In a conversation with The Open Up Podcast host Elliot Knight, the 34-year-old dug deep into her experience as the lead actress on the CW series and how difficult her journey has been since its debut in 2014. Patton has portrayed Iris West since the show's premiere, a character who was traditionally white in the comics before the actress earned the role.
In 2014, a Black female lead in a superhero show was nearly unheard of, especially when the original character is traditionally a white woman. Patton's casting created a ripple effect throughout the comic book adaptation world, which later saw similar castings with Kiersey Clemons playing Iris West in The Justice League and The Flash; Zendaya playing Michelle Jones aka MJ in Marvel's Spider-Man films; Ashleigh Murray playing Josie McCoy on Riverdale and Katy Keene; Anna Diop as Starfire on DC's Titans; and Leslie Grace's Batgirl.
But her experience hasn't been without its intense pitfalls. Patton says the moment her casting was revealed, her days were full of racist online harassment. Despite their active campaign to bring more diversity to their shows, the actress claimed that neither the network nor the studio had any protocols to protect her against the barrage of toxic fans. She alleged that the team behind The Flash didn't plan for the predictable internet backlash.
Patton 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."
Some will recall how actors Leah Jeffries and Moses Ingram faced harassment for being cast on Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Obi-Wan Kenobi, respectively. But both stars had the full online support of their co-stars and production, something Patton claims she didn't receive.
"Now people understand how fans can be racist, especially in genre [film and TV], but at the time it was kind of just like, 'That’s how fans are, whatever.' Even with the companies I was working with, The CW and WB, that was their way of handling it," she alleged. "We know better now. It’s not OK to treat your talent that way, to let them go through abuse and harassment. For me in 2014, there were no support systems. No one was looking out for that. It was free range to get abused every single day. There were no social media protocols in place to protect me, so they just let all that stuff sit there."
Patton continued, "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. It's great to be in the ocean, but I can get eaten alive out here."
It wasn't just dealing with online trolls that made Patton's experience frustrating. The actress recalled feeling that she wasn't treated equally to her non-Black counterparts. She alleged that she initially wasn't followed by the official Flash account on Instagram.
"I don't give a f**k what Joe in Indiana thinks 'cause my check just cleared, and it was really big, Joe. You think I f**king care about your tweet?" she said.
"But it’s more so the day-to-day stuff that affects me. The protocols in place, the things that I see happening for my white counterparts -- that’s not happening for me. Seeing how I'm not protected by the network and the studio," she alleged. "Those were the things that not necessarily hurt me but frustrated me."
"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 s**t and wanted to be included."
It was a surplus of microaggressions -- such as needing to bring her own tools and makeup "just in case" a stylist's only experience with Black hair was "Snoop Dogg, once," and having to tell stories through a "white lens" -- that made working on the series so traumatizing that Patton admitted she can't watch the show.
"I think so often about how much better my performances could have been over the last seven years if I wasn’t in a constant state of fight or flight and trauma," she mused. "It doesn’t feel good to watch."
Patton revealed she wanted to leave The Flash in season 2 because the harassment was getting so bad and she was "severely unhappy." She shared that she stayed because she felt a responsibility to the fans who loved her character, though the set was "toxic to my mental health."
When asked about the changes she wants to see for Black actors moving forward, Patton stressed the need for "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.' Just because you put us on a fancy Hollywood set, with the hair and makeup and you assume we’re safe, we are not safe."
"In the real world, we are not protected," she added. "If I get pulled over at 2 a.m. in Jackson, Mississippi, by a white cop, do you think he gives a s**t that I'm Candice Patton from The Flash? It doesn't matter. We still need protection because the world sees us in a certain way. So when I step onto set and everyone working around me is white... I'm not protected; I will never be protected."
She continued, "And that's not to say that these people have bad intentions ... but they have blind spots. They have a lot of 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."
Despite it all, the actress recently signed on for a ninth season of the show, according to TVLine. She remains one of the only original cast members still on the series, alongside Grant Gustin and Danielle Panabaker.
"I'm coming out of a space of anxiety and depression, and moving into a really enlightened place in my life where I feel really hopeful," she told Open Up. If she could give any advice to season-1 Candice, it would be "you earned this, you deserve to be here."
Listen to the full episode below.