Writer Nadria Tucker on ‘Superman and Lois’: The Show Has Diversity Problems On and Off-screen

[Abridged interview, edited to fit the space]

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21Poster for the ‘Superman and Lois’ Show coming to CW in January 2021. Nadria Tucker warns of a potential lack of “color” in the upcoming show.

The internet knew of Nadria Tucker’s work before they heard of her struggle. She was a writer on the ground-breaking Syfy show Krypton and the beloved series Underground. Krypton is the story of Superman’s family, the House of El. The show never lacked diversity in fact, that was a controversial point within the fandom. The Zod family are known villains within the comics, where they were also depicted as white-skinned and evil. In Krypton, the Zod ancestor is a dark-skinned Black woman who intimidates all men who enter her path, except her husband. This change and the fresh origin story were captivating and the reason so many fans of color are eager to see the CW’s Superman & Lois series. It premieres in January 2021.

But Tucker’s opinions on bringing diversity to the new show Superman & Lois were not wanted, as she would soon find out. Worse, her experience is one of a growing number of black voices in the entertainment industry who were speaking out against racism and anti-blackness. The industry had its #MeToo moment, but the racial reckoning is taking much longer to complete.

Tucker recently sat down with me to speak about her experience, in hopes that her story can add to the many others. John Boyega and Ray Fisher are examples. Her story comes from behind the scenes, and with the lesson that diversity is more than adding Black faces, their voices must be heard as well.

So, I was wondering if you would mind first telling us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I am a TV writer, I’ve been working in TV since, 2016. I worked on Underground for WGN In America spent two seasons on Krypton for Syfy. And that’s kind of what, what led me to Superman and Lois and WB.

Um, Krypton was an amazing show.

Oh, my God. Yeah, it was a very easy, very different experience. So just, a lot of fun. And I felt much more heard when it comes to issues, like the ones we’re talking about.

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Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) and Lyta-Zod (Georgina Campbell) played characters who had a complex interracial attraction in the SYFY show ‘Krypton’ that centered on diversity.

And can you talk to us about the issues? Like, how did it start off? And, and where did it stand when you went to renew your contract?

Yeah. These shows and movies have been in the news for this kind of thing for a while, right. So of course, I knew going in, that this was a possibility. I hoped otherwise. And I also hoped I could be a person who might help change things. But you know, once red flags do start to come up, you can only do so much. Like, I can only pitch things. I can’t and I don’t have the authority to make those decisions [about the red flags] and make them happen. Ultimately, that’s what the showrunner is for.

You went to the showrunner and in your [Twitter] thread, you talked about how you went, and you talked about the different problems. Could you take us through that?

Yeah, I mean, the one that comes to mind most easily is the casting of it all. Casting is a great way to get some onscreen representation of different groups. Once the news began to come out about the casting [of Superman and Lois], we saw that the villain was going to be black. And it just…it felt like we needed to start pushing for diversity in other areas. Like, ‘let’s look to have diversity in some of these supporting roles.’ But also, ‘what’s the background roles?’ Even the dude walking behind everything. Let’s get that person to be not just standard ‘whoever.’ Let’s actually reflect the real world.

Tucker worked on the show ‘Underground’ which had very diverse writers and cast which helped her overcome issues like the ones she reported at WB.

And there was pushback on that, you know. The pushback was because the show films in Canada.[The showrunner told Tucker]‘We might not be able to find actors of color in Canada, so we would have to bring them in, or ship them in,’ as it were.

But, they have black people in Canada.

Drake is there.

I’m a part of the African American Film Critics Association. We have some people up there. So, I mean, did they say why it would be hard to find Black people? Were they not looking?

You know, I don’t know. I really don’t. I can’t imagine THAT being a serious thing to say. If it was a joke, it seems inappropriate to me. It wasn’t a joke to me.

Yes. And I mean, they got Stefan James up there, too. What’s the reaction until they gave you an excuse? Did they just sort of just kind of shoo you away? Or did anybody ever come back to address what you said? Or, like, follow up or anything like that?

No, I mean, honestly, it felt like you say your piece. It either gets heard or not. And then, keep it pushing to the next thing, and the next battle that comes up. If there’s another chance…For example, we pushed for diversity in the beginning with some of the castings of Martha and Jonathan Kent. Because they’re Superman’s adoptive parents, they can be literally anything in the world. And so, we got pushed back on that. They were cast, with, I’m sure, with some great actors. Martha ended up having to be recast. Again, we pushed for diversity. Again, we’re ignored. Stuff like that just adds up, and you see the results on the screen.

You said, ‘We.’ You don’t have to name names. But you were not the only person that was bringing this to the…?

Oh, no, there are several writers of color — several black writers, several female writers. I know a few writers came to me with things that I felt like I had to bring up with the showrunner and the people above me. And we did.

They came to you? Did you have like a senior position or…?

So, there’s like a very strict hierarchy and writers’ rooms, sometimes. My level is what’s called a ‘producer.’ Several people who, you know, are below me, brought up some issues [along] with me. Like I said, I had the same issues, of course. Once you get to people talking about this, I feel like now it has to be brought up. It’s not just me being oversensitive.

