Dark Side of the Moon: Black women in Wonder Woman

Welcome to my first mini-series! I’ll be writing some short essays that take an intersectional feminist view of Wonder Woman over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

I’m going to discuss the occasional presence, and notable silence of black women, and their role in Wonder Woman. I’ll focus on two black female characters; Diana’s sitter, and a black female warrior. These are the only black women that had any measure of importance in the film. I will not discuss any other women of colour as there were none that had any significance to the plot.

Although the Amazons of Wonder Women have existed in total seclusion, the white patriarchy has mysteriously crept in and pushed black women down in order to raise white women up. Who woulda thunk? Black Amazons do not have the privilege of the blank slate afforded by a society in theory unmarred by patriarchy. In their precious few appearances, they are regulated to supporting the white female leads. They are the nanny, raising Diana while the Queen is on official business. They are the powerful, muscular warriors that Diana defeats in order to show her own strength. These characters form the stepping stones for Diana’s character development, and as she leaves Themyscira, they fade into the background, forgotten both by Diana and the audience.

The first black woman we see (and notably, the only one with more than one line) is Diana’s sitter. Black women in the US have historically cared for white children, either under slavery, or a lack of opportunity. As a result, the Unfriendly Black Hotties note that while using a black woman to be Diana’s caretaker is at best, iffy, they were happy to see that one of the most important women in young Diana’s life was a black woman.

Certainly, caretakers have an important role in any child’s life. But not in Diana’s. Diana’s caretaker’s one line is to scream her name over, and over again, as she races all across town to recover her charge. It would have been so easy to include her as a valued part of Diana’s childhood. So many questions go unanswered – “How do her values and beliefs shape how she helps raise Diana? Does she agree with the Queen’s protectiveness? Does Diana continue to disrespect her throughout her childhood?”  

But Wonder Woman is so much more deep than that. I must commend the creators of Wonder Woman for making the difficult, trailblazing (and of course, unexpected) choice to make a black woman’s existence revolve around a bratty white girl.

Thanks to the sacrifice of this vital black female character, Diana can truly shine. Diana’s rebellion shows hints at the tenacious, independent woman that Diana becomes. Her willingness to go her own way, even if it means forcing your minder to chase you across an island, foreshadows Diana’s bold move to leave the island, and the only home she’s ever known, in order to do what she thinks is right – whether that’s running away to do the training your mother forbids you from, or to take the destruction of Ares into your own hands.

Thank goodness the writers used, and then promptly discarded this black woman. Without the disrespect Diana shows her, how could she ever have any credibility as an independent thinker?

Wonder Woman‘s treatment of this sitter as subordinate to a white woman, and as being disrespected by Diana, mirrors the way black women have, and are being treated by US society at large. Black women are often silenced, used, and shut down.  This is obvious in Diana’s sitter, who disappears as quickly as she appeared once she’s no longer useful. Black women are not allowed the complexity, or character development of their white counterparts. Tied in with the history of black women caring for white children, Wonder Woman repeats the mistakes of our white female past and present, by continuing to use black women as tools for our own gain. Whether it occurs in the form of cultural appropriation, gaslighting, or blatant racism, us white women continue to disrespect, ignore, and devalue black women and their personhood.

Further reading

See Girussy by the Unfriendly Black Hotties for their thoughts.

Black Cultural Heritage and the Subversion of the Stereotypical Images of the Black Woman in Toni Morrison’s Sula by Mona Faysal Sahyoun.

Cameron Glover’s take on why Wonder Woman is Bittersweet for Black Women.

Check back next week for the part 2 of this essay!

Islamophobia and Chechnya’s concentration camps

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Chechnya has been kidnapping gay and bisexual men and detaining them in concentration camps. Approximately 100 men have been detained, and an estimated 3 have been murdered.

When discussing this, several news sites (the Guardian, Daily Mail, Times, and yes, Breitbart) as well as people mention that it is a predominantly Muslim country.

However, several people have been using this fact as a way to criticise Islam – a lazy way of getting a couple Islamophobic digs in while also caping as a supporter of the LGBT+ community.

Such articles subtly conflate Islam with homophobia, a shallow analysis that harms the Muslim LGBT+ community.

Religious texts are above all else interpretive – even scholars using a similar method, such as Biblical literalism, can end up with a broad span of answers depending upon what they focus upon.

Faith doesn’t need to exist in opposition to the LGBT+ community – just as organized religion can be a tool to oppress, it can also be a tool to uplift and empower. Religion is, above all else, run by the powerful who impress their views upon the greater community, whether these are of tolerance, or of homophobia and sexism.

Blaming Islam for the violent homophobia orchestrated in its name does the LGBT+ community a disservice, just as with blaming any kind of religion.

Understandably, many  of us LGBT+ folks are wary of religions, due to the overwhelming prevalence of homophobia disguised as gospel that threatens our lives. We certainly can be critical, and feel hatred towards people that use religion as a weapon against us, but religion can be reinterpreted in far more tolerant, and accepting ways.

A further issue with linking homophobia with Islam is in the ways it allows (mostly white) people to distance themselves from their own homophobia. It’s far easier to feed into the image of the racialised, dark-skinned Muslim that is ignorant, violent, and backwards, than to look at yourself and how your own communities perpetuate homophobia. Perpetuating this view of Islam justifies the violence against Muslims, particularly Muslim women, that continues to this day.

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If you still have trouble squaring Islam with the existence of LGBT+ Muslims, you can take a look at the work of these people and get some insight into their experiences with religion.

Here, LGBT+ Muslims, Christians and Jews describe their relationship between their sexuality and faith.

Dr. Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle’s demonstrates that homophobia has little basis in the Quran.

Imam Daayiee Abdullah has created a lecture series on the LGBT+ community and Islam.

The Advocate showcases over 20 LGBT+ Muslim activists.

 

 

Imaam is a UK-based advocacy group for LGBT+ Muslims.

LGBT Muslims “discusses the issues surrounding Islam and sexual, as well as gender, diversity. We are offering diverse and positive perspectives from varies individuals, organizations, and will do our best to give historical background to these modern issues.”

If you want to make a concrete impact upon the lives of the gay Chechen men that have been targeted by these homophobic crimes, or receive current information about this crisis, you can donate to and visit the Russian LGBT+ Network.

Illustrator and filmmaker Maeril created a webcomic that explains how bystanders can respond to Islamophobic acts.

Additionally, you can contact your political representatives and demand that they push for these gay and bisexual men seeking refuge to be given visas.

Cover image from Imaamlondon.wordpress.com