On season 4 of the CW’s Supergirl, Nicole Maines plays Nia Nal, or Dreamer, a rookie Catco reporter and superhero that Kara Danvers (Supergirl) takes under her wing after seeing herself in Nia. But that’s not quite the full story.
Nia Nal also happens to be TV’s first transgender superhero, played by a trans actress, in a medium where historically, cis actors have often filled trans rolls (see the Scarlet Johansson saga). Prior to being cast in Supergirl, Maines, 21, portrayed herself in the documentary The Trans List, and was a guest on an episode of Growing Pains, among other roles.
“I hope that all people, not just trans people, fall in love with Nia and her energy and her as a superhero,” Maines told The New York Times. “And I hope it just grows and evolves from that.”
Maines is also an activist and got her start young in a successful lawsuit against her school, Doe v. Regional School Unit 26. Her family sued after Maines was barred from using the bathroom that matched her gender identity. The case helped set a precedent for trans rights nationwide.
While enrolled as a student at the University of Maine, Maines continued to go on auditions, eventually landing the role of Nia Nal. Both she and her character were introduced at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, where she says she was encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive reception.
“Walking on stage, that was just one of the biggest rooms of people I’ve ever been in, and that they were all cheering and clapping for a trans superhero, for a trans actor, that was so special for me,” Maines told People. “It’s not that long ago that the reaction to that announcement would have been very, very different.”
Still, Maines is aware of the negative reaction some have had seeing a trans character on-screen, saying that she sees people, mostly parents, say that they are not going to let their children watch Supergirl anymore. “That’s so sad to me,” she said. “We have a female-driven show in a male-dominated genre, and you’re not going to let your daughter watch this empowering show because it has a trans character?”
While Maines is aware that Nia’s presence on the show does make a statement, she hopes that the hero will resonate not just because she is trans, but because of her energy and presence. “You want to meet and exceed expectations,” Maines noted. “You don’t want to just be a diversity hire. You want to be a valued addition to the cast.”
And though the season has only just begun, viewers have already been treated to seeing Nia in action as a reporter, who, with a little push in the right direction from Kara, shows signs of becoming a force to be reckoned with in and out of the newsroom.
Maines’ arrival to the small screen proves timely, coinciding with the Trump administration’s supposed commitment to defining trans people out of existence, according to a report released by The New York Times earlier this October. The Department of Health and Human services has privately made a push over the last year to narrowly define gender at birth, a move that would require genetic testing to dispute a birth certificate.
Now more than ever, on-screen representation is powerful. “I think it is necessary to educate folks on trans issues and make them aware of trans identities and normalize it, because it is normal,” Maines said. “When you’re shielded from something and it’s actively censored, it takes a negative connotation. If people are more educated and they’re more aware of these issues and more familiar, they won’t feel so foreign.”
Supergirl airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on the CW.
Cover image via Syfy Wire.
Also published on Medium.