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Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) marks the first time that the titular team of female heroes from the pages of DC Comics have made their way to the big screen in live action – but as fans have pointed out from the beginning, the lineup isn’t exactly ripped straight from the comics. While key characters are included in the film, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress and Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary as depicted as part of the unit, one key hero noticeably missing from the action is Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Oracle a.k.a. Batgirl.
The Birds of Prey in the comics actually originated as an alliance between Oracle and Black Canary, with Huntress coming aboard the team a few years later, so the fact that Barbara isn’t included as part of the film has been viewed by some as a head-scratcher. So why did things turn out the way that they did? According to the producers of Birds Of Prey, there were two factors that led to the decision: the fact that the character was being used in a different film that was being simultaneously developed by the studio, and the simple selection process used by writer Christina Hodson and star/producer Margot Robbie in building the list of misfits that would become the feature’s ensemble.
Producers Sue Kroll and Bryan Unkeless addressed the question of Barbara Gordon not being in Birds of Prey last year when the movie was still in production and the studio invited members of the press (including myself) to watch some of the shooting and interview the filmmakers. During a roundtable with Kroll and Unkeless, I directly asked if Batgirl was going to be a part of the project, and after they gave a firm no, I followed up by asking about that choice.
Referencing the solo Batgirl movie that has been in development for years at Warner Bros., at one point having Joss Whedon attached to write the script, Sue Kroll first acknowledged that art of the reason why Barbara Gordon isn’t in Birds of Prey is simply because the studio didn’t want any potential conflicts to arise between separate productions:
Well Batgirl is actually, this is a studio question. That character’s in development on her own film, right? And so, yeah.
In the comics, Barbara Gordon (daughter of police commissioner James Gordon) was first introduced as Batgirl in 1967, but the trajectory of her character notoriously changed in a major way with the Alan Moore and Brian Bolland miniseries "The Killing Joke." An attack by the Joker left Barbara paralyzed, and while it seemed for a time like her days as a superhero were over, teaming up with Black Canary changed everything. Operating as Oracle, she utilized her highly advanced skills with technology to serve as a behind-the-scenes operator for superheroics, and that was her role as the Birds of Prey formed.
As long as the Batgirl movie has been in development, it hasn’t been entirely clear how the project would potentially address her being paralyzed/working as Oracle as well as running across the rooftops of Gotham – but regardless, trying to mesh her story with the fast-developing Birds of Prey project was seemingly not a priority for the studio.
Following up Sue Kroll’s comments, Bryan Unkeless added that a lot of the character choices for Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation One Of Harley Quinn) were left to the discretion of Margot Robbie and Christina Hodson, who were essentially on a mission to utilize the characters that they felt would best be used in the story that they were interested in telling. Said Unkeless, sitting in an room surrounded by concept art of the characters and production design,
A lot of it also has just originated from Margot and Christina kind of having this fun, open canvas or being attracted to the characters. So there certainly are some of those studio primers, but this by and large is, ‘This character’s awesome!’ You know? And Christina and Margot would get excited about these characters and it led us to the people we have on this wall.
Of course, DC fans will also note that Birds of Prey isn’t totally without a Batgirl. After all, that’s an alter-ego in the comics that is not only used by Barbara Gordon, but also Cassandra Cain – who is played by up-and-comer Ella Jay Basco in the film. The version of Cain is the movie is extremely different than her on-the-page counterpart, who was raised from birth to be an assassin by her assassin parents before eventually becoming a part of the Bat Family, but who knows where the on-screen version could potentially go in the future.
Also starring Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ali Wong, and Ewan McGregor, Birds of Prey is now playing in theaters everywhere, further expanding the DC Extended Universe that has been growing since the launch of Man of Steel back in 2013. Be sure to keep coming back here to CinemaBlend in the coming days as we continue to analyze the film and its performance at the box office, as well as look ahead to the next chapter in the superhero franchise: Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984.