Batman: The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent movie. It is efficiently plotted, has excellent actors, and manages to be both exciting and fun. As I sat in the movie theater with my mother, enthralled, taking everything in and bristling every time my phone vibrated, forcing me to dedicate precious seconds to texting variations of “¡NO MOLESTE! ¡BATMAN!”, a though had settled into my head and refused to leave.
Why the hell couldn’t Blake be Reneé Montoya?
Introduced in 1992, Reneé Montoya is best known as a member of the GCPD—one of the more prominent ones, after James Gordon. The daughter of Dominican immigrants, she was chosen by Gordon as part of the Mayor Crimes Unit, which she served with distinction as one of Gotham’s best, until a series of personal and emotional crises cause her to realize that she can no longer do the job. Oh, and she’sone of DC´s few lesbian characters. Without spoiling anything, I can say with certainty that one could have replaced Blake with her without having to change any (non-name related) line.
And yet, there she isn’t; instead, the role of “cop who helps Commissioner Gordon and Batman” is given to another white male actor in a movie filled to the brim with them, and lacking severely in prominent female characters who are not love interests, or characters of color who haven’t been whitewashed or aren’t Morgan Freeman. And in so misrepresenting the world as it is, it promotes harmful tropes which affect us in our everyday lives and make the world worse than it could be, to no advantage to itself.
Conversely, there were several advantages to having Reneé (*1) in the role. They’re mostly moral, it’s true—although I think giving Latino girls the somebody they can look up to and say “there´s someone who looks like me! And she kicks ass!” is reason enough—but it makes a good amount of business sense as well, as Reneé is an established character starring in a fairly decent amount of published stories–stories (*2) the film could have helped sell, helping DC make more money at little cost.
Now, there is, to be fair, no reason why the character had to be Reneé. As is, the film works perfectly fine, and I have no complaints about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance. And yet, it bugs me. Because while there’s no reason why the character had to be Reneé, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been her, and why the movie couldn’t have been just as excellent, if not more so. Oh, I’m sure people would attempt to give some, such as “there were already two prominent women in the film” (so? The addition of a third one will not cause the film to collapse on itself), “she’s not iconic enough,” (neither is Blake, an all-original character, as far as I’m aware), or “there wouldn’t have been anyone right for the part” (really?), or “there’s a bit near the end which wouldn’t have worked” (utterly false) etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. None of them address the core issue: there was an opportunity for the film to do more good at no cost to anyone, and it was missed. And in a movie that is so superlative when it comes to plot, spectacle, and craft, it’s sad that it either can’t or refuses to be equally superlative when it comes to better representing the world as it is, and therefore helping improve it.
(*1) Or any number of established women in the Batman-verse, or just any woman at all. Reneé is just the one that fits most naturally and presents the most advantages.
(*2) Such as Gotham Central—it’s The Wire set in a super-hero ‘verse, and it is awesome.