Intersectional Feminism: Why Wonder Woman Fails for Me
One of the things I have been very passionate about for most of my adult life is women’s empowerment. I grew up under the shadow of men (including my father) being very domineering and unfair to women (including my mother). As a result of that, I became acutely aware of the need to empower women in order that they may live good and fair lives in relation to men. In Africa(Ghana) where I come from, educational opportunities are still heavily skewed in favor of boys hence the economic opportunities for women become limited because they get less job skills as compared to boys. I see feminism as part of the wider gamut of human rights around the world. So I can be described as a feminist in the same way that I may be described as a human rights activist. So to be clear, I am not interested in female supremacy over men. I am interested in a fair and balanced share of power and influence between men and women. When I say men and women, I mean men and women from every part and corner of the world. Not just men and women in Ghana or Africa, but men and women being equal and fairly represented and influential wherever they may be or where ever they may come from. That is why I was so happy about the Wonder Woman superhero movie coming out.
I was very expectant in this regard because this was the first time a DC Comics superhero movie was being made with a female lead. I am not going to go with the hype some people are making about this being the first time a woman superhero movie is being made as that is just a marketing ploy. I very much enjoyed Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Katnis (with reservations) in Hunger Games, Lucy from Lucy and Alice from Resident Evil. So I don’t buy into the all first time hype about Wonder Woman. But I was expecting something from this movie. Maybe I just caught up with the hype everyone else was in. So this was the first time in 2017 I went to the movie theater. I deliberately refused to read any reviews before going to watch the movie partly because I was not interested in getting other people in my head before going to the movie. But I did look up the characters and the actors/actresses who played them. My first hint at disappointment came in the casting. Yet I was still hopeful because there seemed to be a number of women characters there who I thought would help in the diversity of the cast but I was woefully disappointed.
Lets start from the beginning. Lets recap the number of women characters of color in Wonder Woman. There is no woman of color in the main cast. Of the women of color in the movie, every one of them is a minor character even though Artemis is one of the main characters in the comics. And Nubia, a major character in the Comics is cut out completely. In this movie, Artemis is reduced to just a side note in the training of Diana. The other two noteworthy women of color characters in the movie are the nameless mammy at the beginning which just irked me much. We will come back to her later. The other one is the senator cut off midway within speech by Diana. Every one else is canon fodder or an extra. So the total screen time in the 141 minutes movie for women of color is less than 5 minutes.
Now to the issues coming out of this movie and why it is a big disappointment for me.
Visibility: As mentioned above, the women of color shown in the movie only get less than 5% of the total screen time. What the makers of the movie did to women of color is exactly what women have been reduced to in male-dominated superhero movies. They will tell you at least you have a character or that you are represented in the movie but your representation is as small and useless as to render it insulting. When women of color complain about representation, they don’t mean token representation to assuage criticism, they mean serious representation. The makers of this movie did a massive injustice to women of color by the almost non-existent screen time they were given.
The Mammy: The first thing that threw me off when I watched the movie was the mummy role they opened the movie with. With the struggle for diversity of roles women have been clamoring for so that they are not reduced to tropes and flat characters for the advancement of male plots, I was so taken aback by the blatant use of a black woman to play the nanny role in the very first scene in the movie. It threw me off so much that the rest of the movie became hard to watch. African women playing nanny to white children and their quest for greatness have dominated American history as well as much of European history. The servant role became all they were good for most of American history even after slavery. Today, that role is mostly being taken over by Hispanic women. But that legacy still persists. And to open the movie with that image was either incompetent, insensitive, or deliberately put in there to appeal to white supremacists.
The Mindless Brute: Artemis’ one-dimensional representation just got the hair on my skin to stand up. In the DC comics, Artemis is a much more fuller character with feelings and ideas and everything a fuller human being and woman has. In this movie, she is portrayed simply as an unfeeling brute who doesn’t feel pain when hit. She is simply a tool for Diana’s training and the continuation of the toxic trope in Western discourse that non-white women, especially black women are not as delicate or have feelings like white women. American medical history shows many times black women were used to develop new medical procedures because they were said to feel no pain. This horrible history seems to be continued in fucking 2017 in a movie about women empowerment. This was so stupid I cringed for the rest of the movie.
Shut up-Cutting off Dialogue: With their limited speaking roles, I felt rather queasy when Diana cut off the black senator mid speech. This kind of thing mind pass over the heads of white people, but as someone sensitive to this kind of historical silencing, I just couldn’t help but notice. And to have Diana, played by an Israeli Zionist cut her off just rubbed me in the most wrong of ways.
Excuses: One of the things that pass off as diversity for Americans is having another white person from another country act in their movies so they can claim diversity. Gal Gadot is not a woman of color. Jewishness is not a monolithic ethnicity. Even in Israel, white Jews like Gal Gadot discriminate against colored Jews, which is well documented. Her family changed from their European Greenstein name to Gadot to ethnicize themselves when they along with other Europeans dispossessed Palestinians of their land. She is not a woman of color. She is just like European Americans, as the Europeans in Israel and America all went to other people’s lands to kill, rape and dispossess them claiming some religious right. I don’t want to get too much into the Palestinian issue but Gadot is a rightwing Zionist and an Israeli soldier who cheered on as Israel killed thousands of Palestinians in the most densely populated concentration camp in the world. I have great Jewish friends both in the US and in Israel who don’t support the rabid Zionist agenda like Natanyahu but Gadot is not one them. So to have her play the diversity character as some excuses will have us believe is to rub salt on our wounds.
Native American Experience: I was extremely disappointed in how Gadot or Diana responded to Chief, the native American character played by Eugene Brave Rock. She just showed a sad face and then that was it. Nothing serious. No serious commiseration. It reminded me of white liberals’ sense of solidarity for issues minorities face. The guy just told you your newfound friend’s people killed off his people and you basically just went on as if nothing major had happened. But what should I expect from Gadot when her own people are actively engaged in the same enterprise? I know many woke actors tend to improvise and change dialogue when it is cheesy and insensitive. But Gadot along with the screenwriters are completely empty of real empathy.
Zero Asian Women: Last but not the least issue I had with the movie is that they had no Asian woman in there. I left this for the last because I wanted it to be the last thing you remember of this movie. Even though black people and black women have been making strides in Hollywood’s representation problems, Asian women have it even worse.
Final Verdict: What Wonder Woman offers us is a Hillary Clinton kind of feminism or white mainstream feminism. Instead of everyone being equal, or giving a fair representation to everyone, what white feminists want is to be at the top of the power totem pole. They don’t want power sharing; they want to be in power. So Hillary Clinton, an avowed feminist, can sleep tight at night after just bombing or destroying Honduras or Libya where her actions will lead to deaths of hundreds and possibly thousands of women and babies. But so long as she can be the one leading the empire, she is happy to do it. Instead of justice, white western women want a piece of the pie, a place at the table of imperialist expansion and murder. That is the sense I got from Wonder Woman, white women circle jerking each other as breaking the glass ceiling on the backs of women of color. So do with Wonder Woman what you will. Tell me what you think. I don’t begrudge anyone especially women and girls for enjoying this movie. I actually think it is overdue. I tried to enjoy it but I just couldn’t just like I struggle with some of the male superhero movies with imperialist bents as well.