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Tag Archives: film

Wonder Woman: Love, War, and Ideology

wonder woman

Wonder Woman’s journey to the big screen has been long and tedious—the process of creating a live action Wonder Woman film has been in the works since 1996, with several projects being initiated and then shelved over the years. It was only in 2015 that the project began to come to fruition. Patty Jenkins was confirmed as a director, and the production process began. It finally saw a worldwide release in early June.

The film combines elements of Greek mythology with modern history, and is set in the World War 1 era. It serves as a prequel to Wonder Woman’s appearance in Batman vs. Superman, and seeks to explain her origins and character evolution.

It’s an extremely multidimensional film that deals with a lot of thought provoking themes—here are some that really stood out to me:

Moral Ambiguities

The idyllic landscape of Themyscira, an island home to female warriors called the Amazons, is disturbed when American spy Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) plane crashes onto the island. Diana (Gal Gadot), princess of the island, rescues him. It is revealed that Steve has classified information with him regarding weapons that the Germans are using, information that he has to get back to his bosses in London. Steve’s description of the devastating war (World War 1) leads Diana to conclude that the god Ares is behind it—Ares is the enemy of the Amazons. Her solution is to seek out and kill Ares, which she thinks will stop the war. Diana thus leaves Themyscira with Steve, without even giving the other side [in this case, the Germans] the benefit of the doubt. [spoiler] The fight scene between the Amazons and the Germans on Themyscira’s shores, where the Germans (they lose in the end) fight and kill many Amazons, including Diana’s aunt reinforces the idea that Germans are the evil enemy, both in the minds of the viewers and Diana, an idea that she doesn’t question at all [end spoiler]. Even when she reaches London, she doesn’t try to gather more facts about the war or try to gain a more holistic understanding of the war—she just assumes that the Americans are good and the Germans are bad.

When Steve reached the island, he was bound by Hestia’s lasso (one that makes its captive tell the truth), so it makes sense that she believed what he had to say about the war. However, there’s a difference between believing that someone is telling the truth and believing that what they’re saying is morally correct, or subscribing to their ideology. She automatically assumed that Ares had to be someone of German origin without trying to get both sides of the story.

Films always reflect the context they were created in, so either intentionally or unintentionally, they end up projecting a certain point of view. This is something that is evident in Wonder Woman, and something that got me thinking about how comics and films can be (and have been) used as tools of propaganda. Undoubtedly, the political landscape influences artistic expression. This article, for example, talks about how superheroes in comic books gained resurgence during the Cold War era due to their use of political symbolism, and how some characters that we see on screen today like Iron Man have extremely anti communist backgrounds in the comics. As far as Wonder Woman itself is concerned, people have pointed out how it touches upon topics like weaponization and American ideology. Further, her costume too contains American symbols—it has hints of red and blue, and looks like it has an eagle built into it (see below).

JL_Wonder_Woman

When Steve lands on the island, his perspective of the war is the only one that Diana hears, and she thus assumes that the Allies were in the right and the other side was wrong. When destruction is occurring at a massive scale, the lines between good and bad, objective and subjective get increasingly blurred. Based on the beginning, I assumed that Wonder Woman would go the propaganda route. However, the movie addresses the ambiguity of concepts like ‘good and bad’, ‘right and wrong’ really well through the reveal of Ares’ identity. It drives home the point that it’s hard to see concepts in binaries. This idea is further reinforced by Diana’s declaration that all humans have both good and bad in them, but it’s the power of love that overcomes all.

Love

Like most superhero movies, this one contained a romantic connection between Diana and Steve. They worked really well as a team and had a really good relationship otherwise, so this something that I thought was an unnecessary addition to the plot. Her romance with Steve was definitely a secondary part of the story, but the entire exchange with Ares (interspersed with a few flashbacks) made it seem like it was (specifically) her relationship with Steve that gave her strength and helped her understand the potency of love. There was no mention of the love that she’d received from her family, the Amazons or even from other members of her team. While it definitely felt like romantic love was her driving force, considering the fact that Diana and Steve were teammates before lovers, we can give the movie the benefit of the doubt and assume that the love she felt for him could’ve stemmed from camaraderie and teamwork as well. However, should love have played a role at all?

[spoiler] As was revealed during her altercation with Ares, the purpose of Diana’s very existence was to be a ‘god killer’, something she was training to become her entire life [end spoiler]. Adding the idea of love took away from her strengths and capabilities as a warrior. It also overshadowed the fact that Diana’s quest, since the very beginning, was always motivated by a sense of duty and justice. It was never about love in the first place, so why make that such an integral part of the plot in the end?

The addition of the love element, while making her seem more ‘human’ and relatable, has its downsides as it can lead to the essentialization and internalization of traditional gender roles that typify women as being ‘emotional’.

This article puts it perfectly- "In the end, Wonder Woman concludes that “only love can save the world.” While this may be true, I’ve never heard any other superhero say so. Why couldn’t Wonder Woman fight for justice and eliminate bad guys without having to in the end make it about love? Perhaps a more interesting question is: Why don’t male superheroes do the same? While people argue that women are “feminine” and naturally more inclined to love, this thinking quickly slides into dangerous assumptions like women are more cut out for caring for children and processing feelings.”

A Feminist Superhero?

