Disclaimer: Contains spoilers.
So last week, Wonder Woman was released, and I watched it alone on Monday because my family is too annoying to take with me (which is material enough to fill another entire post). Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed at the discourse surrounding this movie, which seems to boil down to women squabbling over whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color (in my opinion, she is not. She is a racially ambiguous white woman. Racial ambiguity is something that should receive more attention among racial justice advocates. Sadly, I think they have moved in a rather nonsensical direction *cough*monoracism?*cough*, but again, that is for another post).
There are so many more controversial and important things going on in this movie than whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color.
I’m going to say my first critique of the movie is that it definitely has pacing problems. I’ve never seen anything else that Patty Jenkins has directed, so I feel like I’m kind of missing a point of comparison, but it’s definitely something she could work on. I found the most interesting parts of the movie to be the beginning, when Diana (Gadot) lives among the Amazonians, and the end, when Diana faces Ares (David Thewlis). But then, there’s this strange and heteronormative middle section in which Diana is sort of coerced to behave like a “normal” woman, and it feels like that part drags on and on. I just didn’t give enough fucks. The beginning and end were far more interesting.
I do love that the beginning contains abundant shots of the Amazonians fighting. They’re, like, badass fight scenes, too. These women train like pros. The one thing I’m a little disappointed by is how skinny most of them are. There is literally one black woman among these Amazonians who actually looks like a healthy human being. The rest, if they actually trained that hard while being that skinny, would probably have premature osteoporosis.
I’m a little disappointed that, with the exception of the ice cream scene, there isn’t a single shot of Diana eating actual food. Wouldn’t that have been a powerful scene to add about a movie about a woman superhero? Think about it, right? She’s a badass warrior. She can swim hundreds of miles. Is really good at hand-to-hand combat. Is a skilled archer. Could run for days. Wouldn’t a person burning that many calories also EAT A TON?? How the hell did the director forget such an obvious part of being a human being?? Realistically, this woman probably ate, like, 10,000 calories a day to keep up her energy! How the hell did they not put a food shot in this movie? (Consider other action movies in which men portray gods/demigods are portrayed, e.g.: Thor (2011)).
Then we’ve got…*sigh*…the middle portion of the movie *cue Leonie’s most judgmental eye roll*. So Diana meets (through some pretty violent interference) Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and agrees to go with him to his world. Not gonna lie, that scene where Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her the world doesn’t deserve her almost made me cry. In some ways, Diana reminds me a lot of myself. Her overprotective mother reminds me of my own; regardless of what she says, Diana will not believe her until she experiences life on her own terms.
But then we run into this weird, heternormative narrative. I don’t get it. If Diana purportedly has only known the female form all her life, and went through puberty on the island with the Amazons, why in the whole fuck would she have sexual feelings for a man?? Would that not be similar to meeting an alien from outer space for the first time and then developing sexual feelings for it? What are the chances of a human being falling for a form with which they are not already intimately familiar? I’m just going to leave it at that.
I’m also a little miffed at this narrative around Maru (Elena Anaya). I feel like making her a villain was a little too ableist and easy. First of all, if she was smart enough to be messing around with chemicals of that caliber in the 1940’s, she was probably a highly educated woman, which was a huge accomplishment for a woman living in the 1940s. Second, it just seemed a little lazy to make her a visibly disabled person. Like, I am pretty sure anybody who worked as a scientist at the time sustained injuries from their craft. It was just a fact of working in that field at the time. For example, Marie Curie sustained some kind of cancer or radiation sickness from her work with radioactive material. Furthermore, what was referred to as “madness” or “hysteria” at the time would today probably be called “depression” or “anxiety,” which are actually highly co-related with genius (can’t find a citation, but there are studies out there). So it seems to me that Dr. Maru is a very intelligent, strategic woman who is just doing a job that will keep her alive during the war (instead of trying to escape from Nazi forces, which was tantamount to treason and would probably get her killed). The “madness” bit seems to be a sad character oversight on the part of the writers.
Furthermore, one of my friends has pointed out (and I agree) that this movie had a decidedly Western exceptionalist sort of feel to it. The best example I can think of is the scene where The Chief and Diana are conversing at night around the fire. Throughout the movie, I felt that Gadot did a great job of portraying a character with very high emotional intelligence. Later in the movie, she feels deeply for a woman and child whom she comes across at the front. However, (and I feel this is more a weakness of the script than a weakness in Gadot’s acting) when The Chief explains that his people have basically undergone genocide at the hands of Trevor’s people, there is not nearly a visceral enough reaction for a character that believes so deeply in justice. Furthermore, why would Diana then sustain sexual feelings for Trevor, a descendant of colonizers? I feel like if the script was true to Diana’s character, that point would have been significantly elaborated upon. It was a good opportunity to start a dialogue around indigenous narratives, and of course, it was tossed to the wayside.
Ugh, I’m going to get shot one day for saying this, but I also thought it was a bit on the nose to cast an Israeli actress in this role and then center the plot entirely on World War II. Like, really DC? You needed the tables to turn so literally? It couldn’t just have been a plot about good and evil like all the other DC superheroes? I can’t.
What I do appreciate about this movie, and I’m not even gonna sugarcoat it y’all, is that the white guy dies. I think that was a wise decision because of the message it sends about real-life activism. I was talking to a friend (another woman of color) who recounted that seeing this in a movie reflects what white allies should be willing to put on the line in order for marginalized people’s lives to get better. The truth sucks, but there it is. Fighting for justice is just that–a fight. Sometimes with very physical violence. Sometimes people die in the violence. Considering the number of black, Asian, Native, and Latinx lives that have been taken needlessly and/or senselessly over the course of history, this is the asking price of being a white ally. Know what it takes. Furthermore, it’s a powerful moment of cinematic justice as well. Consider the hundreds of movies in which Black, Asian, Native, and Latinx people die in movies to further plot points. The cinematic deaths of people of color has happened across so many genres–drama, action, horror, comedy even. I’m impressed to see a white death in a major action film–and not just that of a minor character, but the male lead.
I think by far my favorite scene in the whole film is when Diana refuses to listen to Trevor and crosses the battlefield to the village. I swear, I cried. I felt like this scene could be interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewer. I think the danger is if we consider Diana to be representative of white women. If that is how we interpret her character, that sets a dangerous precedent of saviorism that white women are all too eager to follow. In addition, it was also a rather impulsive thing that Diana did, and white women already do enough impulsive things which frequently endanger the lives of people of color. White women should not be encouraged to be reckless. If we interpret Diana as racially ambiguous, however, this entire narrative changes. It becomes this beautiful act of feminine power. It takes a woman (of color) to empathize with the position of women and children in a war (Which country of the global majority has not experienced prolonged wars?), and to furthermore give so few fucks about what men want her to do that she walks into crossfire alone to solve a problem that hundreds of men couldn’t solve. I think that is the kind of world we could look forward to if more women were in positions of power and didn’t keep getting assassinated, undermined, or overthrown. (No, I am not talking about Hillary Clinton. Fuck off, ye meagre Beckies).
In short, Wonder Woman was a fascinating movie. I think, as always, the premise far exceeds the execution. I do think that for her first major role in a film, Gal Gadot did a spectacular job of portraying a stranger to the world, who is both more naive and more knowledgeable than anyone can reasonably guess. I relate to her so much, as a person who was raised around immigrants my whole life and had no idea what The Real America was actually like until I left home. I think that is the mark of a good actress, being able to make familiar the unfamiliar.