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.
See Girussy by the Unfriendly Black Hotties for their thoughts.
Cameron Glover’s take on why Wonder Woman is Bittersweet for Black Women.
Check back next week for the part 2 of this essay!