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Candice Patton is opening up about her experience with online harassment after making her debut on The CW series The Flash.
In a conversation with The Open Up Podcast, Patton, who has portrayed Iris West on the series since 2014, explained that she wanted to leave the show “as early as season two” because she felt “severely unhappy” amid a slew of harassing messages online from fans.
The Flash actress explained that signing on for the show and “changing the way people view the superhero genre and creating spaces for women of color that have never had that” was “a lot of responsibility” that came with “a lot of attention.” She noted it was “also a very dangerous place to be in when you’re one of the first and you’re receiving so much backlash from it and there is no help.
“Now people understand it a little better, and they understand how fans can be racist — especially in genre — misogynistic, all of that. But at the time it was kind of just like, ‘That’s how fans are, but whatever,'” Patton said. “Even with the companies I was working with, The CW and WB, I think that was their way of handling it. I think we know better now. It’s not OK to treat your talent that way — to let them go through abuse and harassment.”
Patton alleged “there were no support systems” at the time, and “it was just free rein to get abused every single day.”
“There were no social media protocols in place to protect me; they just let all that stuff sit there,” she added. “It’s just not enough to make me your lead female and say, ‘Look at us, we’re so progressive, we checked the box.’ It’s great, but you’ve put me in the ocean alone around sharks.”
In order for changes to be made, Patton stressed that there had to be “people in positions of power who understand my experience and understand the Black experience, the Black female experience, who can say, ‘OK, she needs protection.'”
“I think any time you hire anyone who is a minority of any kind, you have to be prepared to protect them,” Patton explained. “Because in the real world, we are not protected. Just because you put us on a fancy Hollywood TV set or film set, with the hair and makeup, and you assume we’re safe, we are not safe.
“It’s like if I get pulled over at 2 a.m. in Jackson, Mississippi, by a white cop. Do you think he gives a shit that I’m Candice Patton from The Flash? It doesn’t matter,” she added. “We still need protection because the world sees us in a certain way. When I step onto set and everyone working around me is white, I’m not protected and I will never be protected. And that’s not to say everyone has bad intentions, but they have blind spots and that can also contribute to my harm. It’s been a learning experience I’m sure for companies and corporations and productions.”
Patton shared that she was also more affected by the “day-to-day stuff” and the “protocols put in place,” alleging that she was not treated equally when compared to others. “I remember asking my publicist, I was like, ‘Do you think you could get The Flash account to follow me?'” she recalled. “Back when I cared about that shit and wanted to be included.”
While continuing to reflect on her early days starring in the series, Patton said she remembers being severely unhappy and recalled feeling like she was “not going to make it through.” The actress said she ultimately stayed not just because of contractual obligations, but due to feeling “a huge responsibility” given her fans “loved this character.”
“It was such an iconic casting, such an iconic role, and I knew how much this meant to so many people that I felt a responsibility to stay in a space and a place that was probably very toxic for my mental health,” she said. “In staying, in going through a lot of that adversity, I’ve learned so much. I’m so much tougher.”
Patton said that everything is “more leveled out now,” and since then, there have since been more conversations around these issues. As for her future on the show, the Flash star shared that the next season of the CW series will “likely will be my last” so she can move forward and “break free” from a character identity she’s been “attached to for so long.”
“I think a part of her needs to die so that I can live,” she said.
Following the interview, Patton shared her appreciation for the podcast on social media “for creating a safe space for me to talk about things I’ve never really spoken about.”
“My sincerest hope is that the industry only continues to get better and more inclusive,” she continued. “I’m deeply optimistic about the future. Despite the trials, I am so grateful for being a part of the journey and hopefully moving the needle, even if it’s just a millimeter. Nobody’s perfect, myself included, so thank you to everyone who has listened with an open heart and mind.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to representatives for The Flash and The CW. Warner Bros. TV had no comment.
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