Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: “Stargirl”

Out of 34,476 DC and Marvel comic book characters, women make up just 26.7 percent of all characters. And a shockingly low 12 percent of mainstream superhero comics have female leads. The women that do get to grace the pages and screens are often stereotyped tokens—either brutalized or oversexualized.

It’s clear, then, that female superhero representation is dramatically lacking—which is why Ms. writer Lisa Niver was excited to speak with Brec Bassinger, the newest and youngest superhero to represent DC Comics on television. 

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Brec Bassinger as “Stargirl.” (DC Comics)

Bassinger plays Courtney Whitmore in the new series “Stargirl” from DC Universe and the CW, based on the character from 1999 DC comic.

In the show, Stargirl is not only a strong female superhero, but also the leader of the new Justice Society of America (JSA) and recruits a crew of talented young people—mainly women—to join her.

“Stargirl” premiered on May 18, and it was announced July 6 that “Stargirl” will be brought back for a second season on the CW.

I was honored to catch-up with my former student about her starring role in the new hit series, Stargirl, on the C.W.


Lisa Niver: Congratulations on being the newest and youngest superhero, Stargirl! I love when your character, Courtney Whitmore, says, “I finally know who I really am.” I think many in our society would like to be able to make that statement.

Brec Bassinger: Courtney’s journey begins where she doesn’t know who she is, but as she opens up, reaches out to people and puts herself out there, she realizes who she is. She takes chances and the reward is greater than the risk. 

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Lisa Niver (far left) studio teacher for the cast of “Bella and the Bulldogs” at Nickelodeon in August 2014, and Brec Bassinger (center) with the rest of cast. (Shelley Bassinger)

LN: How do you feel about being a role model for young girls? What do you want them to take away from your role?

BB: I would tell young girls to keep going and to trust the process. There were so many times specifically between starring in [Nickelodeon’s] “Bella and the Bulldogs” and booking “Stargirl” that I would get really close to booking a project and think that was the future and get settled on that. I believed I had found my next show—but then it would fall through. I would be disappointed and start second guessing everything.

But looking back, every single project and audition I did was leading up to this role as Stargirl. My advice is to remember that while change, or things not meeting your expectations, can be really difficult, you just have to trust the process. Perseverance is key.  

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Brec Bassinger in front of a “Stargirl” billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. (Brec Bassinger)

LN: What has it been like premiering a brand-new show during a pandemic?

BB: It’s very different. I think it’s exciting in a different way. This is not what we expected—and so there was a difficulty of accepting that certain things were not going to happen. I was supposed go to [annual comic book convention] Wondercon [in San Diego], New York for a press tour, and there had even been talks of ComicCon [in Los Angeles]. But none of that happened.

I had to change my perspective. Geoff Johns, our showrunner—I really loved what he said to me, about how our world is in such a dark place specifically with COVID-19. “Stargirl” is such a positive show that brings people together, and it’s very family-oriented. It can be that escapism, an outlet for people who need it. I love his perspective and if our show can just make one person smile throughout this hard time, then it’s worth it. 

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Courtney Whitmore, or “Stargirl.” (DC Comics)

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LN: For “Bella and the Bulldogs,” you moved from Texas to California. To film “Stargirl,” you moved to Atlanta. How do you make a place feel like home?

BB: Before “Bella,” when I was traveling back between Texas and California on a weekly basis, and my mom and I were staying in different gross motels and renting random rooms in people’s houses—you know, that striving actor life. It always was important to me to unpack. By unpacking, it felt more like a home.

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Brec Bassinger in Times Square in 2014 in front of the “Bella and the Bulldogs” billboard (Brec Bassinger)

LN: Have you had the opportunity to go traveling with your roles?

BB: Last year, I filmed in the Dominican Republic and London for the movie, “47 Meters Down.” I was able to bring my boyfriend, Dylan, and my mom with me to London which was amazing!

Before “Stargirl” started filming in Atlanta, Dylan and I went on a group trip with G Adventures to Tanzania. It was the most life-changing, best experience of my life. l loved meeting the people, seeing the culture, the scenery. It was the opposite of America, in all the best ways. We still talk to our tour guide, Furhini—he was amazing!

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Zebras in Tanzania. (Brec Bassinger)

LN: When you started “Stargirl,” did you have a lot of training? I remember for “Bella and the Bulldogs, you had a football coach. Did you do some of your own stunts?

BB: I did do some of my own stunts. I also had an amazing stunt double, Christina, who was the stunt double for Aria on “Game of Thrones.” She is the best of the best.

We focused on Cosmic Staff training—because in many scenes my scene partner is a six foot tall pole, and I have to puppet it. I had to make it look like it was dragging me around and overall give it a personality. 

