March 4th marked a significant cultural shift.
Robert Pattinson has become a TikTok soundbite. Zoë Kravitz just hosted one of the funniest chapters of SNL in recent memory. Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” is at an all-time streaming high, up 734% over a single weekend. Several weeks may have passed, but there’s no denying it:
This is The Batman’s world. We’re all just living in it.
The critical response to Matt Reeves’ latest installment in the Batman saga has been overwhelmingly positive in nearly every respect, from Giacchino’s haunting score to the phenomenal prosthetic work on Colin Farrell’s Penguin. But critics and casual movie-goers, alike, are all purring over the film’s feline element: Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle, the sexy and elusive Catwoman. Same as Pattinson’s Batman, Jeffrey Wright’s Commissioner Gordon, and Paul Dano’s Riddler. Kravitz is just the latest in a long line of her character’s portrayals. So what's the hype? What makes her interpretation so unique?
In a word: Bisexuality.
In Kravitz's opening monologue for Saturday Night Live, we get a quick recap of her most famous Selina Kyle predecessors: Eartha Kitt as the first WOC cast in the role, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the kinkiest. The absence of Halle Berry's and Anne Hathaway's iterations is noticeable, but just barely, as their interpretations have been largely dismissed as blatant attempts at empty sex appeal.
While Catwoman's sexuality has always been a crucial element of her power, its effectiveness is wholly determined by each actress's execution. A great Catwoman isn't measured by how good she looks, in or out of her suit. A truly effective interpretation - in the likes of Kitt, Pfeifer, and now Kravitz - knows how to create a link between the physical and emotional to make the audience reach for bigger questions: Why does Selina Kyle put on the suit, at all? Who is she under there?
While Pfeiffer's and Kitt's interpretations used the suit as an escape from their civilian identities - to transform themselves from modest to outrageous, from vanilla to kinky - Kravitz's Selina and her Catwoman are virtually identical in their motives and expression. Selina Kyle is just as likely to storm the Iceberg Lounge, guns blazing, as Catwoman is to sneak in through a skylight. The two are not separate identities, but rather separate methodologies.
The new Selina Kyle doesn't need her jumpsuit or ski mask to get what she wants. She's just going to take it.
In The Batman, her focus isn't on any big-picture, plot-driven ambition. She isn't just out for a "score," either, despite Batman's suspicions as such. Her alignment is not with any heroes or villains, but with the people she truly cares about: herself and her roommate, Anika. And with Kravitz's recent admission to playing Catwoman bisexually, her Selina Kyle continues to prove that she may just be the most textured and grounded interpretation, yet.
Director Matt Reeves was quick to disclose the intentionally vague nature of Selina's relationship with Anika: The two live and work together, but express no other commitments. Selina drops the pet name "baby" more than once, but the most physical contact onscreen is limited to a caress of Anika's cheek. Regardless of whether it is actually romantic or platonic, Anika's and Selina's relationship is undoubtedly charged with intense intimacy. Every element of the interaction lends itself to love.
"So I don't think we meant to go directly in that way," Reeve admits, "but you can interpret it that way for sure. She has an intimacy with that character and it’s a tremendous and deep caring for that character, more so than a sexual thing, but there was meant to be quite an intimate relationship between them.”
While The Batman marks the first time that a live-action Catwoman's sexuality has wandered outside of her relationship with Bruce Wayne, the character is hardly new to the LGBTQ+ community. After decades of bisexual subtext, comic series writer Genevieve Valentine made it official in 2015's landmark Catwoman #39, in which Selina Kyle shares her first same-sex kiss. In Valentine's ensuing blog post about the issue, she sums up the interaction simply: "this wasn't a revelation so much as a confirmation."
The Batman is a triumph not for any single decision made by an actor, director, or cinematographer: Its success lies in the collective love and care of the characters that each individual brought to the project. This Selina Kyle is the strongest she has ever been, thanks to the combined efforts of Matt Reeves' inspired writing and Zoë Kravitz's detailed portrayal of the character. And I speak for the entire bisexual community when I say: We can't wait to see where Selina goes next.