The Flash star Candice Patton looks back on early Iris backlash and why she stayed

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Both Candice Patton and Iris West-Allen, her onscreen alter ego on The Flash, have come a long way in nine seasons. While Iris went from what Patton calls a "damsel in distress" trope in early seasons to becoming a full-fledged leader of Team Flash, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and loving wife and mother by the final season, Patton tells EW in our latest cover story that she had a similar journey in real life, albeit for very different reasons.

"I came into my 30's on the show, and it's such a huge transition as a young woman," Patton says. "I learned a lot about myself and the business of being an actor, and being on a set and speaking up for yourself, and how to advocate for myself as a Black woman in this industry, which you don't really get a lot of education on the right way to go about that."

The Flash -- “Wildest Dreams” -- Image Number: FLA907fg_0002r -- Pictured: Candice Patton as Iris West-Allen -- Photo: The CW -- © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
The Flash -- “Wildest Dreams” -- Image Number: FLA907fg_0002r -- Pictured: Candice Patton as Iris West-Allen -- Photo: The CW -- © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The CW Candice Patton on 'The Flash'

When Patton debuted as Iris on The Flash in 2014, her groundbreaking casting pushed representation in comic book adaptations forward in massive ways, as her character was originally portrayed as white in the source material. The actor was making history onscreen, but behind-the-scenes, she was dealing with backlash from toxic and racist "fans." As a result, she wanted to leave the series after only two seasons, but ultimately stayed for all nine because she says she felt a responsibility to the fans she represented and a responsibility to portray the historic, inclusive role.

"It's never been easy, and I think it's still hard," Patton tells EW as she looks back on why she decided to stay. "It's getting easier, we're talking about it a lot more. But I had to learn a lot through trial and error, and I'm really proud of myself, of what I was able to accomplish, and how I was able to advocate for myself while I was there. I learned so much, and I'm really, really grateful for that. And I'm really grateful with the network and the studio— I feel like we grew together. Black Lives Matter happened in the middle of our show and companies were learning and reevaluating in the moment, and I was really grateful to be working with a network and a studio that was open to hearing my thoughts and changing some things and trying to make it better for the future."

As Iris took back her agency on The Flash, figuring out Barry's (Grant Gustin) secret double life as the Scarlet Speedster on her own and ultimately leading the team of superheroes from STAR Labs, Patton is proud that she was able to step into a similar role on set.

"The scariest thing is speaking up, and I had a hard time talking about it for such a long time because you're so afraid of being seen as problematic," she says. "That's a word that no actor wants to have follow them around. But I think we're learning that speaking up and speaking out is the only way for change. And it's not about blaming people or canceling people, it's about just really being able to have a conversation so that the industry changes for the better. And I hope that whatever struggles I may have had, doing that has made it even the smallest amount easier for the next crop of actors coming up who feel like they need to be heard and seen and accommodated for."

Even just in her years on The Flash, Patton is already seeing positive changes as a result of her actions. "It's really amazing what has shifted and changed in less than a decade," she says. "I think we have so much farther to go, don't get me wrong, but I'm really optimistic about the future, just knowing that there are groups of actors coming into these situations who won't have to fight as hard to talk about getting a hair and makeup person that knows how to do ethnic minority hair. Not even having to have that fight or that conversation means that we've made significant improvement, and I think that's such a huge, huge thing. Little things like that that make me happy about the future of the industry."

The Flash
The Flash

Cate Cameron/The CW Grant Gustin and Candice Patton in season 1 of 'The Flash'

After almost a decade of dramatic highs and lows, Patton ultimately decided to exit The Flash after season 9 — unaware that her co-star Gustin had also come to that same conclusion privately. That's why she says she was relieved when he called her to let her know that the show was ending at the same time she wanted to leave. But when she discovered that season 9 would be shorter than usual — with only 13 episodes — she had mixed feelings.

"Honestly, I was like, 'Dang, I want some more money,'" Patton admits with a laugh. "It's going to be my last season, I want to make as much money as possible! But when there's less episodes, we can write better episodes, we can execute better episodes, we can have less filler and more meat and bones about how we want to end the show. And 13 feels not as exhausting as 22, so if I'm going to do another year, 13 feels very healthy mentally for me. So it's bittersweet — 22 would've been great for my bank account and I would get to spend more time with those guys, but I think it was a good decision to make it a short and sweet season."

With only one episode left, Patton is excited for fans to see where Iris ends up in the series finale. "For the entire show, what was important to Iris is her work and her family, and we really see her achieve those things," she says. "So I was happy, and I hope the fans who love Iris feel like she got everything that she wanted and deserved."

The Flash series finale airs Wednesday, May 24, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.

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