It’s going to be a long Halloween for the DC Universe.
While Dwayne Johnson promises that October’s Black Adam will change the hierarchy of power in the DCEU (whatever that means), another DC superhero movie, Batgirl, was canceled this summer and won’t release later this year on HBO Max as intended.
The movie’s unceremonious demise has been one of the year’s biggest Hollywood stories, as it epitomizes ruthless corporate re-strategizing at the cost of people’s labor and passion.
Batgirl wasn’t looking like a flop. In addition to star Leslie Grace, who led last year’s musical hit In the Heights, the movie also featured Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, Emmy-winner Michael Keaton reprising his iconic Batman, and Brendan Fraser, whose role in the Darren Aronofsky film The Whale has been hailed by critics as a comeback.
Several of the stars have addressed the movie’s abrupt cancellation, including Keaton and Fraser. While the actors have been diplomatic, it’s easy to sense whiffs of frustration, sarcasm, and resentment.
What Leslie Grace said
Leslie Grace was the first to comment on the movie’s cancellation. On Instagram, Grace shared a collection of behind-the-scenes photos and a lengthy caption thanking the cast and crew.
“Querida familia! On the heels of the recent news about our movie Batgirl, I am proud of the love, hard work and intention all of our incredible cast and tireless crew put into this film over 7 months in Scotland,” Grace wrote. “I feel blessed to have worked among absolute greats and forged relationships for a lifetime in the process! To every Batgirl fan - THANK YOU for the love and belief, allowing me to take on the cape and become, as Babs said best, ‘my own damn hero!’”
What Michael Keaton said
On Monday, Michael Keaton was awarded an Emmy for his leading role in the streaming miniseries Dopesick. While in the press room, Keaton was asked by TVLine about Batgirl’s cancellation. Keaton was light on words, admitting he didn’t “know much” but trusted that it was a sound “business decision.”
“I think it was a business decision, I’m going to assume it was a good one,” Keaton said, with a hint of sarcasm. “I really don’t know.”
What Brendan Fraser said
In an interview with Variety, Fraser praised Leslie Grace and described the movie as bade from the ground up for streamers.
“The fans really wanted to see this film made. Leslie Grace is a dynamo,” Fraser said. “The movie was shot and conceived for a smaller screen. In this age that we’ve come out of now between streaming service versus theatrical release, it wound up being the canary in the coal mine.”
Fraser ended with a more telling line that alludes to an erosion of trust between talent and studios. “What did we learn from this? Work with trusted filmmakers, like Darren,” Fraser said.
What Ivory Aquino said
Filipina-American actress Ivory Aquino was cast in Batgirl as Alysia Yeoh, a Gotham City bartender and best friend to Batgirl. Of all the actors, Aquino was the most vocal about the movie’s cancellation, tweeting an open letter to David Zaslav about the movie’s meaningful story and diverse cast.
On August 25, Aquino began a lengthy Twitter thread addressed to “Mr. Zaslav.” The highlights include:
I just read an article @THR about supposed ‘funeral screenings’ of #Batgirl and the possibility afterwards that the film footage would be destroyed.. if this is the case, as one of many who poured our hearts into the making of this movie, I ask that this measure be reconsidered. As much as I’ve tried my best to be strong these past few weeks, I’d find myself crying, for lack of a better term, from grief, and tonight was one of those nights. As much as Batgirl has been labeled a woke film, it simply came together that way because of writing that reflects the world we live in. For me, more than anything, it is a father-daughter story which hits close to home as my Dad passed a year ago, shortly before I booked this project, and I was hoping it would resonate with other children around the world, grown and not-so-grown, who hold their fathers in the highest esteem and who could see Batgirl as a story of that special bond.
I’ve found myself not being able to talk about this ordeal with anyone. I realized that no one, apart from those involved with the film, would truly understand what we’re feeling. And talking about it with my castmates, I feel, might be akin to rubbing salt on a still-open wound. My heart goes out to @LeslieGrace and our beloved directors and entire crew & cast who spent months dedicating their all to this endeavor. Leslie checked in on me the day we found out of the shelving and only had words of comfort and support. I’ve dared not ask since if she’s spent nights holding back tears like I have because she has had to be the face of our Batgirl family and has had to put on a brave face as a way of taking care of us the way she gracefully steered our film.
Aquino ended her tweets with a direct plea to Zaslav: “Consider releasing Batgirl. She’s always been an underdog and has nowhere to go but up.”
Will Warner Bros. release Batgirl?
Right now, Warner’s decision to keep Batgirl in its vaults is ironclad. Zaslav was adamant about Warner’s new perspective on streaming at the company’s early August investor call.
“Strategically, we’ve looked hard at the direct-to-streaming business,” Zaslav said. “We’ve seen, luckily, by having access to all the data, how direct-to-streaming movies perform. And our conclusion is that expensive direct-to-streaming movies, in terms of how people are consuming them on the platform ... is no comparison to what happens when you launch a film in the theaters.”
With a reported price tag of at least $90 million, Zaslav found Batgirl too “expensive” to release on streaming but not big enough to release in theaters. “We cannot find an economic case for it,” Zaslav said. “We can’t find an economic value for it. And so we’re making a strategic shift.”
A sudden reversal of this decision is unlikely, at least in the short term. But remember, it’s always darkest just before the dawn.