Did you think that you were going to get that pushback at first? Did you anticipate that type of pushback?

No, because I came from, such a good experience on Krypton. And also, I’ve been on [other] shows. I was in a mini room for an HBO show that ended up not doing anything. It didn’t become a show, but it was great. I had some really good experiences. So, I was kind of surprised at first.

So, you were basically doing your job. You had people beneath you, this structure, these people beneath you, that came to you with something. You went to the person above you with that thing, and it just stopped right there. It was sort of going up the ladder. Um, so there are people who I saw even on the Twitter thread, they were kind of reflecting what America at large talks about that all you were doing was complaining all the time and finding something to pick at. But, again, this was you relaying what other people were saying, correct?

I complained about everything. I complained about you know, what vehicle the villain should drive. This is [what writers do] we argue about this stuff all day. This is the job. I have things to say. I have an opinion. Some of those things are, trivial kinds of plot points that don’t matter, like again, what kind of vehicle the villain drives. And then, some of them are a bit bigger and do matter a little bit more.

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The Kents here photographed by Martha (Elizabeth Tulloch) of Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and their sons Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alexander Garfin).

So, this is what you’re supposed to be doing. What is supposed to happen when you bring these concerns up?

You know, I don’t know. Usually, in rooms that are good experiences, if there’s an issue, you bring it up, the issue gets fixed. In this case, some of the issues got fixed, some are still outstanding. I see all of them check. I mean, they’re all still outstanding, because it shows about you. But as far as the documents I’ve seen…

You know, I think in many cases, some of these issues are not new. Like you said that [complaints about race-related problems] they’ve been on the TV shows and the movies. [The industry] has known about this kind of thing for a while in these toxic environments. So yeah, I don’t know.

Haven’t we hit a time where those excuses aren’t really cutting it anymore? As you said, you worked on Krypton, and they had plenty of representation. How does this not translate over [to Superman and Lois]? Or in your opinion, what do you think is happening?

That’s a good question. I think maybe some of it is a part of an old guard. There’s some, some buddies and chums who are still kind of hiring each other over and over again. That might have something to do with it. But it does feel like we’re at a tipping point. Because, like you said, people feel like they can share their truth and get some support back. Also, get some hate. And I see you, haters.

Was there any kind of reprimand or anything while you were working under your contract? Did you?

I mean, I got notes on my draft and outline, which is typical. Beyond that, I thought we were all good. And as far as I know, my performance was all good. My co-workers in the room wrote me goodbye notes that were like, ‘You were amazing.’ Perhaps they were lying. I don’t know. I want to believe them because I think I’m amazing. But yeah, it was just weird. I felt thrown out of nowhere.

Then you kind of look back at a series of events and you’re like, ‘Huh.’ Ultimately, the showrunner is the arbiter of what they like and what they don’t. And writing is subjective.

Did they say why?

They didn’t mind draft and outline, we’re not up to what he needed for a writer at my level. Oh, okay. I kept listening for more. Then there was not anymore and so I just was like, ‘all right, well, you can critique my performance and fire me for it. Man, I feel like I want to go and critique yours and vent about it [on Twitter].’ I did not anticipate that it would get as much attention as it did.

Did he give specifics, or he just say that and then left you on your way?

I mean, I don’t want to get into… Because, again, it was just normal stuff. Add more detail, direct more on the page, use two spaces after your period. That kind of thing. Okay, I can do this. Let me do some rewrites, let me blah, blah, you know, whatever.’ Nothing seemed catastrophic at the time.

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‘Superman and Lois’ was shot in Canada, where apparently, there are no people of color, at least according tp Tucke

This doesn’t seem like deal-breakers, though. They didn’t seem like ‘I’m not hiring you back’ type of stuff. And I’m like, this doesn’t seem like something that they should just let you go over. So, it feels like they were picking. I mean, I’m just gonna say it feels like he was trying to pick a reason.

Who can say, you’ll have to ask him? Mm-hmm.

What kind of recourse do you have as a writer, when you think that there’s something else going on? Let me ask that.

Ah, I mean, you can…I don’t know. I mean, and that’s what felt very frustrating. What led to the tweet was like, ‘Oh, I can put a tweet out. I can tweet and vent some of this anger.’ There’s no there’s nothing to be done. I’m going to talk with Warner Brothers TV HR later today. See what I can do with them and share some of these experiences that I’ve shared with you with them.

I was like, looking forward to Superman and Lois for the same diversity as Krypton, and I don’t know if that is going to happen. Is it going to be there at all?

We’ll see. I mean, episodes one and two are in production. Currently, the show is going to be put out so I don’t know. Anything could happen. I hope so. You know, as well I do.

Superman and Lois is set to premiere in winter 2021.

Editor’s note: Correction were made to the article to avoid misunderstanding Tucker’s quote about finding POC in Canada.

Jonita Davis is a writer, film critic, and professor. She’s a member of NABJ, AAFCA, a Rotten Tomatoes critic, and an adjunct professor.

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