Who Is Cassandra Cain? Ella Jay Basco’s Birds of Prey Character Explained

A close-up of actress Ella Jay Basco with an illustrated, comicbook image of the DC character, Cassandra Cain, layered over top to promote her role in Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Originally written by John Atkinson for Screen Rant

Cassandra Cain will make her cinematic debut in Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), played by Ella Jay Basco. The latest DCEU outing will center on Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn in the wake of her romantic split from The Joker. The film's latest trailer reveals that Harley will go through all the requisite stages of grief — all before finally forging her own identity and notoriety out from beneath the Clown Prince of Crime's shadow. That journey will see her cross paths with several familiar comic book characters, including Cassandra Cain.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead will also star as Helena Bertinelli (aka The Huntress), an heir to a crime family turned vengeful vigilante. Jurnee Smollett-Bell will play Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary), another notable (if less murderous) crimefighter. Rosie Perez, meanwhile, will feature prominently as Renee Montoya, a veteran Gotham City detective and final adult member of the unlikely big-screen collective. Given the popularity of Harley Quinn since debuting on Batman: The Animated Series, many could be forgiven for assuming that Birds of Prey would focus on Quinn — especially since this will be Robbie's second time playing the character after 2016's Suicide Squad, with a third appearance already in the works via James Gunn's currently filming follow-up, The Suicide Squad. In truth, however, the Cathy Yan-directed outing will be very much an equally-shared ensemble piece.

Related: Who Is Harley Quinn? Margot Robbie’s DC Character Origins Explained

The titular Birds of Prey will unite against Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask). Portrayed by Ewan McGregor, the character is a brutal and ruthless crime boss that operates in Gotham City. As such, the villain has frequently clashed with Batman. With a fixation on masks and a predilection for torture, Black Mask will be targeting the aforementioned characters for individual reasons, as laid out in the trailer. The principal reason that the quartet will ultimately align, however, is in service of protecting Cassandra Cain. Like Harley Quinn, both Huntress and Black Canary have been previously portrayed (within the Arrowverse), while Renee Montoya was featured on Gotham season 1; Birds of Prey, however, marks the first live-action appearance of Cassandra Cain. Who is she, and what can fans expect based on the comics?


Cassandra Cain's Origin In DC Comics

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Created by Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott, and debuting in 1999's Batman #567, Cassandra Cain is the daughter of David Cain and Lady Shiva. Both world-renowned assassins in their own right, Cassandra was conceived more prominently as part of David Cain's agenda. A member of the League of Assassins, Cain sought to create the ultimate bodyguard for the DC villain Ra's al Ghul. After numerous failed attempts, Cain determined that the right genes (rather than just training) would be required. Choosing himself to serve as the father, he opted for Sandra Wu-San to be the child's mother. Cain came to this decision after witnessing a battle between Sandra and her sister, Carolyn. Appreciating the considerable skills and the silent language between the pair, Cain was immediately impressed. He was even more taken by the way Sandra continually held back out of love for Carolyn.

To facilitate his goal, however, David Cain ultimately murdered Carolyn so that Sandra could achieve her full potential. Cain revealed this to Sandra when he lured her into a League of Assassins ambush. He subsequently vowed to spare her life under the condition that she bear him a child that he could raise alone. Surprisingly enamored at the idea of what she could achieve now that she didn't have to hold back, Sandra agreed. After giving birth, Sandra would go on to fully live up to her potential as Lady Shiva. All the while, however, she maintained a hope that Cassandra could be the one to ultimately stop her, should her reign of destruction ever go too far.

Cain, meanwhile, pursued the intention to train Cassandra to be the perfect assassin to an insanely regimented degree. Emerging as the child prodigy he'd always envisioned, Cain's plan ultimately went awry, however. When Cassandra turned 8-years-old, Cain took her to undertake her first assassination. Tasked with killing a nameless businessman, Cassandra did as instructed. Unfortunately, the act scarred Cassandra so dramatically that she fled from her father and went into hiding. Cassandra then spent the next decade living on the streets and remained perpetually haunted by what she had done.

