Black Canary Actress Jurnee Smollett Used Racist Backlash to Fuel Her Birds of Prey Performance

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) hit theaters earlier this year, bringing a feminist and action-packed take on that corner of the DC Comics mythos to the masses. The film featured characters that fans have wanted to see on the big screen, including Dinah Lance / Black Canary, portrayed in the film by Jurnee Smollett. While Smollett's performance in the film was essentially universally-praised, with many appreciating how she honored Black Canary's nearly-eighty years of comic history, the news of her casting was initially met with backlash. Much of that online ire stemmed from a small group of fans online, who were upset that a character traditionally portrayed as white was being played by a Black woman. According to Smollett, that whole backlash ended up influencing her performance in an unexpected way.

"It brought a rage out inside of me, which was great for Canary," Smollett recently told The Hollywood Reporter.

Those who have seen Birds of Prey know how powerful Smollett's performance was, as her take on Dinah Lance struggled with embracing her heroic capabilities, after her mother had been killed while helping the GCPD. Initially working in the club of Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), Dinah began to see the good she could do, culminating in her unleashing her metahuman Canary Cry in the Birds of Prey's fight to save Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

"She’s the Dinah Lance that we know and love from the comics, you know?" Smollett said during an interview last October. "This ferocious street fighter. When we meet Dinah in the film, though, she’s a singer in Roman’s Black Mask club, and she’s kind of disenfranchised and disconnected from the world. She doesn’t really want to have anything to do with crime fighting or being a good-doer, which is so against her nature because we know Dinah to be all heart. So it’s really about her accepting her gift and accepting her power and that’s what was so fascinating for me is to explore this woman who has such strength, but exploring someone who doesn’t want to own her power."

And while a proper Birds of Prey sequel has yet to be announced, Smollett has been vocal about the fact that she would love to portray Dinah once again.

6comments

"It's no secret how much I loved playing Black Canary, and [I was] so honored to take on that mantle," Smollett revealed in an interview last month. "I would absolutely do it again if given a chance."

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital. It will arrive on HBO Max later this month.