‘Wonder Woman’ A Hit Among Jews, Too

Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins, brought in $103.1 million domestically in its first weekend, the best opening ever for a female director, per a Deadline report. | Photo credit: Warner Bros.

While female superhero fans have spent years in the worlds of the many Chris-es of the Avengers (Hemsworth, Evans, et al.) as they adorn their shields, hammers and armor to save the world, the one hero we’ve waited for has finally arrived, as has a new Chris (as in Chris Pine.)

Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins have lassoed their way to the top of the box office with Gadot’s starring turn as the titular Wonder Woman, and she’s backed by Chris Pine and a team of fierce Amazonian women warriors.

For some Philadelphians, finally seeing Diana Prince on the big screen this way was worth the wait. That she’s played by a Jewish Israeli actress has not escaped their attention.

Though Diana herself is not Jewish, Gadot’s identity has made headlines as the film was banned in Lebanon and was suspended in Tunisia because she is Israeli.

Nonetheless, Jewish Wonder Woman enthusiasts couldn’t be happier to see the strong, compassionate and resilient Diana played by an Israeli who served in the Israel Defense Forces and was crowned Miss Israel in 2004. (Though her biggest accomplishment may be completing reshoots of the film while five months pregnant.)

“This movie appears to be a game changer for our industry and reflects on and benefits from the changes in our society,” Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, said in an email. “Wonder Woman is beautiful and a force to reckoned with in every way. And if you happen to be Jewish, as I am, and have a connection to Israel, well that is a true bonus.

“I can’t help but think about how often my parents used to remind me that when they were in the prime of their youth, Bess Myerson, Jewish but not Israeli, won the Miss America competition,” she added. “By comparison, Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman, the first female superhero in movies and for the DC Extended Universe, no less, is unmatched.”

“There’s a pride that people will have seeing an Israeli woman in this role,” added Barbara Nussbaum, president of National Council of Jewish Women Greater Philadelphia section.

She identified most with Diana’s unwavering mission to help those who cannot help themselves, referencing a line from the film.

“I thought it had so much to do with female empowerment,” Nussbaum said. “She was strong, she saw problems and she didn’t run away from them — she went right in to try to solve them.”

Beth Anne Ages headed to the movies June 12 with a group of friends, all women who belong to Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell.

“It’s important for gender equality,” Ages said, “and we all have young girls, so to show girls that superheroes can be girls, too, and it’s not a male thing.”

She noted the “innocence yet strength” of the character was endearing.

“I feel like the Jewish people and Israelis in particular are very strong and resilient,” Ages said, “and so a superhero character is kind of fitting for both, for a Jew and for an Israeli.”

Wonder Woman first came onto the scene in All-Star Comics at the end of 1941, followed by a cover debut in Sensation Comics in 1942 with her signature headpiece, corset-type top, star-spangled skirt and knee-high boots.

Her creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston, was married to Elizabeth Holloway — whom a 1992 New York Times article credits as Wonder Woman’s true creator — but was also involved and fathered children with Olive Byrne, daughter of Ethel Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger, the women who opened the first U.S. birth control clinic in 1916.

According to an article from Smithsonian magazine by Jill Lepore, who wrote The Secret History of Wonder Woman, in March 1942, the National Organization for Decent Literature put Sensation Comics on its blacklist of “Publications Disapproved for Youth” because “Wonder Woman is not sufficiently dressed.”

Her seemingly feminist back story also began to shine through, as Marston said his comic was “meant to chronicle a great movement now under way — the growth in the power of women.”

But it may be no surprise that her male-oriented history might dissuade some from seeing the movie.

“I still believe Wonder Woman is really a man’s image of what a female hero would be, the physical part of her,” said Abby Jones, visiting scholar at Annenberg School of Communication at University of Pennsylvania, echoing the early complaints of Wonder Woman’s revealing outfit and physique as designed in a male view.

While she emphasized that it is important to have female superheroes and that it “almost took too long to make this movie,” she was surprised by the quick reactions to embrace Wonder Woman as a symbol for the women’s movement.

While the Jewish Jones grew up watching the Wonder Woman and Batman TV series as a “true Gen-X-er,” she also pointed to pop culture references like in episodes of The West Wing or The O.C. that reduce Wonder Woman to a male fantasy, not dissimilar to Princess Leia and her gold bikini.

She hopes that the women who see Wonder Woman as a strong woman — which is great, she iterated — could think about the other side as well.

For others, the notion of female empowerment they interpreted from the film was key.

“Like the boys identify with Superman and Batman and Spiderman, this is a female superhero of the same caliber that girls can identify with,” said Helene Rausch of Cherry Hill, who saw the film with her daughter Rebecca, a ninth-grader at Cherry Hill High School East.

For Rebecca Rausch, in addition to enjoying the film’s cool special effects, she thought the sudden interest in Gadot’s Israeli background put Israel in a perhaps unusually positive light.

“I’ve had teachers and friends who were Israeli and you hear the accent and all of a sudden you’re hearing the accent on the big screen … I wasn’t used to hearing it like this,” she said excitedly.

“They see this beautiful woman and she served in the army and she can rival any actress or model in the U.S. or any place else,” Helene Rausch added, “so I think that could put a positive spin on the way people might look at Israel and see how ridiculous it is that these other countries are banning it just because she’s an Israeli.”

For comic book aficionados, Wonder Woman’s legacy has endured because she provided crucial representation for women.

Al Wiesner, Philadelphia creator of the Shaloman comics featuring one of the first Jewish superheroes, grew up reading Wonder Woman comics.

“The fact that it was a woman didn’t matter, it was a great story,” he said. “It appealed to men in some ways as well.”

While some may still have the image of Lynda Carter in their heads as they head to theaters, Wiesner said with new adaptations come new ideas.

For Ages, Wonder Woman’s role as one of the only superheroes that girls can see themselves in is one reason she has remained so iconic.

“Girls want their own main character, and that’s what Wonder Woman has been.”

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