From 1981 to 1983, ABC aired a superhero dramedy called The Greatest American Hero. The series starred William Katt as Ralph Hinkley, an ordinary man to whom aliens gave a suit with extraordinary powers. It was, apropos, an extraordinary premise. And today, during a time when women are boldly shifting to the forefront, The Greatest American Hero is getting an extraordinary twist: a female-led reboot. Even more remarkable still, it will be the first show in television history in which a superhero is played by a woman of color. That woman is New Girl’s Hannah Simone.
When we had the chance recently to catch up with Simone — the new ambassador for Straight Talk Wireless — she revealed that taking the role was a no-brainer. Born in London to an Indian father and English mother of German, Italian and Greek Cypriot descent, Simone has lived a truly multicultural life, living on three continents before the age of 13. One constant no matter where she was, though, was that she couldn’t readily turn on the TV and find a superhero who looked like her.
It was this knowledge, in fact, that largely informed her motivation to land the lead role in the new Greatest American Hero.
“As soon as I learned that, I’m like, ‘Yes, please!’” she told SheKnows of discovering the role’s historic (and cultural) significance. “I grew up watching TV and I never saw anyone who looked like me playing a role like that, so the fact that now, No. 1, we’re in a place where that role exists, and No. 2, that they would even consider me for it feels like such a huge honor. There was no question in my mind that if I was lucky enough to be offered the role that I would take it in a heartbeat.”
And as if landing the lead in a history-making TV series wasn’t exciting enough, arguably the best part of doing so for Simone has been the nonstop feedback she’s been getting from young fans.
“I know that people slide into other people’s DMs usually for other reasons, but for me, it’s been so amazing to read all of the messages,” she said. “My inbox is completely full of young girls of color all over the country — and all over the world, because that’s just how the internet works once that story broke — just saying how exciting and important it felt for them.”
Of course, as monumental as this moment is for women of color, it makes you wonder: What took so long? Thanks to movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up, women in Hollywood are certainly starting to gain more traction. But how do we help create more moments like this for females, both on-screen and behind the scenes? “You just create the content,” Simone says.
“That’s what I’m learning right now. I’m just watching a lot of incredible women create the content and tell their stories, and then hire women around them. I just did a film called Band-Aid that was written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones,” shared Simone, continuing, “She wanted to tell her story — a really strong female story — and she wrote it, she directed it, she starred in it, and she cast a ton of really great, talented women around her. But then, when she went behind the camera, she also crewed it with all women. So that to me was also a really exciting moment, because that’s her using her platform to create opportunities.”
Simone admits she’s fortunate in that her experience in Hollywood has been very positive and female-driven, a mark of the progress made by female pioneers of the industry who’ve worked tirelessly to create more inclusive moments for women in film and TV.
“I’ve seen it happen a lot on New Girl. We had a female showrunner, female lead of our show, lots of female directors. And even on this pilot, The Greatest American Hero, it’s a female showrunner — Nahnatchka Khan is behind the project. And, you know, a female lead,” Simone said.
Essentially, this is what it all boils down to: women supporting one another.
“I just think it’s about women hiring women and sharing that platform, and then there’s the opportunity for us to share our stories,” elaborates Simone, going on to say, “It’s funny how there’s this reputation that it’s so cutthroat in Hollywood and we’re just all battling for roles… my experience has been this incredible, generous community of women.”
Although there’s still much work to be done for women (especially women of color) in the world, strides are being made. As we all know in light of the headlines lately, Hollywood has not historically been a happy or safe place for women.
But when asked whether there are any underrepresented niches for women on TV and film right this second, Simone drew a blank — and there’s something to be said for that.
“I think I’ve been working currently right now in such a positive space with really strong women, and the roles I’ve gotten to play are incredibly diverse. So I can’t think of anything off the top of my head! Like, I had to learn that this was the first time a woman of color was playing a superhero on TV. Sometimes you’re not even aware of it, especially if you’re actually living in a supportive community,” she shared.
Of course, we’ll have Simone’s Greatest American Hero to thank for fulfilling one specific as-of-yet unfulfilled niche: a female superhero of color. But Simone humbly tells us, “It’s just an honor to be a part of it, and it’s nice to be a part of a project that feels so important.”