It's becoming increasingly difficult to find genuine reasons to smile as each new day brings with it more stories of black trauma for public consumption, and that's why Stargirl's Beth Chapel (Angelika Washington) feels like a breath of fresh air. Brilliant, kind, and relentlessly optimistic, she exemplifies the black joy that we could all use right now.
The first four episodes of the DC Universe and CW series found the earnest, straight-A student straddling the sidelines as a background player. But after stumbling upon Dr. Charles McNider's enhanced A.I. goggles, she's stepping off the bench and into the spotlight as one of the newest members of Courtney's (Brec Bassinger) reformed Justice Society of America. Taking up the mantle of Dr. Mid-Nite won't be an easy feat for self-professed bug enthusiast who rocks nerdy round glasses and a 4C afro, but as Tuesday's episode proved, she's more than up for the challenge.
For Washington, who plays the quirky high schooler, Beth offers some much-needed respite from and overwhelming news cycle. In an interview with TV Guide, the actress opened up about what it means to play the cheery character, why she was surprised that she got to keep her natural hair for the role, and how her CW cohorts pushing for equality has inspired her to do the same.
Given the current social climate, how does it feel to play someone like Beth Chapel who's so optimistic and looks at the positives in life?
Anjelika Washington: I think that all of those qualities that Beth has, I'm definitely taking into my current life. As a Black woman, in general, I'm very passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of that, when I do watch Stargirl, when I come home and we're laughing, it's really, really great because she reminds us that, yes, there are hard things going on in the world but we also have to find joy and optimism. We have to find the things that make us happy because if we don't, then we're going to be sad all the time. Beth really brightens things so I'm really happy that she gets to do that.
What's great for young Black girls today is that they have heroes like Beth Chapel, Black Lightning's Blackbird (Nafessa Williams) and Lightning (China Anne McClain), and Misty Knight (Simone Missick) — all of these beautiful and dark-skinned black women to look forward to in superhero roles which I don't think many of us had growing up.
Washington: I was excited when I did find out that my character was a superhero because I didn't see black girls on TV rocking a 4C fro. To me, it's so exciting. Other black girls who are coming up in the world will get to have that representation so they know that this is possible and then won't have to wonder or dream, but just know it's absolutely achievable. So I don't take it for granted. I'm very blessed and I'm really grateful. And just like the ladies on Black Lightning—they're all so incredible—I know that, collectively, we all definitely take pride in being that representation.
Was it your idea for Beth to keep her hair in that 4C curl or did you have to push for it? Were there any discussions about that?
Washington: I just assumed that I was going to have to change my hair because I'm black and I rock a 4C fro. And, actually, it was [Stargirl creator, showrunner and executive producer Geoff Johns who] was like, "Don't change your hair." The day that I met him after I found out I booked the role, he was like, "Please keep your hair how it is. I love it. It's perfect for Beth Chapel." And it actually is exactly like the Beth Chapel in the comics, which I didn't realize, of course, until I saw who I was playing and I was shocked. I was like, "Oh my gosh, she has a short fro just like mine." But for some reason I [thought] maybe they'll still have me change it because it's TV, but he was like, "No, it's perfect, it's authentic, it's you." And I told them many times how much that really meant to me to keep my hair exactly the way it is. When I was growing up, I always straightened my hair and so it's beautiful that younger girls will be like, "I don't have to do that to fit in or to be a superhero on TV." So it really, really makes me excited.
CW stars like The Flash's Candice Patton and Riverdale's Vanessa Morgan have recently opened up about their experiences with inequality. Now that Stargirl is a part of the CW, have you been able to connect with any of them to discuss your own experiences?
Washington: You know what, I really wish that we did. I'm really inspired by the push for equality that all of them are fighting for. I know I'm fighting for the same things on my end. I hope that we will all nip this in the bud and that no girls coming up after us will ever have to deal with anything like that in the industry.
What are some of the things you are fighting for on your end?
Washington: I would say that I have been treated very, very well on Stargirl. But from my end, I fight to make sure that my hairstylist, people who are on makeup and costumes are women of color. I requested it before I even started filming. I'm not a huge name, but it didn't matter because, for me, we need to have people of color working on these sets. People who understand my hair texture, understand my skin, understand me. Also, there's no reason that a set should have an extreme amount of white people in ratio compared to Black people and people of color in general if they are just as talented and equipped to do the same job. So we absolutely need to have our ratio correct. And not only when it comes to people of color, but women. There needs to be like, I would say, an equal amount of men [and] women working on a set. I know that there's so many things that go into that and I'm not the person who hires them, but if there's not a lot of people of color or women, I'll ask why aren't they here? Because you could have hired them [but] you chose not to.
In this episode, we see Beth find Dr. Charles McNider's goggles and start her superhero journey of sorts. Why is she so eager to be a superhero? What draws her to that?
Washington: I think that for Beth, it's friendship. She doesn't have any friends and so, she's really excited to be a part of something. She's very naive and has no idea about anything superhero related, so it's going to be really fun to watch her grow to learn about becoming a one, and also watching her learn how to become a friend and finding things that she's passionate about besides her parents.
What can you say about Beth's journey this season as she finds her way with the JSA?
Washington: I can say that it will be a full Beth transformation. I think she's going to keep all of the qualities that we love about her, but she's also going to find a lot of strength, a lot of value and a lot of self-confidence that she didn't really have before. So it's going to be really exciting to just see her blossom as a person, as a superhero and find out what that means to her but more so, what it's like for her to be a part of a team and be a friend.
Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on the CW. New episodes also drop Mondays on DC Universe.