The Original Wonder Woman Had Some Familiar Racist Roots

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
Tonight the superhero film genre is getting the female lead it needs. The first public showings of Warner Bros.' newest installment from the DC universe, Wonder Woman, start May 31. Early reviewers, including those on Rotten Tomatoes, are already calling the film a hit. This feminist moment for the studio also did not come without its fair share of expected controversy. Most of it has centered around whether or not it is feminist enough, despite being directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. A theater in Austin, TX is receiving backlash by some dudes that want to make reverse sexism a thing after offering women-only showings and sending the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
However, wherever there is a mainstream feminist victory, there are racial undertones that need to be addressed. Women’s March, is that you? Wonder Woman’s epic tale is no exception, historically and as a Hollywood Blockbuster. Noah Berlatsky at The Establishment did a great job of documenting the intentions of Wonder Woman’s creator William Marston on creating an ideal woman. That woman was white and, Berlatsky noted, based on some casually sexist essentialist ideas about women.
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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. Serves him right. By casting Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress to play the title role in this film, Jenkins and the producers are also deviating from the white blueprint made by Marston.
But while there are certainly more women of color in the film that we could have relied on Martson for, W. Kamau Bell at Wired made it pretty clear that we might have to look harder for them. Shade. And then there is the fact that Phillipus isn’t even in this new adaption. The oversight seems particularly tone-deaf when the entire comic industry has been loudly criticized for their lack of diversity.
And the real life implications of this casting decision are felt when women like Maya Rupert have been trying to see themselves in the Wonder Woman franchise on more than a symbolic level since she was a child. So even though I may be able to overlook the shameless white male privilege at the heart of Scott Mendelson’s prompt at Forbes to overlook this “fake controversy” and bask in the fact that the movie itself is awesome, I will keep women like Maya in mind as I do.
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