The Conversation We Should Not Have About Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

by J. Lamb (Snoopy Jenkins)

Gal GadotZack Snyder cast Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman for the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, thereby ending months of speculation about the possible portrayal of DC Comics’ oldest nod to feminist virtue and grrl power. Previously seen by American audiences in the recent Fast & Furious movies, Gal Gadot’s casting has been met with equal praise and derision. My initial response is hearty, heartfelt, and honest.

I told you so.

Sexism alone will prevent the obvious casting of a fitness model under the tiara, a woman who can rival not only Superman’s power set, but his physique as well. Instead, we’d receive more of the Joss Whedon conceit — another ninety-two pound five-foot-one-inch lily-white waif who practices tai chi and knocks out six-foot-two-inch men twice her size and age with slow roundhouse kicks. The goons’ brawny, broken masculinity will fly across movie screens, launched from determined but weak punches by tiny, dainty fists, and all the men in the theater will pretend that the bad comedy on-screen makes sense, so they don’t screw up their chances at date-night sex. (I watched Firefly, loved Serenity, but let’s be clear — Summer Glau can’t kick my ass.) Women today lift exceptional weight, run ultra-marathons, and go hard in the paint — to cast Wonder Woman, Warner Brothers would need to channel Nike and reflect the active woman’s sweat and sacrifice. This the male gaze will not allow. – J. Lamb, “We Don’t Need a Wonder Woman Movie

Casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman does not preclude the display of an active woman wearing a golden lasso in the Man of Steel sequel; indeed many reactions to this casting news have hoped that she would increase her muscle mass for this role as actors like Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale have to play superheroes on movie screens. But we now know that instead of a fitness model or Crossfit chick under the tiara, we have a standard issue Israeli fashion model with just enough Mediterranean swarthiness to read ‘dainty exotic’ to the Western male gaze. While I’d be surprised by anything more than a cameo for Wonder Woman in the upcoming film, it’s now clear that the ‘Joss Whedon conceit’ will inform practically all female superhero movie adaptations for the foreseeable future. Just replace the shaky tai chi with slow Krav Maga and switch Summer Glau for Gal Gadot and you’ve’ve got a Twenty-First Century Wonder Woman, a metahuman coat hanger that punches heavyweight hooligans through brick walls. Movie magic.

“Nerd movie casting news has become the tree in the internet schoolyard where everyone meets to fight at 4:15. No bit of superhero or sci-fi casting news comes without its share of social media outcry and geek-bitching nowadays, and EVERYONE is a casting director.” – Howard Decker, 12 of Zack Morris’ Ex-Girlfriends That Would Make a Better Wonder Woman than Gal Gadot, UnderScoopFire

The Joker

The Joker

The simple truth, though, is that superhero movie casting news today serves only to expose the biases of the core comics’ audience. We’ve all been guilty – imagine being the guy who publicly dismissed the possibility that Heath Ledger would entertain as the Joker? Cautious optimism appears the sane option for those willing to evaluate corporate media upon completion, when we have something to debate. We don’t at this point: Gal Gadot’s new job tells us very little about the feminine ideal today. Indeed, that’s the real problem: as long as Wonder Woman is viewed by comic aficionados and feminist theorists as an expression of the feminine ideal, our pop culture debates will examine the physical image presented by those who play her far more than anything else.

Right now, the conversation revolves around how this woman looks – thin, White, European, beautiful. I’ve found very little about her acting talent, past movie roles, or any childhood interest in comic books. Her military service is highlighted in several articles, as if it’s somehow interesting that a young Israeli citizen fulfilled a compulsory state requirement to defend her homeland while she pursued a modeling career that culminated in her 2004 Miss Israel victory.

