Zoë Kravitz Can Thrive as Catwoman — as Long as History Doesn’t Bring Her Down

     October 15, 2019

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Zoë Kravitz has always deserved better and now, with the news she’ll be playing Catwoman in Matt Reeves‘ The Batman opposite Robert Pattinson out in the open, she just might get it. While the promise of playing a popular and prominent DC Comics character is intriguing, Kravitz is already facing some big obstacles right out of the gate, including her previously unmemorable and underwhelming turns in comic book movies and genre films as well as the legacies left behind by other actresses who’ve played Catwoman. For Kravitz, stepping into Catwoman’s shoes could be a make-or-break career move, a role that defines her.

It’s worth noting that a bit of karmic justice has been delivered with Kravitz’s casting as Catwoman. Back in 2015, Kravitz revealed in an interview with Nylon magazine she had auditioned for a role in The Dark Knight Rises. According to Kravitz, she’d allegedly been told she was “too urban”, recalling,

“In the last Batman movie, they told me that I couldn’t get an audition for a small role they were casting because they weren’t ‘going urban’. It was like, ‘What does that have to do with anything?’. I have to play the role like, ‘Yo, what’s up, Batman? What’s going on wit chu?'”

It was a disturbing recollection, to say the least, and one emblematic of not just the problematic ways this industry treats women of color for high-profile — and thus, highly visible — roles but in the specific way Kravitz has been treated as she’s embarked on a steady rise to stardom.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Now, four years later, Kravitz is getting the last laugh as she embarks on her journey to becoming Catwoman. While justice is so, so sweet, we also shouldn’t forget that Kravitz has been quietly working in sci-fi, fantasy, and action films for years now. Kravitz getting Catwoman isn’t a fluke. She has a baseline understanding of the genres which will figure into The Batman in some fashion. She’s shown up in previous performances in X-Men: First ClassMad Max: Fury Road, the Divergent films, and most recently in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. She’s played comic book characters, antiheroes, badass women hidden under the veneer of damsels-in-distress. There have been glimpses of capability served up by Kravitz and just as quickly erased because she’s never been given a lead role. It’s easy to undervalue Kravitz as a performer because, in each of these movies, she was either given a pitiful amount of screentime, a character that was woefully archetypal, was criminally underwritten, or a combination of all three of these things. Have we really seen what Kravitz can do when she’s not caught up in the modern melodrama of, say, a project like Big Little Lies? No, not at all. But The Batman could change that for her.

It would be foolish to expect Kravitz to be all of these things in every moment of her time in The Batman, however long that may be since we currently have no idea how heavily the character figures into the plot. But there’s plenty for her to sink her teeth into here. She has the ability to put to good use all of the hours clocked on Fantastic BeastsX-Men: First Class, the Divergent series, and Mad Max: Fury Road and use it to create a take on Catwoman that is true to the comics and the script while also understanding what it takes to make a character in a contemporary genre-specific movie thrive.

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Image via DC Comics

From an actor’s point of view, tackling Catwoman is a dream. As far as women in the world of Batman are concerned, Catwoman, a.k.a. Selina Kyle, is unlike any other. She arrived on the scene in Batman #1 in 1940 as “the Cat”; our girl has seen some shit in her day. She’s sometimes an ally and sometimes an antagonist. She’s utterly beguiling. Her history with Batman is as layered as it is sordid and intense. She’s been afforded a rich interior life and character history in the comics which has given her room to develop, with fans getting to know her as more than just a cat-burglar. She’s a criminal, a heroine, a goddess, a wicked woman… and so much more. Who wouldn’t want to tap into these aspects of the Catwoman mythos and create something from it?

Kravitz has so much working in her favor at this point, from her past roles to the material created by Batman comics writers new and old to the Batman script penned by Reeves. But we cannot ignore the fact that the combined weight of the legacies left behind by previous Catwoman performances now threatens to rain on her parade. Kravitz is not the first woman of color to portray Catwoman nor is she the first woman to have played her within the limits of recent memory. Eartha KittJulie NewmarMichelle PfeifferHalle Berry, and Anne Hathaway are among the actors who’ve delivered the most notable (and infamous, in some cases) onscreen Catwoman performances.

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Image via Warner Bros.

As a woman of color, Kravitz is inevitably going to be held up to Kitt and Berry, whose respective performances hit the campy, sex kitten sweet spots. In Kitt’s case, this is a win; for Berry, welp, it’s simply not. The discourse will analyze how race and gender intersect by default and these names will inevitably be put alongside Kravitz’s as we evaluate her performance. But we also have to consider the most recent movie version of Catwoman — Hathaway’s version in The Dark Knight Rises — and a performance like the cult-fave one turned in by Pfeiffer in Batman Returns. Some will feel the need to ask “Really? Another Catwoman?” to nobody in particular and invoke Hathaway’s name while others will say (and admittedly, they won’t be wrong) that if it’s recent gold standard performances we should look at, the Pfeiffer’s deliciously intense yet provocative take on Catwoman is the one to beat.

For better or for worse, there have been a host of actors who’ve taken on Catwoman, embracing her, giving themselves to her essence, and attempting to bring out different facets of Catwoman’s personality. Kravitz is going to bear the weight of these different contributions, all competing for dominance and place of pride in the pop culture legacy of Catwoman. She’s going to have to push past it, grab on to something that is hers and hers alone. Kravitz has a real opportunity here to carve out a niche for herself where we can remember her performance for something only she can deliver.

Everyone will have their preferred Catwoman in mind. Many will doubt Kravitz and try to devalue the potential of her casting. But if we use the metric of the amount of screentime or the kinds of characters she’s played as some sort of indicator Kravitz is incapable of rising to the challenge, well, I reject that. I reject it if only to remind, as my final bit of food for thought, that any naysayers on Kravitz’s casting have seemingly forgotten Robert freakin’ Pattinson is playing Batman in this movie, too. This is an actor whose Twilight performance we still invoke with every new role he secures as if there is still some reason to act incredulous at him nabbing a non-Twilight-esque role. But we have signed off on him. We’ve said “Yes.” We’ve kept the scoffs to a minimum. If we can afford Pattinson whatever amount of confidence we have left to spare in tackling a character that has been depicted and played hundreds of ways over decades and decades, maybe we should just pause and give Kravitz the same consideration now that she’s in the same boat. She can succeed so long as we all her some reprieve from the pressures of the numerous Catwomen of the past.

The Batman is set to arrive in theaters on June 25, 2021.

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