It seems that "Wonder Woman" has been at the center of controversy for weeks, even though the superhero movie only hit theaters this weekend. Everyone from overly sensitive men, to the anti-Israel minister of economy and trade in Lebanon, to patriotism-questioning Fox News commentators seem to be up in arms over the film. But why all the fuss over a simple comic book movie?
Wonder Woman has had a long 76-year history as a feminist and American icon — though ironically, she was created as neither — and those issues came to a head with the release of her first solo movie ever.
Outside of her brief debut in "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," this was Wonder Woman's first turn on the silver screen, despite numerous attempts to make her a bonafide Hollywood star over the years. Many have pointed to her complex Greek-influenced mythology and the lack of success of other female-led superhero movies, but judging by the uproar that has sprung up around the film, those were only minor issues that "Wonder Woman" had to contend with.
'Wonder Woman' is steeped in gender politics
Created in 1941 by psychologist William Moulton Marston, "Wonder Woman" has had a complicated history as a feminist icon. Marston believed that women were superior to men, but that they could only realize it by giving into submission — hence the constant bondage imagery in early "Wonder Woman" comics (Seriously, Wonder Woman spends a lot of time chained or tied up). But the imagery of Wonder Woman in chains had a second meaning: Marston also intended it as a reference to the women's suffrage movement. Protesting suffragists would often chain themselves to railings, or wore chains as a symbol of their oppression by men — Wonder Woman, in turn, could lose her powers if her bracelets were chained together by, you guessed it, a man.
Much of this feminist meaning was lost on the general public — chalk it up to the confused imagery of empowering women by tying them up.
It wasn't until the second-wave feminism of the 1970s that Wonder Woman was repurposed to be a true feminist icon. After the moral outrage against the comic book industry shuttered many "lurid" series in the 1950s, Wonder Woman had been gradually diminished until she was essentially a domestic and romantic heroine. But in 1972, feminist activist Gloria Steinem put her on the cover of Ms. Magazine, and she became a mascot of the women's liberation movement and a cultural icon in her own right. And she still is today.
This brings us to 2017: In a show of solidarity with the women who idolized and waited for the "Wonder Woman" film, a movie theater chain in Austin, Texas, announced special women-only screenings for the film.
Immediately, there was outrage, mostly from men who accused the theater of reverse sexism and reverse discrimination. But they didn't take into account Wonder Woman's long feminist history — nor, apparently, the existence of nightclubs' ladies nights — when protesting a movie that holds great importance to a huge community of people.
While Batman and Superman have had eight movies each, and every unknown male hero from Thor to Ant-Man have had a solo outing, Wonder Woman has only existed on the pages or the TV screen in her 76-year history. "Wonder Woman" is the first female-led superhero movie in 12 years, directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. It's natural that women, who raised her up to be the cultural icon that she is, would place more importance on her than men. That's why it makes sense for a theater to acknowledge that importance and create a space where women could appreciate the female superhero.
Star Gal Gadot is Israeli
A day before "Wonder Woman" was set to make its international release, Lebanon sought to ban the film on the premise that its star, Gal Gadot, was Israeli.
Gadot was born in the small city of Rosh HaAyin, became Miss Israel at age 18, and served her mandatory two-year service in the Israeli Defense Force as a combat trainer. In 2014, she had posted on Facebook in support of the Israeli army's actions in Gaza as well, garnering controversy online over those statements. Lebanon, which is officially at war with Israel, eventually succeeded in stopping the film's release after pressure from the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon.
A lot of meaning has been made of the fact that one of the biggest superhero movies of the year has an Israeli star. Jewish and Israeli outlets have gushed over the movie, calling it "a triumph for the Jews," a "source of national Israeli pride," and pondered whether Gadot would become "the biggest Israeli superstar ever." Although the film is set during World War I, outlets like the Jewish Journal made note of Wonder Woman's origins fighting Nazis in World War II. "Fighting Hitler," the Journal proudly proclaimed, "is in the character's DNA."
An American icon?
While issues of feminism and Jewish pride has swirled around "Wonder Woman" in the weeks leading up to its release, the most recent controversy points to the character's patriotism — or lack thereof. Fox News commentators accused the new "Wonder Woman" film of being not patriotic enough and giving up its American roots in favor of international appeal.
"I think, nowadays, sadly, money trumps patriotism," said guest Dion Baia during Friday's episode of "Your World with Neil Cavuto." "Especially, recently, I personally feel like we're not really very patriotic, the country, in a certain sense. They want these movies to succeed internationally, so they're going to dial back."
The commentators noted that the movie had replaced Wonder Woman's traditionally red, white and blue outfit with one that had dimmer red, gold, and blue hues.
"I think the Hollywood aspect, we see this time and time again, it's cool to hate America these days," said Mike Gunzelman.
The Fox News commentators don't seem to be aware that Wonder Woman isn't actually American — she's a princess of the island paradise of Themyscira, inhabited solely by warrior women known as the Amazons. Wonder Woman has traditionally acted as an ambassador between nations and Themyscira, and her red, white and blue costume was only an extension of that role as an ambassador. The fact that she is played by an international star and the film takes place on an international stage — London and Belgium, mainly — is more true to her roots than any nod to American patriotism.
"Wonder Woman" was released in theaters on June 2 and has already prompted numerous controversies. As the film receives more rave reviews and gets scrutinized through the national and international lens, there are sure to be more. Who knew that a comic book movie that has become the intersection for Middle Eastern and American politics and feminist issues could create such outrage?