Legends Of Tomorrow's new hero is female and Muslim

(From left) Legends Of Tomorrow's executive producer Phil Klemmer, actors Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Tala Ashe, and executive producer Marc Guggenheim at the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in August.
(From left) Legends Of Tomorrow's executive producer Phil Klemmer, actors Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Tala Ashe, and executive producer Marc Guggenheim at the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in August. PHOTO: AFP

The creators of DC's Legends Of Tomorrow have known for some time that the superhero series' merry band of time-travelling heroes should be more diverse.

Enter Zari, a Muslim computer hacktivist from the year 2042, a character that was also dreamt up as a response to Islamophobia in America.

Played by Iranian-American actress Tala Ashe, she joins heroes Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill), Atom (Brandon Routh), Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) as they return in Season 3 of the show, which airs in Singapore on Warner TV (StarHub TV Channel 515).

Speaking to the press in Los Angeles, showrunner Marc Guggenheim says that since he and his team began working on Legends Of Tomorrow, "we all recognised that there weren't enough women on the bridge of the Waverider", the team's time-jumping ship.

"And it's something we'd been looking to address.

"And we were talking about bringing on a female character and what her powers could be," says the writer and producer of the show, which is a spin-off of the DC Comics-inspired series Arrow (2012 to present) and The Flash (2014 to present).

As they were mulling this over, Mr Donald Trump scored an upset in the United States presidential election last November and soon unveiled a ban on travellers from several Muslim countries.

Because of that, he and the other writers "all sort of gravitated towards the idea of the character being Muslim", says Guggenheim, 47.

Yet he insists the creation of Zari was "not to make a political statement" or to "make it a thing".

"One of the things that we really pride ourselves on is that someone's race, religion or sexual orientation is not the only aspect of their character" on the show.

Guggenheim did, however, draw inspiration from his own family, who has been directly affected by anti-Muslim sentiment in the US.

"Just to get personal for a second, my sister-in-law is Muslim and, talking to her, I realised how difficult it is to be a Muslim-American in the current political climate."

With Zari, he wanted to create a character "who, other than being a computer hacker, a superhero and from the future, also happens to be Muslim" in the way another Legends Of Tomorrow hero, Jax (Franz Drameh), "happens to be Christian, or Felicity Smoak on Arrow happens to be Jewish".

It is a nice, important aspect of her character, says Guggenheim, who also heads production on Arrow.

Ashe, born in Iran and raised in Ohio in the US, wishes she had a character such as Zari to look up to when she was young.

"Representation is a really powerful thing and, when I was growing up and watching television, I didn't see anyone who looked like me," she says.

In 2008, Ashe played an Iraqi character on the soap opera As The World Turns (1956 to 2010) and she has said in interviews that she wants to represent not just Muslims, but also immigrant characters and "third culture" kids in her work.

"When I think about the child me in Ohio, it broadens your perspective. And what I think is so lovely about the show is that Legends Of Tomorrow is this tapestry that reflects the America of today, and Zari is joining in, further diversifying that."

Guggenheim believes superheroes in general are popular now because leaders and institutions have disappointed many.

"I have this theory that it's not just politicians - a lot of the heroes of real life are letting us down, a lot of the institutions that we typically would look to and go, 'Oh, I want to be like this person' or 'This person is going to save the world or make something better.'

"So as a society, I think the reason the audience and creatives are gravitating towards superheroes is wish-fulfilment.

"They're looking to find a little bit of hope and escapism," says Guggenheim, whose younger brothers Eric and David produce, respectively, Hawaii Five-O (2010 to present) and Designated Survivor (2016 to present).

"We don't wish necessarily that superheroes existed, but we certainly wish that there were people and institutions that we could like to be inspired by and find hope in."

• Legends Of Tomorrow 3 airs on Warner TV (StarHub TV Channel 515) on Wednesdays at 9 and 11.30pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2017, with the headline 'Legends Of Tomorrow's new hero is female and Muslim'. Print Edition | Subscribe