Coming off the high of Ghostbusters last summer, the first Wonder Woman trailer dropped. I wrote an article about the importance of the movie to me. I dug up a story from my childhood about Wonder Woman and waxed poetic about how much this movie would mean to me.
My feminism and social justice have deepened since then.
I saw the movie last week.
I want to love the Wonder Woman movie, I do.
The desire to ignore everything that’s going on in the world and lose myself in the story is overwhelming. I just want to let go and fall into that same feeling I had when I saw Holtzmann’s slow motion gun battle last summer.
But I can’t.
I love parts of it. I love certain things about it. There’s no way to deny the excitement I felt at having a Wonder Woman movie, and that is still very much a part of me. But part of unlearning the whiteness that has so consumed our world involves listening.
I cannot, in good conscience, ignore the voices of women of colour on this subject.
I saw the movie during opening weekend. It made sense to support it financially.
The shots are glorious, and the influence of a female director is clearly visible in the editing of the movie. At no point did I feel the male gaze leering, although I could’ve done with a little less magical hair flowing. Gal Gadot gave a stellar performance, and she looks every bit the part. I loved seeing the athletic Amazons on screen, kicking ass and representing muscular women.
The influence of the male voice is clearly present in the script. There are moments that don’t quite make sense. There’s a lot more Steve Trevor than anyone needed. Even if it’s Chris Pine, who’s nice to look at, the movie could basically happen without him.
The influence of white supremacy was also notable. Despite the occasional attempts to tip a hat to certain issues. In the comics, Phillipus, a black woman, is central to Diana’s training. Her best friend from Themyscira, Euboea, is an Asian woman. In the film both are absent. One of the clearest moments of the influence of whiteness on the writing is when Eugene Brave Rock’s character (yes, the First Nations character known only as “The Chief” – ugh), tells her that Steve Trevor’s people were the ones who killed and slaughtered his people…
And Diana does nothing.
Comic book Diana would’ve lost her shit.
There are dozens of thoughtful, well-written critiques of the movie out there. Yet, I’ve seen so many white women covering their eyes and demanding that Wonder Woman not be ruined for them.
If we want to dismantle white feminism – and we do – we’re going to have to get used to not understanding where certain criticisms come from. We’re going to have to accept that sometimes there will be things that don’t bother us, but do bother others. If we want to be a part of the solution and not just hop off the train at the first stop that looks good to us – we need to listen and follow the lead of others. That doesn’t mean we can’t get out, stretch our legs, grab a snack and go to the washroom. But we’d better get back on that train if we’re going to take this all the way.
No one said it was going to be easy.
If you’ve been avoiding any negative commentary about Wonder Woman because you want to preserve that feeling of excitement you have about it, I understand. I want you to know that you can have both. You can watch the movie and say it is everything you ever wanted, and then say “But we can do more.” You can love every second of it and then turn to the women of colour who felt excluded from this story and say “Now let’s get this right for you.” You can support the movie and think that Gal Gadot is perfect in her portrayal and then say “But she’s a Zionist who’s said some problematic things in the past.”
You can learn to live in a complex and nuanced reality where something can be both progressive but not enough, and can be applauded for what it achieves while being reminded of how far it needs to go.
I know you’re scared.
You’re scared because this happens so rarely for us. But things are changing. In the past few years alone we’ve had Mad Max, The Force Awakens, Ghostbusters and now Wonder Woman. White women, please, let’s not let this become our norm and forget about intersectionality again. Let’s not be seduced by a few small victories when we can stay the course and be a part of something even better and even greater. Let’s not make this about us, not again. Please.
Honestly, I can’t blame people of colour for their critique of white women and our love of this movie. Every time we get something for white women, it highlights just how easily we can be pulled away from our politics.
It’s okay if you love the movie.
But let’s not miss the train because we’re taking too long in the snack line. We’ve got a longer journey ahead, and it’s time to get back on board.
If you’ve been gushing about Wonder Woman and how wonderful it is, please also consider posting a link to the Black Panther trailer and mentioning how bad-ass the Dora Milaje look.
If you’d like to read some well-thought out intersectional critique of Wonder Woman, I recommend these articles. Also, if you’ve written on the subject of representation in Wonder Woman, please link me to your piece so I can add it here:
It’s a gloomy day sometime during the 1980s and a young girl with red hair and less than fashionable clothes walks to her morning bus-stop. She doesn’t fit in much because she’s bookish and people don’t understand why someone would want to read books over other things that young teens do.
Growing up, I was told my favorite comic-book heroine was white. And yet her struggles always seemed uniquely similar to my own. When I was eight years old, I asked my mother if Wonder Woman was black. It was 1989-almost 30 years before I’d eagerly await the premiere of the first Wonder Woman movie.
In fact, women of color typically only showed up on Marston’s Paradise Island in heavily stereotyped representations. I would go so far as to argue that the introduction of Phillipus – the Black woman who trained Wonder Woman in combat when she was young and served as an advisor to her mother, Queen Hippolyta – in 1987 had him turning in his grave.
As both a woman and a longtime fan of superhero movies, the success of Wonder Woman at the box office has made me happier than I can express. But as a black woman and a longtime fan of superhero movies, the actual content of Wonder Woman depressed me…
Also published on Medium.