On January 12-13, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Television Group came to my adopted hometown of Washington, D.C. to hold the first ever “DC in D.C.” event, which boasted a slew of stars and producers from all the DCTV series, as well as DC comic book writers and artists and invited guests from politics, government service, entertainment, business, academia and more. Held at the Newseum, and best described as a smaller scale comic con, the event featured panel discussions that explored the intersection of comic books, culture and entertainment. It also featured autograph signings, a screening of the DC Universe’s animated movie Batman: Gotham By Gaslight and the world premiere of the DCTV Series Black Lightning.
“DC in D.C.” was unlike other comic events in that the panels were not separated by medium; each one had a mix of comics, television and animation. But the most unique thing was that the panels, for the most part, focused on issues of representation, highlighting race, feminism, mental health and more. As someone who studied the intersection of society and entertainment in college, and spent a semester specifically looking at societal issues in comic books, this event was of real interest to me. From the overwhelming turnout, it seemed like it was of great interest to many, with some having traveled across the country just for this specific event.
My favorite part of the weekend, however, was getting to attend the Black Lightning Premiere Party which was held at Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. This party was invite only, so after the public screening of Black Lightning I headed outside the Newseum with a group of other journalists and waited to board a shuttle headed for the soiree. Throughout the night, everyone enjoyed the live band, open bar and endless stream of food. We also mingled with all the celebrities in attendance for “DC in D.C.” The rest of the museum was open to explore, which thrilled me as it’s my favorite museum in all of D.C.
Overall, the entire event was beyond my expectation. Due to the short turn-around on the event, I feared they wouldn’t be prepared enough to do justice to such an important topic as representation in pop culture. Happily, I was blown away by the amount of people they brought on board and how deeply they examined the topics.
While I don’t have much to compare it to, as I have yet to cover a comic con, I found the atmosphere to be very similar to that of ATX TV Festival. All of the guests were very approachable outside of the press rooms–as long as you didn’t crowd them and fangirl out–and were more than willing to take a few seconds to chat and take a picture. While I’m not holding out hope, I would love for DC to make this an annual event. (DC can be a cool place to talk about pop culture too, y’all.)
As press I got to participate in roundtable interviews with the panelists. Here are some of the best quotes to come from the green room.
On the topic of race:
“Coming up I was reading all of this stuff. These are my comic books. More Marvel than DC, but that’s OK. They forgive me. To now get to see Black Lightning, to see David Harewood on Supergirl, to see these people of color who are representing these heroes that are undersold sometimes…. Like who knew about Black Lightning besides nerds? I have a statue in my bathroom of Black Lightning, which my wife let me keep for some reason. [laughs] I thank everyone for supporting it because, one, it gives me employment, but it’s important to see these different versions of heroism. To see every shade. I can’t wait for the new Spider-Man to be what he is in the comic books, the new Hulk to be what he is in the comic books, so that we do see more people of color. We understand a certain narrative, let’s see all these other narratives that exist…and that’s exciting,” — Chris Chalk, Lucius Fox on Gotham
“Again, as a Black Brit, to see the sheer amount of Black shows that are happening here now, not all have been successful, but its great. You’ve got Black Lightning coming out. Ava Duverny in terms of directing. It’s an exciting time. I’d say we’re still probably about 10 years behind in Britain, but we do have a new generation coming through with John Boyega and Daniel Kuhlua. So that’s tremendously exciting that the younger generation is getting an opportunity. But certainly, when I was growing up those opportunities weren’t there.” — David Harewood, J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter and Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman on Supergirl
“These heroes have always been social justice warriors from the very beginning. You look at the backgrounds of the individuals who created these characters, they were extensions of fights they were fighting. I think people who say that [that they weren’t always SJWs] are ignorant of the history of the creators and the history of comics. The odd thing is, I don’t think I’m injecting politics in a lot of the work. It’s perspective. It’s reality. I write about life and people presume it to be politics.” — John Ridley, writer of The Other History of the DC Universe
On the topic of feminism:
“It feels nice to be in a space that is welcoming, because a lot of the time I feel like the topics that we’re discussing have always been shut down. Like feelings. Like depression and anxiety. I’ve never been in a space where that’s actually been interested in… It’s nice to have space where you can just talk and not be judged.” — Camren Bicondova, young Selina Kyle/Catwoman on Gotham
“There used to be a real feeling of…you would just kind of toe the line a little bit. You would smile and say what you needed to say, and now it just feels like it’s blown completely open and it’s almost welcome. Our feelings, our thoughts, our reflections on how we should be treated, what we should be wearing, how much we should be paid, every single aspect of our lives is open for us to be like, ‘No, this isn’t acceptable anymore,’ and to not then lose our jobs instantly, or to then not get another job, because it’s like…if all women are saying this then you will have no choice but to listen.” — Erin Richards, Barbara Kean on Gotham
“It’s really cool. I mean, just doing that women’s panel felt really good. Even now, talking about things and women’s issues, like, not that I don’t like talking about the shows because I do, but it’s very refreshing. And I’m very passionate about women’s rights. I mean we all talk about it, all the time, and to be able to discuss these things, and the fact that people want to hear about it, that they care, it feels really good. This is a great platform for that, and being here in D.C., I don’t know, there’s something about it that makes it all feel a little more serious.” [laughs] — Caity Lotz, Sara Lance/White Canary on D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow
“I think as we’re watching these characters evolve, Warner Brothers and CW are also watching where these characters evolve, and where mistakes are being made, and where things are working, where women are being strengthened. It’s kind of a course correction and the more we do it the better these characters get.” — Candice Patton, Iris West-Allen on The Flash