I would imagine that part of the problem with casting Wonder Woman is that Hollywood is mostly run by guys who each have their own inaccurate and occasionally offensive perspective on what the Ultimate Vision of Womanhood would be. But honestly, you could put Sheryl Sandberg, Camille Paglia, Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, the women from American Horror Story, and the writing staff of Jezebel in a room for a week and ask them to cast their ideal Wonder Woman, and the net result would be the same. – Darren Franich, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman: 13 thoughts on the bombshell-casting bombshell, PopWatch

I don’t want to have another public conversation about how a woman looks. With Wonder Woman this conversation strikes me as inevitable and tired, necessary and pedestrian, logical and inappropriate. Ms. Gadot’s strikingly slim build and elfin features may excite the eighteen to thirty-five straight White male demographic so prized by movie executives and domestic advertisers, but when applied to Wonder Woman, an avatar for the Ultimate Vision of Womanhood in the Western pop imagination, her scant physical humanity delivers a social sermon we all should want to avoid. Please understand – I’m no fat acceptance advocate. Too many Fit Moms are lectured into silence about healthy eating habits and regular exercise by an ever-widening femininity convinced that muffin tops and underarm fat are inevitable after age twenty-nine. No.

The Wonder Woman you deserve, but won't get right now.

The Wonder Woman you deserve, but may not get right now.

But it’s hard not to lament the missed opportunity here. Casting a physically imposing Wonder Woman, with bulging pectorals and veiny biceps, would deconstruct this bizarre preoccupation with porcelain womanhood our modern media still clutches. Zack Snyder could have taken the chance with which the Hunger Games flirts, and introduced the world to a Wonder Woman that would defy the waif conventions of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow or Jaimie Alexander’s Sif. Mind you – this is still possible, but a Wonder Woman dwarfed by Henry Cavill’s Superman will not scream ‘first among equals’ to most viewers. But even now, this choice’s symbolism nauseates. We’ve heard nothing of a script, and seen Ms. Gadot in precious few roles. We’re only left with how she looks, and I don’t want to have that conversation.

captain_america_2_teaser_image

They introduced Captain America in 1941, and the only story Marvel Studios could find to build a script around outside of the origin was Ed Brubaker’s 2005 Winter Soldier? Really?

For decades, Wonder Woman fans have insisted that this character represented the pinnacle of the female condition, to parallel Superman’s perceived effect on American masculinity. Too many of us still believe that we need a female god to balance the Kryptonian deity. It wasn’t clear to me until I engaged this debate some time ago how completely Wonder Woman’s supporters and detractors talk past one another. I find Wonder Woman archaic and unimportant, more historical footnote than feminist icon. Most of the articles I’ve read on this new casting choice work in a line to justify this news that reminds readers that Wonder Woman is the Most Important Superhero without her own movie; by doing so, they continue to force-feed us a manufactured sense of the character’s importance that outstrips any clear-eyed view of her stories or her book sales. She’s DC Comics answer to Captain America – another Greatest Generation holdover too iconic to cast in compelling drama, who spends her days in dated flag fashion playing bingo at the local VFW Hall. Everyone loves Grandma Diana, in small doses on Veteran’s Day when she remembers her teeth, though we all appreciate and respect her service. In comics, Oil of Olay pencils and Botox brushwork falsely advertise a youthful vigor that Wonder Woman’s absolutist worldview belies. After years of false starts, the movies now offer an unknown bombshell so that we might focus so intently on her face that we ignore the character’s mind.

But what if Princess Diana’s fans are to be believed? If Wonder Woman is and should be the Ultimate Vision of Womanhood, than the statement made by casting any woman is hardly positive. None of us represent all of us, so when we pretend otherwise in popular culture we limit, not expand, corporate properties’ cultural impact. Superman’s the perfect case study. At no point in my life did I look upon Christopher Reeve or Brandon Routh or Henry Cavill and see myself reflected under the red and blue spandex. I don’t consider this accidental or weird – it’s normal to avoid the pretense that you are the invulnerable squarejaw you read on colored pages when you were five. It’s not innocence lost, it’s maturity, and I expect this without regard to gender. Wonder Woman doesn’t represent all women. She can’t, in part because she can’t resemble all women, and when we’re willing to admit this, the best possible thing can happen from this news.

We reserve judgment until the movie opens.

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