With The CW's "Naomi," Ava DuVernay Brings Us a New Kind of Superhero Story

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: With The CW's "Naomi," Ava DuVernay Brings Us a New Kind of Superhero Story

Move over Flash, Stargirl and Superman & Lois. This week The CW adds another superhero to its ever-expanding DC Comics universe with the introduction of Naomi. Based on the comic by Brian Michael Bendis and David F. Walker, and executive produced by Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship, Naomi follows the story of young comic book nerd (and self-confessed Superman aficionado) Naomi, who, following a supernatural event in her hometown of Port Oswego, sets out to uncover its origins. Little does she know how closely her adoptive heritage is linked to the event. What begins as a journey of curious investigation soon blossoms into one of life-changing self-discovery as dormant superpowers she possesses begin to emerge.

Heading the cast is newcomer Kaci Walfall (pictured at top), who at 17 years of age is awestruck she's actually playing a superhero. "I'm an avid reader, but I hadn't read comic books before [getting] the show," she confessed recently during a virtual Television Critics Association panel. "I, however, was a big fan of the DC shows and watched Supergirl religiously in middle school. I've watched The Flash too, and I was a fan of the film world."

It was through her production company ARRAY, which has a deal with Warner Bros., that DuVernay was first introduced to Naomi, and as soon as she heard the premise she wanted in. "I'm always just trying to see what's going on with DC," she explained. "I was attached to a film called New Gods, so I was already kind of in the DC universe working on that, and we have a show called DMZ coming out on HBO Max later in the spring. So, I was looking for more in the DC world when I heard it was a new book about to drop, and it was a Black girl superhero.

"I was like, 'You gotta tell me more, that's gotta be mine'," she continued. "And after hearing the origin story, I said, 'This must  be mine!' It was different from most fully formed superheroes where she's who she is, and she knows everything that's going on. This was really [about] the steps to becoming yourself; the steps to realizing your destiny; the steps that it takes to become who you're meant to be. That's something very interesting to me."

With the project set, DuVernay and her team went about finding the perfect mix of self-confidence and naiveite in the actor to portray Naomi. (Remember, this is a teen confident enough to Nancy Drew herself around the unknown but is also unaware of what power she possesses.)

"There are a lot of talented people that do this work," DuVernay said. "I'm looking for people outside of the talent. The talent's easy to find, the hard part is, 'Do I want to be in a relationship with this person for, potentially, many years?' After [Walfall's Zoom] audition, I was like, 'This girl is flat out incredible! You gotta fly out and meet face to face. We have to have a meal and I need to see who you are.' The incredible thing about Kaci is she was 16 at the time and she had theater experience, a work ethic, professionalism, talent, vibrancy and charisma. But then you sit down with her and you're like, 'Oh, I really like you as a person'."

"Miss Ava asked me some questions after I finished the audition," added Walfall. "I found out that night that she wanted to fly me to L.A. I went with my mom and did some Zoom chemistry reads. We sat down and had lunch at a vegan restaurant to talk about the show and the character. She got to know more about me, like how I started acting, then I went home. About a week later, my mom handed me the phone and it was Miss Ava saying, 'I want to invite you to the ARRAY family to play Naomi'."

Beyond the super-hero element of Naomi, at its core it's a coming-of-age story, and that's what DuVernay admits inspired her most. "That's the thing I really love most about it," she reflected. "All comics are really personal human stories about the journeys we all take, written in with issues of heroism and magic. But the best stories are the ones where things are happening that we can all relate to."

One relatable through-line the series will deal with is race and civil rights, something synonymous with DuVernay's prior work. However, according to the producer, viewers can expect a refreshing new take on the subject. "They're going to be dealt with through a new innovation we're working with," she explained, smiling. "It's called normalization, right? It's not about representation, it's about normalization. So, we're doing muscular things as it relates to race, gender and class, but we're doing it by playing it normal, like it's just a part of every day.

"I say it kiddingly, but it's real," DuVernay added in closing. "The more you can portray [issues] without underlining them, or highlighting them, and putting a star next to them," the better. The same with shows that center on different kinds of heroes, or different kinds of folks. "We start to make that normal and that's a radical revolutionary thing," she said. "So yes, it's deep in there in the fabric of [this] quilt."

Naomi is telecast Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.

Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.

Copyright ©2024 MediaVillage, Inc. All rights reserved. By using this site you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.