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Tits or GTFO
By Zack Budryk
Since her creation in 1941 (by the inventor of the lie detector, in case you’re at Trivia Night), Wonder Woman has held a paradoxical position in the superhero firmament. Although she’s continually ranked in the top tier of both DC Comics heroes and comics icons in general, she’s always gotten comparatively less love across media than her male counterparts, Superman and Batman. While the two of them have gotten countless movies (over a dozen between the two of them) and live-action and animated shows, Wonder Woman’s only solo non-comics outing was the 70s TV series starring Lynda Carter (a 2011 pilot was passed over for pickup by NBC).
Now, it seems, DC wants to change that; in the wake of Marvel’s successful world-building to establish their lucrative Avengers franchise, DC is trying to do something similar, planning a Batman-Superman crossover film and, it was announced in late 2013, adding Israeli actress Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
Reaction to the announcement has been mixed thus far; blood was already in the water after the film cast Ben Affleck as Batman, but, as usual, Gadot has to deal with a whole host of complaints a male actor wouldn’t. In December, Gadot was interviewed by Collider and found herself asked (actual quote), “It’s been said that you’re too skinny for the part. Wonder Woman is large-breasted, is that going to change?” Yeah, former Miss Universe contestant Gal Gadot, why don’t you look exactly like a woman who looks however her artist wants her to?
There are people who, whenever a feminist criticizes media representation of women (or lack thereof), will dismiss the complaint and demand to know why feminists don’t instead address issues like treatment of women in the Middle East (they do, incidentally). But that single question demonstrates why, when it comes to feminism and cultural criticism, “all the pieces matter,” to quote The Wire. Gadot is bringing one of the most iconic female characters in fiction—praised by no less than Gloria Steinem—to the big screen for the first time in the latter’s 70 years of existence, and the response is “Tits or GTFO.” What’s the primary objection to Affleck’s casting? That he was in Daredevil. That’s not much of an argument, either, but it’s also not based on confusing the male gaze for the characteristics that actually make the character iconic and enduring. (I can’t find a single article suggesting Christian Bale would be a crap Batman because Patrick Bateman is skinny.)
Gadot, like a lot of women who find themselves blazing a trail, is in a tricky position. This won’t be just another role for her, or even just her shot at the big time as an actress; her performance, and the film’s performance, will be judged as a referendum on whether or not people want to see movies about superheroines. Naysayers traditionally cite the failure of 2004’s Catwoman or 2005’s Elektra as evidence to the contrary (which is stupid, because those films were also a) terrible and b) clearly made by someone with no knowledge of or affection for the source material). I have reservations myself, not because of Gadot but because of director Zack Snyder, of 300 and Watchmen fame, whose previous attempt at a feminist picture was Sucker Punch, a bizarre, Inception-esque spectacle that was in search of a point about female agency but also saw fit to put its entire cast in schoolgirl outfits for slo-mo fight scenes.
Furthermore, as many have pointed out, a character of Wonder Woman’s cultural cachet really deserves a solo film. It’s hard to imagine, but before his film, Iron Man had very little name recognition among non-comics fans—certainly less than Wonder Woman. But then, I’m not a producer, so I can’t choose what gets made; I can only use my money to show what I want to see more of.
Jenji Kohan, creator of the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black, famously said that she used the show’s white yuppie protagonist as a “Trojan horse” to tell stories about black women, trans women, Latinas and various other groups underrepresented in the medium. Done properly, a film with Wonder Woman as a supporting character can do the same thing. It’s not as though there’s any doubt people (and not just women) want to see badass, well-rounded female protagonists; Dana Scully and Buffy Summers gave us hit TV shows and enduring cultural legacies, a feature film continuation of Veronica Mars raised the necessary funds in record time, and the second installment of the Hunger Games franchise is already in the top 50 highest-grossing movies of all time. As a popular meme at the time has it, if you can take a chance on another superhero movie with Ben Affleck, you can take a chance on a Wonder Woman movie.