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Brec Bassinger training with the Cosmic Staff. (Brec Bassinger)
Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
Filming “Bella and the Bulldogs” at Nickelodeon in Los Angeles on August 22, 2014. Brec Bassinger in jersey #1 with pink sleeves. (Lisa Niver)

LN: I love this scene in the sewing room where the sewing machines are breaking while you are trying to create your suit.

BB:  I actually had a sewing private lesson for that scene. So now I know how to work a sewing machine. Those little details are really important. The suit was made custom to my body … and because of that reason, it was extremely tight. I may have ripped a few suits. One day, I ripped two pairs of shorts in a row.  Thank goodness we had backups.

Lessons from the Newest, Youngest Woman Superhero: "Stargirl"
(DC Comics)

LN: Now you’ve played a cheerleader who becomes captain of the team, and a high school teen who leads the Justice Society. What’s on your bucket list to do next and who do you want to work with?

BB: Acting-wise, I’d really love to do an adaption or biopic. There are so many people I want to work with. I’ve always wanted to work with Shonda Rhimes. I think she’s so talented and empowering. I have been following her work for many years.

LN: One focus of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media is highlighting the lack of women behind and in front of the camera and how that impacts girls. During the six years since “Bella and the Bulldogs,” have you seen changes? Are there more women directors and camera people?

BB: We have some great female directors, but as a whole, there are more male directors. But it’s beginning to grow and evolve.

One of my favorite directors for “Stargirl” was [actor] Lea Thompson. She directed episode 7 and is such an inspiration to me because she came from an acting background. The way she was able to walk on set and lead and have all the male camera operators follow her was amazing.

My favorite camera operator wanted her to stay for the final seven episodes—that’s how good she was. It’s really cool to see people like her come in and be such good leaders, not only because it’s inspiring for other females and for the industry as a whole, but also because the male executives seeing how great a female director is, proving any negative stereotypes wrong, will continue to motivate the increase of female representation in our industry.

The all-women team behind “Bella and the Bulldogs.” (Shelley Bassinger)

LN: Do you have any suggestions for young girls who like you dreamed of being in front of the camera—or eventually behind the camera as a director or producer?

BB: I’m currently writing a few scripts. I’m writing a full feature right now. My advice if you want to become an actor is go start taking acting classes. I always tell people that’s where I got my start. I know so many people that is how they got their start. It’s a great place to not only learn the technicalities of being an actor but also can start meeting people and networking.

And as for something I have learned on set, when I’m working, is to speak up. … I think, specifically women, we feel like we need to agree and not speak our minds. To get where you want to get, you have to say what you want.

LN: “Stargirl” is doing so well because it is so relatable to all of our personal experience—from having nowhere to sit in the lunchroom, to the girl being harassed by others writing “SLUT” on her locker.

In a conversation with your relationship with on-screen stepfather, Pat—played by Luke Wilson—he tells you The Justice Society was the best in the world. Your character, Courtney Whitmore, questions him, “But did they start out that way?” because you want to build a new Justice Society and you are learning to be a superhero and like you said, it is a hopeful show about searching for your inner hero.

BB: For Stargirl, in her superhero life, she doesn’t start out great. She is a rookie. It takes practice. In her school and social life, at first it’s very difficult for her. She doesn’t have a table to sit at for lunch, she doesn’t have friends, but through time and work she finds that good friend group. Also with her family, she is not open-minded to Pat being a father figure, she’s closed off to it.

Once she starts giving it a little bit more time and attention, their relationship starts to thrive. Courtney references the superheroes not starting out at “the best” but I think it can reflect in all parts of life. Things take work, time and effort, whether its socialize, family, or being a superhero. 

I am an ambassador with JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). I started to work with them when I was filming “Bella and the Bulldogs.”

On “Stargirl,” [actor] Cameron Gellman … is also a Type 1 diabetic. We have been collaborating with JDRF together: two TV superhero diabetics! People’s experience with Type 1 diabetes is so similar yet so different, so I think Cameron and I being able to advocate together, without different experiences, will allow us to connect and extend to even more people.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAnrj7AgFTt/

LN: I loved your 21st birthday video celebration on Instagram. Is Instagram, the best way for your fans to find you on the web and follow what you’re doing next?

BB: Yes, people can find me on Instagram. I am also live tweeting sometimes during “Stargirl” on my Twitter on East Coast or Central time. 

New “Stargirl” episodes are released on Tuesdays on the CW. Stream next day for free on the CW app.


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About

Lisa Ellen Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. Her website, We Said Go Travel, is read in 235 countries. Find her talking travel on KTLA TV and her YouTube videos with over one million two hundred thousand views. Lisa has written for AARP, American Airways, Jewish Journal, Ms. Magazine, Smithsonian and Wharton Magazine. She is writing a book, “Brave Rebel: 50 Adventures Before 50,” about her most recent travels and challenges. Look for her underwater SCUBA diving, in her art studio making ceramics or helping people find their next dream trip.