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'Stargirl' actress wants viewers to 'feel like they can be her'

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'Stargirl' actress wants viewers to 'feel like they can be her'
Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) becomes Stargirl with the Cosmic Staff. Photo courtesy of The CW

LOS ANGELES, May 11 (UPI) -- When kids play superheroes, there are more grown male heroes from whom to choose than young women. Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Captain America, Thor, Black Panther and Black Lightning clearly outnumber Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Black Widow and Captain Marvel on screen.

Stargirl star Brec Bassinger hopes she is playing a character to whom young girls can relate. Courtney Whitmore (Bassinger) is a high school student who discovers the Cosmic Staff that belonged to Starman. Using its powers, she can become Stargirl.

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"Even recently, with the Tom Holland Spider-Man, I love that movie so much, but watching it, I never felt like I could be Spider-Man," Bassinger told UPI in a phone interview in late April. "So I hope people can love her and also people feel like they can be her."

The DC Comics author and former chief creative officer of the company, Geoff Johns, created Stargirl for his late sister who died when she was 18.

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"I wanted to create a character that was a teenager like her and have this spirit and energy that my sister had," Johns told UPI in a recent phone interview. "This unbridled enthusiasm and 'I could do' anything attitude sometimes got her into trouble and it gets Stargirl into trouble."

Bassinger was 20 when she played the teenager. Still, she said Courtney/Stargirl speaks to younger fans more than Batwoman or Supergirl do.

"I love all of them," Bassinger said. "I'm a lot younger than all of them. So I feel like even watching them, I can look up to them, but I don't feel like this relatability to them as much. Stargirl can be relatable to a younger audience."

For Johns, creating Stargirl also gave young girls a heroine who was not defined by a male counterpart. She takes over for Starman, but Starman never existed without Stargirl.

"As much as I love Batgirl and Supergirl, they felt like they still were in the shadow of Batman or Superman," Johns said. "Stargirl casts her [own] shadow. She has the sidekick who is her stepfather in this version."

Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) was the sidekick to Starman (Joel McHale). When Pat marries Courtney's mom (Amy Smart), Courtney doesn't get along with him at first.

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When Courtney discovers Starman's staff, Pat has to come clean. Stargirl also ropes him into returning to his sidekick duties as S.T.R.I.P.E., a robot he pilots.

"With the book we did, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. way back when, it was always about the relationships between stepkids and stepparents," Johns said. "This is the story of one coming together, of a family being made."

As Pat trains Courtney to wield the staff, and try to reign in her eagerness to use her new superpowers, he gradually becomes closer with his stepdaughter.

"I think you see their bond grow throughout the season," Bassinger said. "Actually, in the last episode, there's this beautiful scene between them that you see where they've come."

During school hours, Courtney also recruits her classmates to join her team. She hopes to form a new Justice Society of America, including people from different backgrounds. Beth (Anjelika Washington) is black. Yolanda (Yvette Monreal) is Latina and Rick (Cameron Gellman) is a young man.

"Not only Stargirl being a young female, but all the new JSA is a very diverse group of people," Bassinger said.

She picks classmates who are enduring bullying or abusive families to join her team of superheroes. Separately, Yolanda is bullied, Beth is socially isolated and Rick is verbally abused by his uncle. Bassinger hopes viewers feel empowered by the characters coming together.

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"You can still be yourself even if you're a misfit," Bassinger said. "It's OK."

Even though Johns created Stargirl as a memorial to his sister, he uses the character to address issues that modern teens still face. The bullying Yolanda faces involves the sharing of a nude photo her ex-boyfriend leaked.

"It was important to obviously ground these characters in relatable things and allow them these opportunities to tackle their emotional issues," Johns said.

Stargirl premieres Monday on the DC Universe streaming service and May 19 at 8 p.m. EDT on The CW.

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