based on the DC comics written by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker, the series follows the adventures of Naomi McDuffie, a 17-year-old girl whose life takes an extraordinary turn after an otherworldly event takes place. lit up the sky in his small town. With a lead role for a teenage black girl, played by actress Kaci Walfall, and two creators – Ava DuVernay directed the series and co-wrote its 13 episodes with writer and producer Jill Blankenship – the series stands out as a snap. with the world of comics. standard predominantly white and male-centered.

DuVernay said she sees “Naomi” as “a gateway to a new generation and a new group of comic book fans,” and she’s not the only one. The teenage hero is one of many young female comic book characters taking center stage in their own adventures in 2022, and the arrival of each new face is set to open that door a little wider.

This summer, Disney Channel will feature the animated antics of a teenage black mega-genius named Lunella Lafayette (voiced by singer and actress Diamond White), in the new series “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur”. Also slated for this summer is “Ms. Marvel” on Disney +, which follows Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim Pakistani with shapeshifting powers (played by actress Iman Vellani).

“Naomi” isn’t the CW’s first effort to diversify the superhero genre. The DC-based network’s “Black Lightning” series, which ended in May, depicts a black crime fighter (played by Cress Williams) who teamed up with his superhuman daughters to fight evil. The second season of “Batwoman,” which premiered last year, featured a black character named Ryan Wilder (played by Javicia Leslie) in the title role.

But it is perhaps the most relevant so far. In a phone interview, Blankenship noted that “Naomi” is as much a coming-of-age story as it is an action adventure. “When we meet her, she’s basically just an ordinary human girl,” she said.

At first glance, Naomi is an everyday teenager who hangs out in skateparks and is obsessed with comics. Viewers soon learn that she is a military brat whose adoptive parents have moved her from place to place, often making her the only black girl in school (or in town, in certain cases).

“My whole life has been devoted to being different,” she tells a friend in the second episode.

Now housed in fictional Port Oswego, Oregon, the Friendly Brain has become popular among students and teachers. (DuVernay describes her as “a black Ferris Bueller girl.”) She juggles after-school clubs and weekend home parties with her duties as host of a high-traffic Superman fan site.

As one potential suitor puts it, Naomi is “stealing but into the tacky stuff.” But after discovering a surprising connection to her superhero idol that goes beyond mere fandom, she begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself and the world around her.

“She doesn’t put on a great costume at the end of the first episode – it’s about a trip,” Blankenship said. She added that the familiar aspects of the character will allow “young women and children of all ages and from all walks of life to see themselves in her and to feel included in this journey.”

“Naomi” is Blankenship’s third page-screen adaptation for DC. She wrote and produced the last two seasons of “Arrow,” the original anchor of the CW’s superhero lineup, as well as the 2021 Netflix series “Sweet Tooth,” based on a comic book published by the late Imprint. Vertigo from DC.

This is the first of several comic book adaptations for DuVernay, who signed a global deal in 2018 with Warner Bros. Television, the parent company of DC Entertainment. She first got a glimpse of Naomi’s designs by comic book artist Jamal Campbell shortly before the first issue’s release in 2019. Without knowing anything about her story, DuVernay felt “an instant connection,” said she declared. She saw a hairstyle that reflected her own natural locks adorned with gold stripes and a character with a down-to-earth name that also happens to be her younger sister Jina’s middle name.

For 17-year-old Walfall, landing the role was a dream come true. “Supergirl” was her favorite college TV show and she recalls being impressed with Gal Gadot when “Wonder Woman” hit theaters in 2017.

“I loved seeing a woman in power,” Walfall, from Brooklyn, said, adding that at the time she didn’t even think it was even possible for people like her to audition for such roles.

“For being a teenager and a girl, people are going to underestimate you,” she said. “But what I love about Naomi is that she doesn’t let that hold her back, and I think that reflects me. She’s just determined. She’s going to push again because she knows that’s what she needs to do.

DuVernay has also had to stay determined since his first attempt to break into the comic book world. In 2018, she was hired to direct “New Gods,” a feature film about DC alien characters of the same name, but Warner Bros. unplugged in early 2021. “Naomi” provided a different medium, as did “DMZ,” a limited series based on the dystopian comic book, slated to air on HBO Max later this year; DuVernay directed the pilot and executive produced .

With each new comic-focused ad, she’s noticed a significant backlash on social media – a lingering phenomenon that seems to show up whenever women claim a prominent place in superheroes and science. male dominated fiction. “All I have to do is open up my Twitter and be struck by the vitriol, the hate, the horrible comments, the profanity, the real abuse,” DuVernay said.

“These voices are really strong,” she added. But “I never let that petty part dampen my love of comics.”

DuVernay didn’t grow up reading comics. His first exhibition came to college. “I didn’t know how to start reading them, where to start,” she said. “None of these people looked like me. I didn’t feel like I was part of this world – the stores, the fandom, and the conventions.

This type of accessibility is built into the “Naomi” experience. Naomi is a new character who is unrelated to the stories of the decades of DC heroes that came before her, so newbie comic fans can enter downstairs.

“She is the center of Naomi’s verse,” said DuVernay.

And for black girls looking for a character that looks like them – someone to spark their young imaginations, to give them cosplay inspiration, or to kickstart a new appreciation for comics – Naomi might be the one.

“We are very special and we have power within us,” said Walfall. “I hope black girls see this in themselves and know that we are so much taller than we sometimes think.”

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