Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot has been cast as Wonder Woman in the coming Batman vs Superman film, slated for a release in 2015. Great, right? A beautiful woman is going to embody a badass female character onscreen for the very first time ever. Except ugh. The troubling, negative conversations about Gadot’s casting are already happening.
Some cretins say the gorgeous model and actress is “too skinny” to play Wonder Woman, which doesn’t surprise me, but still makes me shudder when I think about how willing the general public is to pick apart every single goddamn thing about a woman’s physical appearance, even a woman as beautiful as Gadot.
And then there’s the whole Jewish thing. Interestingly, Time went out of their way to mention that the new Wonder Woman will be Jewish, which brings up intriguing, squirm-inducing questions about the nature of the visibility of Jewish women in the media. While it wasn’t a negative mention of religion in any way (“Plus, Gadot’s casting means Wonder Woman will be Jewish, fulfilling many a fanboy’s fantasy”) it was still deemed worthy of mention, which has, in my opinion, some real cultural indications.
It’s worth pointing out that characters don’t necessarily take on the religions of the actors and actresses who portray them (Is every character Richard Gere plays Buddhist, then?), and that I see no real indication that Gadot is actually a practicing Jew, other than she’s a citizen of Israel. Gadot was Miss Israel in 2004, served in the Israeli army and reportedly grew up in a religious Jewish home—but that doesn’t mean that she practices Judaism.
Israeliness seems to straddle the line between a cultural identity, an ethnic identity, a national identity, and a religious identity. Judaism as a cultural marker and Judaism as a religious practice are two different (yet often interrelated) things. While Natalie Portman is a practicing Jew—who named her child the Hebrew name Aleph, even—her religion and cultural identity is rarely mentioned in conjunction with either her work or her personal life. I associate a certain strain of boring, ultra-talented elegance with her way more than I do any kind of Jewish identity. Perhaps that has to do with her obvious physical attractiveness, something she clearly has in common with Gadot. Or maybe it’s the roles she’s chosen, Oscar-bait stuff like Black Swan or hipster cute fare like Garden State. Still, I also think that if someone like Natalie Portman, an American Jewish actress, had been cast in the role of Wonder Woman, the question of religion wouldn’t have been worthy of mention in the media.
But of course, media outlets only report on the otherness of actors and actresses if they are actually other. I doubt they’d have found it worth mentioning if a Christian (or, for that matter, Buddhist) actress were cast as Wonder Woman. But if the actress were a person of color or otherwise othered—like a Muslim, for example—you can bet it would be noteworthy, as it is that Israeli Gadot will be taking on the sexy role.
When we discussed Time‘s mention of Gadot’s Jewishness, the Jewish members of The Gloss staff talked about the stereotypes associated with Jewish women and why it seems so remarkable that Gadot has been cast as a powerful sex symbol. Julia Sonenshein and Joanna Rafael both commented that they’ve been told several times about how shocking it is that they’re actually attractive, you know, since they’re all Jewish and whatnot. Unfounded, stereotypical assumptions about Semitic femininity are alive and well, in case you thought the old jokes about harpy JAPs and overbearing Jewish mothers were dying out as Woody Allen ages. (For what it’s worth, I am not not and never have been Jewish, although I did minor in Jewish Studies. That had more to do with my love for Saul Bellow and the Sex, Gender and Judaism class I took as a college junior than any personal history with the Chosen People).
There’s been talk of a Wonder Woman movie for ages, as well as criticism about the fact that we haven’t had one yet, decades after Lynda Carter starred in the TV series. Although it’s a shame that Wonder Woman will likely play second fiddle to Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman, instead of starring in her own movie, this is still a score for women’s depiction in big-budget superhero action films. Hell, maybe Gal Gadot will be so successful in the role that they’ll give her her own film.
Either way, I think it’s going to be amazing to see an Israeli (and possibly actively Jewish) actress in a major role in a huge superhero film. While much of the conversation around her has been admittedly positive, the discussions still point to her otherness within her cultural identity. After all, we don’t often see articles that mention “Blonde, blue-eyed Baptist girl cast in important role,” do we? Nope. So there ya go. Still, I’m hoping that we won’t see much more body negativity in relation to her casting. And, dear god, let’s hope we don’t see any anti-Semitism, either.
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