During the "No Man's Land" storyline, Cassandra came to the attention of Barbara Gordon (aka Oracle). After saving the life of Commissioner Jim Gordon, Barbara forgoes her preference to live alone and takes Cassandra in. The heroic act also earned Cassandra the respect and approval of Batman. As a result, he took her under his cape, making Cass Cain the new Batgirl. David Cain attempted to ruin this development by sending Batman footage of Cassandra's previous act of murder. However, after Cassandra proved her commitment to human life by taking multiple bullets even in the defense of a hired assassin, Batman continued to think highly of her. In addition to Batgirl, Cassandra has operated under several different aliases, including Kusami, Black Bat, and, most recently, in the wake of David Cain's death, Orphan.


Cassandra Cain's Powers In DC Comics

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In the comics, Cassandra Cain doesn't possess powers in the Superman sense of the word. Having been rigidly trained from an extremely young age, however, Cassandra is a master of martial arts. Those skills only increased when Batman himself helped to further her already considerable skills. Easily on par with her parents, Cassandra even once bested her mother in combat. As part of an arrangement between the pair, Cassandra and Lady Shiva engaged in a fight to the death. Though Lady Shiva initially emerged victorious, she realized that Cassandra had a death wish and allowed her to win. Restarting Cassandra's heart, they engaged in a second bout. On this occasion, Cassandra handily defeated her mother, though she refused to follow through on actually killing her.

Intended by David Cain to be the ultimate assassin, the ability to read, write, or even speak was omitted from Cassandra's training. This was by design so that the parts of her brain would be more finely tuned to read and understand body language. As a result, Cassandra was able to intuitively read the emotions of others (deeply hidden or otherwise) from their movements. Equally, that skill enabled Cassandra to even predict an opponent's next move with uncanny accuracy. After her brain was rewired by a telepath so that she could think via traditional speech, Cassandra lost these abilities for a time. With Lady Shiva also similarly gifted, however, Cassandra was ultimately able to regain them as part of the aforementioned agreement.


Ella Jay Basco Plays Cassandra Cain in Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey-Ella Jay Basco

Cassandra Cain will be portrayed by relative newcomer Ella Jay Basco. A number of names were reportedly in consideration before Basco officially landed the highly-anticipated role. At 13-years-old, Basco was previously known for minor guest appearances in such shows as the medical drama, Grey's Anatomy and HBO's satirical comedy, Veep. She is also in a little-known 2015 short film titled Glimpse of Heaven, in which she played a character named Huian. Therefore, Birds of Prey will be every bit a breakout cinematic role for the Korean/Filipino actress as it will be the big-screen debut for the Cassandra Cain character.

Related: Birds Of Prey Reveals Harley Quinn Is Attracted To Bruce Wayne, Not Batman


Cassandra Cain's Role In Birds of Prey

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Just how much of Cassandra Cain's comic book backstory makes it into Birds of Prey remains firmly up in the air. Based on the trailers, however, several things can be gleaned. Firstly, there appears to be no signs of Cassandra's considerable martial arts skills. It could be that Cassandra is keeping those to herself, in order to remain under the radar. Then again, the film could retcon things so that she will ultimately garner those skills from the infinitely capable women she has found herself entangled with. After all, Harley, Helena, Dinah, and Renee are all demonstrated to be accomplished fighters in their own right — in both the comics and the film.

Secondly, there is clearly no language barrier. On multiple occasions, Cassandra is seen conversing with a newly hyena-owning Harley Quinn in a perfectly natural manner. In fact, their dynamic would appear to be extremely similar to that shared by Wade Wilson and Russell Collins in Deadpool 2. One thing is for sure, though, the element of Cassandra being homeless and having developed her own street smarts appears to have been carried over from the source material. That is most keenly demonstrated in her evident skills as a pickpocket — a talent she will, unfortunately, use to steal a jewel from Victor Zsasz and thus draw the vengeful ire of Black Mask.

With Ali Wong also reportedly cast in an undisclosed role, it could very well be that a version of Lady Shiva or Barbara Gordon will be included in the upcoming Birds of Prey. Therefore, elements of Cassandra's backstory and/or comic book destiny could ultimately be adapted or built towards. Whatever the case, however, all will be revealed when Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) finally hits theaters. In the meantime, fans will no doubt be excited that they will finally get to see a version of Cassandra Cain on the big-screen.

More: All 30 Upcoming & In-Development DC Films



Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey is coming to Regal on February 7th. 


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