Thursday, 13 June 2019

Heroine Fix: Seeing Ourselves in DC's Sara Lance (The White Canary)

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature which examines characters whom I admire and who inspire the characters in my own writing.  This post will contain spoilers.

I've often said that DC's Legends of Tomorrow is one of my favourite shows these days.  It's got a great sense of humour and doesn't take itself too seriously, while still managing to touch on some powerful storylines and topics.  One of the most interesting characters on the time-travelling ship is the current captain, Sara Lance, also known as the White Canary.  She's a master assassin with off the chart weapon skills, trying to find her way to redemption.

When I first saw Sara Lance in her recurring role on Flash and Arrow, I'll admit that I somewhat dismissed her as another laconic action hero.  But as I got to know her through Legends, I saw the subtle nuances of her character, such as her sharp wit and quiet, but heartfelt, devotion to those she cares about.  Even though she literally has a time-ship, she has resisted the temptation to save her beloved sister's life, knowing it would cause chaos in the timeline.

Her reserve becomes more poignant when I knew that she was killed and then resurrected without a soul, becoming a feral, merciless killer.  As I got to know her better, I could see how much she fights against becoming that killer again.  It's a constant battle of vigilance, one that has held her back from making connections with others.  She holds herself back from her fellow Legends, but at the same time, she's ready to do whatever is necessary to protect them.

That's one of the reasons why it's been so satisfying to watch Sara grow into her role as captain and mentor.  And most satisfying of all, she's allowed herself to fall in love (and even picture a future with), Ava Sharpe, the head of the Time Bureau.  The episode The Eggplant, the Witch and the Wardrobe (S4E12), where Sara and Ava have to navigate an IKEA analog to their relationship is funny and heartwarming.

Characters like Sara often stay one-dimensional.  They're there to kick-ass and do the impossible.  They often stay mired in tragedy, but one of the reasons why I like Sara and Legends is that they allow her to be happy.  It's not easy, and she has to work for it, but there's a chance.  And yet, Sara hasn't had to give up any of her skills in order to be "worthy" of love.

And since it is Pride Month, it also seems worthwhile to mention that her sexuality has been handled with respect.  She is openly bisexual, and doesn't hide it.  Her attraction to men and women isn't played for laughs, or put solely into subtext, and she's certainly doesn't fall into the indiscriminate sleeps-with-anyone stereotype.  When she falls in love, it's powerful and meaningful.

If she had stayed on Arrow, she would have stayed in a bleak and dark world, but moving to Legends allowed her to explore other aspects of her character, lightening her up and giving her more depth.  It's been fun watching her explore different times and cultures, from disco queen to cowboy to medieval knight.

One of my favourite storylines is when when she goes back to the 1950s and meets a young nurse just beginning to explore her own sexuality.  Sara has gotten a job undercover at the asylum/hospital.  When she sees a doctor sexually harassing the nurse, she comes to the nurse's defense, "accidentally" slamming a drawer into the doctor.  The two of them talk, and Sara shares that she likes girls as well as boys.  The nurse shyly admits that she likes girls.  Later, it's revealed that Sara's encouragement let the nurse gain the courage to live openly as a lesbian.  I'm sure it wouldn't have been easy, but I often think about that moment.  How one opportunity to be seen can make all the difference in granting someone the courage to be happy rather than spending their lives trying to pretend to be something other than what they are.

Those are the little moments where we can all be heroes.  Where we can give encouragement rather than passive silence.  I think it also highlights why representation is so important, because it can make a real difference.

There are lots of people who can see themselves in Sara.  Those who have horrible deeds in their past and who want to atone for them.  Those who are in a position of responsibility and are struggling to find the balance between leadership and mentorship.  Those who are haunted by temptation to take actions that will benefit them personally but which could have negative effects on the rest of the world.  Those who find themselves at a distance from others because of their skills, but who want to have friendships or romantic relationships.  And those who are sexually attracted to more than one of the genders.

Having her succeed on screen gives them all a chance to believe they can succeed in real life.

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