“Wonder Woman” — Controversy and Accolades

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Photo: Vox.

The Lasso of Truth (Wonder Woman’s weapon that transforms people into obedient truth tellers) says that DC Films’ “Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is set to became one of the highest-grossing female-directed movies ever — even in the face of controversy.

The lead actress, Gal Gadot, is Israeli, which was cited as the reason for the film being banned in Lebanon. As is typical with some of Israel’s neighboring countries, Lebanon officially bans products from Israel. Although, according to Al Jazeera, “the principle of boycott is inconsistently enforced.” Previous movies in which Gadot played less central roles were shown in Lebanon. Last year’s release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which also starred Gadot, was not banned, despite an effort by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.

Up until opening day, there was controversy over whether or not “Wonder Woman” would be shown in Lebanon.  The ban was announced days before the film was to premiere, despite Grand Cinemas saying eight hours earlier that it would not be banned and promoting it five days earlier. Yet multiple theaters still planned to show it. There was a protest on social media. Gal Gadot was criticized not only for being an Israeli, but also for serving in the IDF for two years and offering vocal support for the IDF on Facebook. According to The Washington Post, the movie was banned just two hours before the first showing was scheduled to begin. There has not been an official clarifying statement on this discrepancy. It is possible that because of Gadot’s leading role in “Wonder Woman,” there may have been  greater pressure to ban the movie. Variety reported that in addition to Lebanon, the movie was also cancelled in the relatively liberal countries of Algeria and Tunisia. The movie is being shown in Egypt, Morocco and the Arab Emirates.

Gal Gadot’s picture of her and her daughter, posted to her Facebook page with comments supporting IDF. Photo:  Architectguy.me.

Besides the Lebanon ban, “Wonder Woman” faced backlash when in October the main character was appointed U.N. honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls, with Gadot there to represent Wonder Woman. An issue arose when U.N. staffers voiced their concerns about the appointment, saying that it would be better to select a real person rather than a fictional character to the honorary position. The staffers also took umbrage with Wonder Woman’s sexualized image, saying that she was not a good role model for women and girls. Besides a protest at the appointment ceremony by dozens of U.N. staffers, a petition was also circulated, which has garnered almost 45,000 signatures.

Beyond the controversy surrounding it, the film itself was actually quite good. Compared to the more recent movies DC has put out, “Wonder Woman” was seen critically as the best among them, scoring an 8.1 on IMDB and a 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Conversely, it seems that so far “Wonder Woman” is set to perform below the other recent DC movies at the box office, pulling in a little over $466 million worldwide, whereas “Batman v Superman”, which got a 6.7 on IMDB and a 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, raked in over $870 million worldwide.

Rankings and box office earnings aside, “Wonder Woman” delivers a satisfying story. While the overall structure of the movie follows a similar formula to other superhero movies made by both Marvel and DC over the past decade, the execution of the movie makes the overall experience fun and interesting. For example, the characterization of Wonder Woman and her love interest, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), helps to sell their romance and makes for a more engaging story.

The story structure is very similar to that of “Superman,” with a fish-out-of-water character trying to understand our strange rituals and customs. But unlike Superman, who grows up in our world, Wonder Woman does not get that luxury. She has to grapple with our rules, without any chance to get acclimated, which makes the story more interesting.

Unlike some of the bland and focus-tested DC movies that preceded it, “Wonder Woman” has more direction and purpose. While the plot is not overly complicated, it is unique enough to make it stand above the rest. What may also give this movie a fresh take is the female duo of director and lead, something that superhero movies have not seen since “Tank Girl” in 1995. With a steady stream of similar movies coming out, a mix-up in actors and directors is most welcome.

Anti-Israel Sentiment on Campus Goes Trendy

— by Joshua Berkman

With the arrival of Chanukah, a celebration of Jewish resilience, Jews on campuses across North America have evoked the Maccabee spirit in recent weeks to counter the increasingly loud calls from anti-Israel groups that have demanded boycotts of Israel, divestment from it and sanctions against it (BDS).

More after the jump.
The most recent round of anti-Israel activism, aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish State of Israel, was triggered by Israeli military strikes on terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were more than 100 reported anti-Israel demonstrations on campus in November, attracting thousands of college students nationwide. In response, a cadre of 56 Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel, serving 70 campuses, successfully mobilized groups of Jewish students, many of whom were not previously vocal Israel advocates.

Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel are young Israelis in their twenties who, after serving in the army, come to the United States and spend up to three years on college campuses to rally support for Israel, foster discussion with other religious groups on campus, and recruit participants for overseas programs in Israel, such as Birthright Israel and Masa Israel Journey and help Jewish students fend off anti-Israel attacks,.  The Israel Fellows program is a partnership between Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and The Jewish Agency.

Now, more than ever, Jewish Agency Israel Fellows play a critical role in maintaining a campus atmosphere that enables students from a range of different backgrounds to openly engage in civil dialogue about Israel, and support the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East, namely Israel. .Just as the Vietnam War became the principal cause around which campus radicals rallied in the 1960s, the existence of a sovereign and secure Jewish state — in the Jewish ancestral homeland — has increasingly offended the sensibilities of the campus Left. Leading figures in the Jewish community see the problem as growing.

“Anti-Israel student groups will likely seek to capitalize on the momentum surrounding the Gaza conflict by pushing with renewed intensity their anti-Israel tactics and campaigns,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a recent statement.

This has created an environment where many Jewish students, that have not been educated about Israel, feel social pressure to ‘play down’ their Judaism and Zionism rather than assert their identity proudly as their parents and grandparents did. In fact, prior to the latest round of violence in Gaza, the environment on a number of campuses – had become hostile for many Jewish students- especially those in coastal cities – The past year alone saw more than 700 anti-Israel protests on North American campuses. Some of the higher-profile anti-Israel campus episodes include:

At Columbia University, a Middle Eastern Studies professor told a Jewish student in front of a lecture hall full of students that she couldn’t have ancestral ties to Israel because of her green eyes. Also, a professor asked an Israeli student, “How many Palestinians have you killed?”

At UC-Berkeley, a group of faculty and students launched “Apartheid Week”, a program that has gained traction nationwide and which features students who dress in army fatigues, carry mock assault weapons and stage checkpoints to block and intimidate students on their way to class. In 2010 a female student reported that she was assaulted by an anti-Israel check-point demonstrator who rammed a shopping cart into her.

At Florida Atlantic University last year, local members of the group “Students for Justice in Palestine” posted mock eviction notices  on the doors of more than 200 students  in a dorm known for its high concentration of Jewish students.

At UC-Davis last month, a group of anti-Israel protesters took over an administration building and held discussion groups that linked Zionists with perpetrators of genocide.

At UC-Irvine — the same campus where Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. was aggressively and relentlessly taunted during a lecture — the Student Senate unanimously passed a BDS resolution Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was aggressively and relentlessly taunted during a lecture.
From their time on campus, many Israel Fellows have found that Jewish students are uncomfortable planning and participating in visible, pro-Israel rallies and instead choose to engage in more substantive forms of activism. Last year, when the University of Pennsylvania hosted a conference for the national BDS movement, Jewish students took the opportunity to dramatically increase and deepen the pro-Israel campus coalition. Tactics involved thousands of students and a semester of programs and activities that increased pro-Israel sentiment on campus through deep and sophisticated conversations. At the University of Michigan, students lobbied influential professors to vocally support Israel and cosponsored an event to showcase Artists for Israel.  At Baruch College, a young woman responded to what was “a battle of fliers” on campus by organizing a discussion forum that was cosponsored by Muslim student groups.

“The Israel Fellows, other Hillel staff and student leadership took the opportunity to model a different kind of activism – one that dramatically helps Jews and non-Jews to help better understand Israel and communicate positive messages,” said Abi Dauber Sterne Hillel’s vice president for global Jewish experience.

According to Ronen Weiss, the Jewish Agency’s National emissary to Hillel, these types of nuanced pro-Israel activities can yield long-term value and are taken seriously by the community at large.  That said, as the pressure against Israel’s legitimacy mounts, Weiss sees an urgent need for more Israel Fellows on more college campuses to stem the tide.

“It is important that Jewish students show public solidarity, Israel Fellows are focused on the outcomes of connecting students with a deep and lasting relationship with the people, land and state of Israel, rather than on publicity stunts,” Weiss said. “We need to empower even more students nationwide to hold meaningful dialogues about Israel in dorms and cafeterias, and encourage pro-Israel representation in student governments and among campus speakers.”

Ultimately, what is at stake is securing the Jewish future and a strong Israel.  As the battle for Israel’s legitimacy heats up on college campuses, Israel Fellows are standing at the ready.