“Arrow-versity” A Look at Inclusivity & Diversity in the CW Superhero TV Shows

Written by Fabian Wood

July 1, 2020

Part 1: The Brave & The Bold

Following the surprising phenomenal success of teen superhero drama “Smallville” (2001-2011), The CW decided to strike when the iron was hot after the tenth and final season concluded in May 2011. With Batman being the coveted sacred cow that it was at the time, they went with the next best thing…Green Arrow (after an Aquaman spin-off pilot and new star-spangled pant-wearing Wonder Woman pilot failed to take flight). Like most gambles, a prospective Green Arrow TV series wasn’t short of naysayers and skeptics, who were soundly proven wrong when “Arrow” premiered the next year in October 2012.

Starring the rugged Canadian actor Stephen Amell under the jaded hood, “Arrow” showcased a grittier, far less whimsical Robin Hood-inspired Emerald Archer. Little did anyone realize how successful the new series would become and what it would spawn in the years to follow. Almost eight years later, and Arrow’s accomplishments and accolades facilitated the creation of five new series in its wake; from The Flash (2014), to Supergirl (2015), Legends of Tomorrow (2016), Black Lightning (2018) and Batwoman (2019); with more promising titles in the future. Literally birthing a shared universe, from which it eponymously gets the name “Arrowverse”, all of those shows continue to grow and develop, even after the recent conclusion of its forbearer series. Ostensibly, the “Arrowverse” is DC’s MCU, but on TV, with the Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) as its Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr).

To that end, I’d like to reflect on its collective strides towards inclusivity and representation of mainly Nubian actors/actresses, but also other races, genders, and sexual orientations, showcasing them as having a broad spectrum of people. Part one will focus on the two seminal series, “Arrow” and “The Flash”.


David Ramsey as John Diggle/Spartan. Photo credit The CW Network.

John Diggle / Spartan

Debuting in the pilot episode as Oliver’s duly assigned bodyguard John Diggle, is played by David Ramsey. An original character created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheum and Andrew Kreisbery for the show, John Diggle became not only a fan-favorite, but Oliver’s trusted and capable wingman and confidante throughout the series. A permanent fixture on the cast, alongside Felicity Smoak – more on her later – John Diggle had as much character development over the years as Oliver, as the two formed an enduring bond as brothers in arms. Narratively the “lancer”, John was always eyed as the rightful successor to Oliver, taking up the costume on a few occasions, and even later becoming a full-fledge vigilante in the field under the name “Spartan”.

Needless to say the two butted heads regularly, being the tough-love voice of compassionate reason, but their mutual respect and admiration overcame any obstacle they ever faced. John’s character was nuanced and complex, with tragedy and growth, second only to the show’s titular hero. And while Oliver transcended reality by becoming the nigh-omnipotent Spectre in the season finale, John too was left with an equally auspicious new role in the closing tease. Both men could not escape the color green. High praise to David’s performance throughout the show, and for the writers giving their all to create a true equal to Oliver, and one of color.

Echo Kellum as Curtis Holt/ Mister Terrific. Photo credit The CW Network.

Curtis Holt / Mr Terrific

Played by Echo Kellum, Curtis Holt/Mister Terrific premiered in season 4 as a recurring and then main cast member for the show. In the comics, Curtis Holt is the 3rd smartest man in the world (he’s modest like that), using his phenomenal brilliance to fight crime as a physical and intellectual paragon. In the show, he was a tech savant equal to Felicity Smoak and shared similar mannerisms. Un-ironically, this made him come off as just a “male” Smoak. Joined by other secondary cast members the same season, Kellum’s character seemed to have gotten the shortest end of the stick in terms of focus and growth compared to his freshman peers as the show progressed. His character was made gay for the show, which only served to explore his personal sub-plot of his dissolving marriage, having to choose between keeping the love of his life or saving the city, in the name of Oliver/Arrow.

Beyond that brief but dramatic arc, him being gay quickly became mote. While the writers tried to pay homage to the comic book version, it made little sense in the logic of the more realistic universe. It’s hard to justify a guy beating up criminals in a leather jacket with “Fair Play” plastered on the sleeves and a big black “T” for a mask. The show often struggled with making Holt relevant. Ultimately, Curtis was pretty much shelved unless there was a crossover, or where Felicity could not appear. His only other noteworthy contribution is inventing the tech that makes Felicity walk after she was paralyzed.  Sadly, for such a great start with Diggle, the later introduction of Curtis Holt seems like its antithesis, almost a token effort. While the character or Kellum’s performance weren’t terrible, they weren’t given the type of nurturing that made the other additional cast members more endearing.

L-R, Joseph David-Jones as Connor Hawke, Charlie Barnett as JJ Diggle. Photo credits The CW Network.

Connor Hawke & John Diggle Jr

Expanding upon the mythos of John Diggle, he was given two sons in the future. Connor Hawke (played by Joseph David-Jones) who was the biological son of mercenary supervillain, Ben Turner/Bronze Tiger who was later adopted by John and raised alongside his brother J J Diggle (played by Charlie Barnett). While the two actors had relatively little screen time, as the show barreled towards its conclusion and setting up a “back door” with its “flash forwards” sequences in the latter half of the series, very much was accomplished to really flesh them out as three dimensional individuals.

A Cain and Abel story, the adopted Connor takes after John Sr, while his own son feels neglected and robbed of his father’s rightful love and affection growing up. This leads both brothers to become mortal adversaries, Connor becoming the heroic vigilante and JJ becoming the new anarchistic Deathstroke. I haven’t seen anything like this since Batwing vs Massacre back in 2011-2012 premiere arc in the “Batwing” comics. Oddly enough, when the “Arrowverse” was rebooted at the end of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” Avengers-esque crossover event, their roles were briefly reversed in the new timeline, which was to predicate a prospective spin-off series starring the next generation of Star City heroes.

Michael Jai White as Ben Turner/Bronze Tiger. Photo credit The CW Network.

Ben Turner / Bronze Tiger

By name recognition alone, prolific action star Michael Jai White plays a recurring minor villain on the show. White’s scene stealing performance as Bronze Tiger – the bad-ass martial artist with a claw fetish – is always enjoyable when he appears as a sub-boss. He only ever played a significant role on the show when he was on a Suicide Squad episode, or when Oliver was sent to prison in the first half of season seven, it which he too was an inmate. No one in their right minds would try and get in the way of Michael’s charisma by making his character more than what he was. And while he is the least developed (appearing in only 10 episodes), he’s still just as entertaining as any other prominent tertiary character on Arrow.

Cynthia Addai Robinson as Amanda Waller. Photo credit The CW Network.

Amanda Waller

Whether it was the bomb that was the 2016 “Suicide Squad” movie, or some other factors, Cynthia Addai Robinson’s role as the Machiavellian government agent Amanda Waller was short-lived. For such a well-known and beloved character in the comics, and cartoons, live action versions never pan out as well for Waller (played by Angela Bassett in the radioactive bomb that was “Green Lantern” (2011) and by Viola Davis in the aforementioned Suicide Squad). Only making 17 appearances on the show, Cynthia’s character was the bureaucratic Big Sister, being a governmental foil for our heroes. Amanda is killed in season four, making way for Diggle’s wife Lyla to take her spot and making ARGUS more amiable to the vigilantes running amok in Star City, and beyond. Maybe one day they’ll do Amanda Waller justice.

Related Articles

Pin It on Pinterest