“It’s such an excellent question, frankly, that it was the thesis for our entire series; ‘What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?’ Every single one of the arcs has tried to measure in a way, [just] that. Batman is so big that it’s like the lion and ant, where he roars but the ant just goes down into the underworld. She’s a character that can break these codes he has. He’s got the hard line against guns, she’s not so sure about how she feels about it. He’s got the hard line against killing, she was going to be a solider. Taking of a life in battle was something she was going to have to address. There’s all of these places where they’re in such a similar track, but they have such divergent morals with how they interact with what they see as their duty. That’s a question we try to answer every single arc.” — Marguerite Bennett, writer of Batwoman and Bombshells: United
On the topic of LGBTQ representation:
“I make my art more queer, and more brown, as much as possible. I try to be as…I don’t hate inclusive, I think that’s an important word, but I hate the word diversity. I try to be as normalizing as possible, because I grew up in New York City and there are a lot of people that look like all of the people at this table, often at the same table. You can’t really tell what is going on behind the scenes, but I identify as NB and as queer. I know many people that do. So I want to put that into my stories as much as possible, because that is all a part of being human. I’m no one single part of myself. They are all very important.” — Vita Ayala, DC comic writer
“I think with my character, one of my favorite parts, and one of the most meaningful parts, is that she’s bisexual. I am loving the direction that [the show] is going right now, but I also think it’s important not to gay-wash her and see that bisexuality. I think it’s hard for people to understand, who are not really around it, what bisexual is or what it means…and so making sure that we keep that and normalize it for more people.” — Caity Lotz, Sara Lance/White Canary on D.C.’s Legends of Tomorrow
On the topic of mental health:
“I think it’s about time. We’ve been at war as a nation now for over 15 years. Many of our young people are veterans now themselves. I think the fact that we’re talking about it is a positive and not a negative, but I want to make sure that we’re being truthful. Post traumatic stress doesn’t mean you’re going to come home and shoot up a school or post office. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re saying that you can have it but you can overcome. You can fight through, and you can get help, and you can come back and do amazing things. You can be soccer coaches, you can be principals at schools, you can run corporations. Hell, you can even come back and be Detective Alvarez on a show like Gotham. And that’s the truth about what it can be.” — J.W. Cortes, Detective Carlos Alvarez on Gotham
“I think there are more and more people out there suffering from this disease than [there] were ten years ago, so I think that’s leading the issue to be talked about more and more. There is a Netflix show from a distinguished competitor of DC, that I shall not name, that really deals with this issue. But I think it deals with this issue really, really well. They made an excellent show that really deals with PTSD, and I thought it was one of the best representations out there. On the panel it was brought up that it is a forgotten disease, and it really is, because the symptoms aren’t physical. For so many years people would just be like, ‘Man up. You’ve got shell shock. Who cares?’ But now people realize like: no, this is a super traumatic event and it is time we deal with it.” — Jason Inman, Host of DC All Access
“I really believe that the world of entertainment, whether it is through comics or tv shows or through movies, is a powerful vehicle through which we can change how our country thinks, not just about PTSD but about emotions and emotional being more broadly. We live in an age where everyone is not getting their information all in one place. They’re not listening to lectures all the time, to think about things like mental health, but they are spending a fair amount of time engaging with various entertainment products.” — Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States
“I’m actually really glad, because stories like Mister Miracle could be the touchstone for PTSD in terms of comics. You know how comics have these touchstones in terms of stories? And I think Mister Miracle could be that comic book, because we don’t have that right now.” — Jason Inman, Host of DC All Access
On why an event like DC in D.C. is so important:
“It’s enormously important to me as a Black Brit. I feel quite honored to be a part of this group, because, obviously, I’m not African-American. But as a Black Britain, I’ve always looked up to Americans, specifically Black Americans: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Paul Robson, Harry Belafonte. The whole Civil Rights movement started here. As a Black Brit, it’s always the Americans who have guided me in terms of heroism and fighting for Civil Rights, as well as Mandela and other figures, but I think primarily it has been Black Americans who have led that way so it’s a tremendous honor for me to be here on MLK Day, a couple of miles away from where he gave his famous speech.” — David Harewood, J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter and Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman on Supergirl
“It’s phenomenal. When we were coming back from San Diego Comic Con, when they mentioned they were thinking about doing this, at this time of year…to be honest, I cried just because of the impact. And I was like, ‘I get to be a part of that.’ I just felt so privileged. It’s just a wonderful, perfect convergence of time. It’s MLK weekend and to have it here…you can’t market anything better than DC in D.C., right? That’s just meant to be.” — Cress Williams, Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning on Black Lightning
“Well for me, the important thing about writing has always been taking your characters seriously. That’s how you always get to the good stuff…is taking your characters seriously. So if DC is willing to take a gay, pink lion seriously enough to bring it to an event like this, it really allows me to do my job in taking the character seriously. It shows that they back me up. It sounds like something that might be silly or frivolous but I take it very seriously, and I think I have something important to say in writing this comic. And the fact that DC would bring me to an event like this, it just proves that they do too.” — Mark Russell, writer of DC’s The Flintstones and Snagglepuss comics
“D.C. is a place of change, and so I feel really honored to be here and to have these discussions. These are really important discussions we’re having…. Every building has history and importance, and we have so much power to change our country. To be invited to something like this is incredible. Kudos to DC and Warner Brothers for even allowing these discussions to even happen. It says a lot about these corporations that we work for that they’re willing to bring us out and engage with audiences and have these discussions about women’s rights and diversity in comic books.” — Candice Patton, Iris West-Allen on The Flash
Featured Picture: Russell Tovey