Nicole Maines & 'Supergirl' Take on Violence Against the Trans Community
Supergirl flies into new and socially relevant territory tonight with an hour that explores the impact of violence against members of the trans community.
As the home of TV's first-ever transgender superhero in Nicole Maines's Nia Nal, aka Dreamer, the show has already excelled at raising awareness of matters key to the LGBQT community, but this time, it's literally a life-altering storyline. Per the Human Rights Campaign's website, "2020 has already seen at least three transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported—or misreported."
In the episode, entitled "Reality Bytes," Nia's roommate Yvette (Roxy Wood), who is also a trans woman, is brutally attacked by an ignorant stranger who can't handle Dreamer being a transgender hero. Stunned at first, then shook into action, Nia refuses to stand silent, leading to some serious and important conversations with Kara (Melissa Benoist) and the superfriends about exactly what Nia—and Maines, herself—face on a regular basis.
Here, the always enlightening actress and advocate opens up about the need for TV like this and what can be done to hopefully save lives in the future.
How are you doing? Because you have all done really well by this character.
Nicole Maines: Yes. I’m so happy with how Dreamer has really become her own superhero. I was just looking at her yesterday and she really has kind of become her own unique hero. Dream Girl [the comic-book version] is one hero, but I feel like Dreamer just has such a really different feel from Dream Girl. She’s become, in the past two seasons, her own entity and her own person, and that makes me really happy.
This character showed up with a lot on her shoulders, as far as what she stood for socially and for the trans community. But the writers have given her an entirely fleshed-out life, with romance and personal relationships, all that stuff. It’s really cool that it wasn’t just kind of putting down a flag and making a statement, it was actually creating a character and giving her a life.
Yeah, totally. She is a three-dimensional, fully fleshed-out character, and I have just come to love her so much.
Now, this episode looks at violence against the trans community, which is a real thing — it’s insane how underreported this is.
Absolutely, and that’s something that we touch on this episode: exactly how common this is and how no one really understands that. And of course Supergirl, as just a beacon of hope, is coming to Nia and saying, “Listen, you know, we do this every week, we’re going to get this guy,” and Nia’s like “No, we don’t do this every week. I do and the community, they do this every day. You do this never.”
So it’s showing Dreamer as a member of the trans community and as a guardian of the trans community that is going through this and understanding exactly what she’s going through. And it shows Yvette knowing what she’s gone through and understanding her situation as a trans woman.
And how does Kara take this attack on Yvette? Because you know Kara always beats herself up for not being Supergirl enough.
Yeah, she’s panicked and worried for Yvette and for Nia. Her first instinct is “Are you okay? I came as soon as I heard!” and then it's “We’re going to get this guy” and "You take care of Yvette, I’m Supergirl, I’ve got this.” But then Dreamer is saying “No, I’ve got this.” And she’s also working with William (Staz Nair) to make sure that this is reported accurately.
And the attack on Yvette isn't by a meta, correct?
No, and that’s what’s so scary about it and so different about this. It isn’t some supervillain, this isn’t a metahuman, this isn’t an alien, it’s not someone with a tragic backstory, you know, “a love lost so I have to become a villain.” This is just someone whose narrative we’ve heard a bunch of times before.
I just saw it the other day...people online were talking about this episode and they were like, "Oh, well Dreamer's just, you know, tricking dudes into thinking he’s a girl, yadda yadda,” and I’m like, “that is exactly who this supervillain is.” And it just made me laugh so much because they were trying to s**t on this episode and on this storyline and I’m like, “all of the points you’re making are exactly who this villain is and what he says.” And that’s what’s so scary for Dreamer, that this is just a guy who could be anybody, some average—well not average because he’s deranged—but just some physically normal person who is capable of inflicting that much devastation.
I hope that there is a point where you address the fact that Yvette's attacker represents so many ignorant humans out there whose minds can't be changed.
Oh, yeah. And that’s really what we talked about [with the writers]. We talked about giving him a backstory, we talked about “Who is this guy?” I pitched making him one of the Agent of Liberty goons and then we decided that it doesn’t really matter who this guy is, it doesn’t matter where he came from, and it doesn’t matter what tragic backstory he has that made him want to attack people.
The point is he set out to attack someone because of who they are. And so it doesn’t really matter who you are, because your actions define who you are and your actions are defining you as a villain. And so Dreamer has this confrontation with him and it is so not what Supergirl normally does. Supergirl is kind of like, “You don’t have to do this, you can still be good.” But this is Dreamer. She is not on a mission to redeem this person.
Dreamer has her powers to help with this situation, but as an advocate for the community, what would you tell members of the trans community facing this? Because they don’t have superpowers.
You have to protect yourself. It is just a matter of caution because it’s scary, especially in the online dating world, which is kind of where this [story] takes place. You do see Yvette in the end trying to take some [precautionary] steps. If you’re going to meet a stranger, bring a friend, go to a public place. But you know it still happens, so it’s about trying to protect yourself, making sure you are surrounded by people you trust, dropping pins on your phone so people know where you are. It’s taking every possible step to try and protect yourself.
Even still, as we see in this episode, bad things do happen. So trans women, we have to protect ourselves because it is a scary world out there and there are so many people who don’t understand and there are so many states where you’re still able to plead “gay panic” in a court of law. It’s almost always thrown out immediately because it’s, pardon my French, a f***ing stupid excuse, but the fact that it is still legally permissible in court is absurd.
So it’s a matter of protecting yourself, but also telling stories like this and doing what we can to try to educate the community about these issues, about the dangers we face. Because one of the other things that I saw people talking about online [is that] they don’t believe the story we’re doing. They were like “This is ridiculous! Who’s attacking trans people because they’re trans?” I’m like “Are you kidding me!?” That’s why this is so important that we’re doing this episode, because people really don’t even comprehend that people are attacking, let alone killing, trans women brutally for who we are.
So you did get to work with the writers to make sure certain points were covered?
Oh yeah. We had a series of points that we made sure were covered and were addressed. Of course, you never know what’s going to wind up on the cutting room floor but we said, "these are the points that we need to make sure are said."
We made a point to mention the increased risk that trans women of color are at and when we wrote the episode, we talked about how many trans women in 2019 had been the victims of hate-related violence and how many have we lost. And I think at the time of filming it was something like 23 or 24, so we tried to use that actual number and also point out that the real number is actually probably much, much higher because it does go underreported.
And how was it for you after the episode wrapped? I imagine this is really close to the bone for you.
It felt good to do. It felt exciting to do this story because, while it is such heart-wrenching material, I was doing it with people who understood, who were excited to be telling this story and to shed some light on this. And of course, getting to do this with Roxy was amazing because just having her on set is always a blessing. And Pierson, despite the character he plays, he’s actually awesome.
And our director, Armen [Kevorkian] was just so… bless him, he and the writers were so open to talking to me. Armen was just so good about talking to me about any little thing and checking with me, making sure I felt like we’re doing things right. And he had the patience of a saint because I had no business, just peering over his shoulder the whole time, especially when they were doing the scene where Yvette gets attacked. I was there right next to the director, I had my headphones on and was like, “What’s going on? How are we doing?” I was so overprotective of this episode. [Laughs]
That’s hilarious. Next thing is you’re going to be directing an episode next season.
Oh god, I don’t think I’m ready for that. I think I’m better at micromanaging people against their will. [Laughs] I say that, but there wasn’t anything to micromanage because Armen totally understood what we were doing, he understood the importance of this episode and he’s just a fabulous director otherwise. So, doing this with him was just phenomenal and he did such an amazing job. We’re all so excited for people to see this episode.
Supergirl, Sundays, 9/8c, The CW