Wonder Woman’s quest is to end war by ending the God of War himself. Her intentions are extremely noble--she wants to save the world and protect innocent human beings. However, she has no way but to achieve peace through means of violence. [spoiler] Diana herself is a literal weapon, the ‘god killer’ [end spoiler]. Waging wars to “secure peace” is something that’s common even in the real world, a contradictory concept that none of us are unfamiliar with. In some circumstances, violence may be necessary and may bring about peace, but the devastating impact it leaves behind on both sides cannot be ignored. While it is impossible to generalize feminism as a whole, most feminists are against violence and the hierarchies and devastation it creates, and are pro cooperation, peace and freedom. Thus, can there be a feminist superhero? Especially if that superhero uses violence to achieve her goals, as noble as they may be?

Of course, not all women call themselves feminists, and thus having a female lead doesn’t make a film feminist, but whether Wonder Woman can be called a feminist icon or not is definitely something to think about.

The film definitely does express its disdain for certain kinds of weapons (chemical weapons in particular) and maybe its way of trying to tone down the weaponization was by adding the ‘power of love’ aspect, but as discussed earlier, this has a tendency of reinforcing certain tropes. Clearly, there’s no easy way to comprehend and address such concepts.

As a whole though, I really did like Diana’s character. What makes her such a joy to watch is that when she wants to do something, she’ll do it without hesitation. She is independent, strong and an extremely skilled warrior (something that she is acutely aware of). It is the only way she knows how to be. The fact that she can just go ahead and actively work towards achieving her goals without second guessing herself or having a million obstacles holding her back is empowering. It’s something that we as women cannot relate to, but aspire towards.

Seeing a woman being able to do that feels special—especially when we get to see her from a ‘female gaze’. Patty Jenkins’ direction ensured that powerful shots took precedence over the more sexy and objectifying shots that we normally see women on screen through. As this post points out, there was no attempt to make Wonder Woman (or the Amazons) look sexy, or to make them seem more palatable to a male audience.

As a film, I would highly recommend it. The cinematography was beautiful, the themes it sought to address were intriguing, and it left me feeling (slightly) invincible.

 

On Topic: Feminist Waves through Different Mediums

April has been my favourite month since I was in school: the excitement of new class, the fragrance of the new books, covering new notebooks and so on. Let us look at the events and and voices that created impact in our feminist world last month.

Things begun with the news that India got its first transgender sub-inspector K. Prithika Yashini from Chennai, and her struggle also raised several LGBTQ issues of gender identity and social acceptance.

Lucknow embarked on its first #Pride on April 9, where we got to see trademark queer quirky messages alongside the rainbow flags and glitter. The month also witnessed another memorable moment for same-sex marriage in Punjab on 22nd April 2017, with enthusiasm and love.

From celebrating sexuality, fighting for gender identities, prejudices against and within the LGBTQ community boxing in the social construct, we witnessed a revolution against the patriarchal social construct and applause to all those never-ending voices against the oppression and violence.

The end of this month beheld the Kerala Trans Sports Meet in Trivandam on 28th April, 2017.

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha' has been receiving worldwide recognition: the Hollywood Foreign Press picked the film, in early April, for the opening night screening at the International Film Festival, Los Angeles (making the movie eligible for the American Golden Globe awards), questioning the Censor Board for Film Certification's denying the film certification in India. Voices in support of the movie have led the censor board to reconsider their decision: the movie, certified 'A' with some voluntary cuts, will be released soon.

A charity from Argentina ‘MACMA’ came up with a clever way to avoid censorship: their video for breast cancer awareness called Everybody Loves Boobs sings the glories of breasts, with lips replacing nipples and with sarcasm towards censorship on social media.

Another crowd-funded documentary about arranged marriages in India ‘A Suitable Girl’ is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary took four years to complete and the women behind it organized and executed the project through an online fundraising campaign.

Since we are talking about the emerging voices against the oppression, we cannot miss the campaign Let’s Talk About Trolls by the Hindustan Times, fighting vicious misogyny and cyber violence on social media. HT published a series of articles featuring influential women who have been active on social media, in which they express their political views and talk about their experiences of online trolling. Meanwhile, this report via News Deeply states that the gender gap between women and men when it comes to using computers and the Internet is increasingly widening, an important issue when it comes to gender equality and basic rights.

In our last 'On Topic' post, we talked about how the tax on sanitary pads has been removed in Delhi. An online campaign by Youth ki Awaaz “#IAMNOTDOWN” talks about several issues surrounding menstruation, such as accessibility and affordability of sanitary napkins, as well as the social stigma around menstruation, which can have deadly consequences on young women's lives.

Reports say that India will have its first free condom stores for HIV prevention and awareness, brought about by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). Although the government currently provides affordable contraception to citizens, it is reported to be of low quality.

April also witnessed elections for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (the MCD). The Bhartiya Janta Party, which has been in control of the MCD for the last two terms (10 years), won the elections. Of 270 seats, 124 seats were been secured by women.

The United Nations on the 22nd of April made a surprising announcement as they elected Saudi Arabia to the women's rights commission. The 45 member body works towards promoting gender equality and empowerment of women worldwide.  According to The Independent there are several political reasons behind this decision. Several countries were questioned about the vote counts and their stands on the declaration. Saudi Arabia was already in the news the month before for holding its first “Girls Council”, with photos showing zero girls on stage.

Here at Zubaan:

Amidst the chaos of the renovation at Zubaan office inside and political parties campaigning outside, we managed a quick book club meeting discussing the internet phenomenon Worm. Next meeting: our very own Kuzhali Manickavel's Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings.

Prisoner No. 100 is back in stock. We bade farewell to our intern Sarah and everybody misses her (and her zucchini bread); our office manager Elsy is back stronger and more relaxed after a brief surgical battle, and you could maybe manage to get some discounts from her. So don’t forget to visit us, and happy reading!

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