Great movie, strong feminist moves
Wonder Woman has finally made it onscreen, to the immense joy of women worldwide. The new movie, directed by Patty Jenkins, was a smashing success, with critics raving about everything from its action to its feminist agenda. But for all the good it did for feminism, women of color missed out. Specifically, black women.
In the opening scenes of the movie, we see a young Diana running away from her caretaker. Specifically, her Black caretaker. Immediately, we are shown a Black woman in a stereotype: that of the Mammy. A Mammy is a Black woman who took care of the slaveowners children, and, once slavery was abolished, worked for white families at extremely low wages. This image perpetuates the stereotype that Black women are subservient and complicit, happy to run around chasing giggling white toddlers all day.
A perfect contrast to the Mammy’s softness, there is the image of the strongwoman. Just like the Mammy, the strong woman is introduced early in the movie, when Diana escapes to the training field. There, we witness a powerfully built Black woman get cracked across the back with a staff. She barely flinches, instead turning around and flicking off the woman who hit her as if she were little more than a fly. Although it can be argued that this is good representation for Black women, it must be understood that cinema has a long history of portraying Black women as powerful, silent hulks, with little emotion or plot use other than muscle. This stereotype harms Black women by turning them into nothing more than brainless muscle.
These are two out of the three Black characters who got screen/speaking time in WW. (The third, a Senator, got one line in before being interrupted by Diana.)They are caricatures of outdated stereotypes, not the beacons of strength that WOC so desperately seek. Wonder Woman is written from the point of view of a white feminist. Even characters like the Amazons, who are meant to defy stereotype, end up placing Black women right back into their outdated roles. The only character who truly breaks boundaries is the main White lead. Black women have voiced their concerns, and it's about time that White people started listening.
But the constant representation of White, straight, cis leads has left the feminist and minority communities divided and starved for resources. It is not fair for us to accept incremental change, but we must learn that Hollywood moves slowly. Painfully, excruciatingly slowly. We must take the time to celebrate a victory, even if it is unfairly White. We got a woman as a leading character. That is big. We must continue the fight for representation, but remember to expect slow, begrudging progress from directors.
-- Maya Tate