Is Wonder Woman Jewish?

Image: Directors Patty Jenkins and actors Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Connie Neilsen talk about Wonder Woman at San Diego Comic Con, 2016 (Photo by Gage Skidmore.)

I’ve waited for this movie for 50 years.

When Linda and I sat down yesterday in the theater, I was wary. I’ve had my heart broken in movie theaters before. The first time I was nine, when Walt Disney tarted up Mary Poppins (1964) beyond all recognition, drenched her in sugar, and perverted P.L. Travers’ books. I felt I’d been robbed, and I left the theater sobbing.

I feel strongly about certain characters in literature.

So when there has been talk about a Wonder Woman film, I’ve perked up my ears, but I’ve not let myself hope too much. Hollywood has a way of messing up good stories, especially good stories with female protagonists. I was encouraged to hear that Patty Jenkins was directing; her writing and direction of Monster (2004) were miraculous.

I was even more encouraged when I heard that Gal Gadot had been cast as the lead. She is beautiful, she is strong, she can be very funny, and I liked the idea of the world hearing an Israeli accent in that role. A Jewish woman as a super hero? Oh, yeah!

I saw the poster and dared to hope. WonderWoman

As sexualized as the comic book figure was, as campy as the TV show, the image in the poster is that of a warrior. She is kneeling on a beach, at the edge of her world.  The sun behind her is either rising or setting, with no clues as to which it is. Is she at the beginning of a journey, or recovering from battle? Is her grave expression sadness or something else?

I won’t spoil the film for you. I spent quite a bit of it in tears, watching a brave woman do terrifying things in defense of innocents. Some of those tears were that I was finally seeing the movie I’d wanted to see ever since I first found a Wonder Woman comic book discarded on a sidewalk in Nashville 50 years ago and recognized her as mine. Some of those tears were the tears of a graying feminist who finally got to see a great movie about a wonderful woman, directed by a woman. Some of them were because the movie is genuinely moving, and occasionally pretty scary (take that PG-13 rating seriously, please.)

Does the film have Jewish content? You bet. It stars a Israeli woman. Wonder Woman may have a Greek name but she learns a very Jewish lesson: humanity was born good, with a terrible capacity for evil. The fight is to free that which is good while curbing that which is evil. It is not a simple task.

Go. See the movie. Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

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American Jerusalem

LeviStrauss
Levi Strauss & Co. on Battery St. in San Francisco

Normally I save my writing about film for the Jewish Film blog, but I want to alert readers to a new film I saw this past week.  American Jerusalem tells the story of the first 66 years of Jewish settlement in Northern California, specifically in San Francisco.

The Jewish community is unique in Jewish history, in that nowhere else in the Diaspora were Jews in the majority during the early settlement period of a city. The Jewish community developed differently as a result of this, without the need to buttress itself against anti-Semitism until a much later period. Jewish families were “society” in early San Francisco, and they did not eat or live separately from their gentile neighbors. Even today, Jews in San Francisco have a curious mix of firm Jewish identity with a low rate of synagogue and other Jewish institutional affiliation. While some outsiders look at the demographics and say, “Wow, Judaism is in trouble in San Francisco,” in fact the Jewish community there is vibrant and diverse. It was influential in shaping the past of the city and continues to be engaged with San Francisco’s future.

The filmmakers were extremely selective in their choices, which may leave some old San Franciscan families wondering, “What about my ancestors?” but I think the choices allow viewers to appreciate the forest without losing their way in the trees. Certainly American Jerusalem is a tantalizing springboard from which one can launch into deeper reading (Fred Rosenbaum’s book, Cosmopolitans, a Social and Cultural History of the Jews at the San Francisco Bay Area would be a great next step.)

If you want to see the film, you’re in luck. DVD’s are available through the film’s website, and screenings are coming up at the Tucson Jewish Film Festival, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the Center for Jewish History in New York City, the National Museum of Jewish History in Phildelphia, PA, and at the East Bay Jewish Film Festival.

Image: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 FoundSF.org