My Eagles have never won a Super Bowl. Never. And they may never win one, either. But I don’t really care about that so much as the fact that following this big win (or loss), we have to see Jack Pearson die.
What. the. fuck. NBC?!
My Eagles have never won a Super Bowl. Never. And they may never win one, either. But I don’t really care about that so much as the fact that following this big win (or loss), we have to see Jack Pearson die.
What. the. fuck. NBC?!
Ever go on a rant amongst friends and deeply regret it after the fact, realizing that you should’ve instead just kept your mouth shut or watered down your opinion? Well, I did that last night and although with this post I don’t intend to water down my opinion, I am giving myself a do-over. A no-holds-barred, completely honest, articulate and lengthy do-over full of well thought out, personal accounts that had all of the context I was missing when I ranted last night.
The conversation had been about Hollywood – as I’m sure you’ve figured out by the title. We (<—me and my friends) all work in the entertainment industry so it’s often the subject du jour when we get together. My one friend works as a full time assistant and the other works as a freelance or part time production assistant. I am an independent producer. I’ve done a few posts that point out my reasons for leaving my corporate, day-to-day entertainment job and although I didn’t touch too much on my problems with the industry as a whole, I talked enough about it to give y’all an idea that it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Well, with the conversation I had last night, I talked about my problems with how the United States (and maybe even the entire world) views labor as well as how that affects the way we work and the toxic culture that thrives in the entertainment, tech and news industry. I especially touched on the kind of jobs my friends were working (and that I had worked at one time).
I’ll break up this post into subject headings because it’ll help me to organize my thoughts better, to be honest. So let’s start with society and it’s view of labor.
TIME AND LABOR
Time is our most valuable resource. Whether you’re enjoying yourself for five minutes or having the worst five minutes of your entire life – it’s time that you’ve spent and will never get back. And in that sense, everyone’s kind of on equal footing in terms of how valuable our time is because nobody’s living forever and there’s no surety of when each of us are going to pass away. With that said, why do we have a society and labor force that says that someone can spend nine or ten hours of their life every day doing a job and still not have enough money to pay for basic things like food and housing? It’s one thing to be in financial debt but paying someone below a living wage for a job that takes up the majority of their daily life is like putting someone in a kind of time debt. It’s not possible to generate more hours in a day. And if you need more money, the only option is to use up what precious hours you have left to work another job and try to make up a decent paycheck. So many Americans are currently doing this and have done this for years in order to survive. And I think the worst part is that we’ve created a society that makes people believe that if you don’t work a “prestigious job” or a job that requires extensive education then you deserve to make below living wage.
Here’s the thing… we all can’t be doctors and lawyers and if a person wants their job to be their life’s purpose, that’s up to them. However, it doesn’t mean that those who’s passions don’t fall within the “prestigious job” category or those who are working for the sole purpose of paying their bills and sponsoring their lifestyle should be penalized. Not everyone’s passion is their work. Some people are passionate about their children or their gardens or their social life. Some people love bowling, reading, painting, building things, collecting items, travelling, dancing, etc. This is not even to mention the people who ARE passionate about their jobs but still can’t make a living doing it because it’s not in the “elitist’s list of acceptable occupations club” (social work, anyone?). Bottom line: if you work at Pizza Hut and just want to be a contributing member of society that’s able to buy a home and a car and go on vacation a few times a year then who’s to say you shouldn’t? Ultimately, classism and it’s inextricable ties with labor have created the idea that some people’s time is more valuable than others. But the catch is… it’s not. No one person’s time is more valuable than another person’s.
One of the biggest shockers for me coming from a working class household was the realization that the more money I made, the less labor I had to do and, in some cases, the less hours I had to work. For all of the shitty, minimum wage jobs I’ve ever worked – the physical strain and hours I needed to work in order to see a half-decent paycheck were endless. There were people who worked these nine to twelve hour per day, labor-intense shitty ass minimum wage jobs alongside me and still had to collect public assistance because it wasn’t enough for them to take care of themselves and their family. And plenty of people will say, “yeah, well they made bad choices” but at the end of the day, if they choose to work hard at a job – isn’t that a good choice? Shouldn’t that be rewarded? The fact that so many actually turn their nose up at people who suffer minimum wage jobs lets us know that job shaming has allowed us to internalize society’s fucked up view of what a person’s life is worth.
Which leads to my next point…
Along with status comes a certain level of respect that society says you should have. And if you don’t believe me, then go to work and slap your boss in the face. Of course, the very idea of this is laughable because not many would be stupid enough to do this. But there are plenty of people who have been physically or verbally abused by their bosses. Hollywood is gaining notoriety for this – particularly sexual assault. A person who slaps or verbally intimidates their boss would be afraid of being fired (losing their livelihood) AND possibly being hit with criminal charges. Why doesn’t that work the other way? Why are there so many abusive bosses who have NOTHING to fear?
When I was talking with my friends last night, I told them that I can’t go what we call the “assistant route”*. I told them that I refused to spend ten hours of my life every single day doing heavy labor and competing with others for the opportunity to devote even more of my time/life to some huge corporation that has no loyalty to me whatsoever. I told them that I wanted to be valued and I didn’t like how those in lower positions were treated in Hollywood. What I said – of course – sounded insensitive. My friends work as assistants and are therefore going the “assistant route.” They’re smart and will likely go far in Hollywood. But there are two things that I think I could have given more detail. Those two things are the abuse and discrimination that happens in the entertainment industry. And when I say abuse and discrimination, I don’t just mean sexual assault or not hiring people of color.
Abuse and Discrimination
Entertainment is an industry that mixes art with commerce so of course there’s going to be some eccentric and unconventional methods that creatives use in a typical work day. And dollar is king. So if a director or producer that’s a real money maker for a studio has a difficult personality, they’re going to be protected at all costs. Pair this with society’s disregard for those lower on the totem pole and it’s open season on the powerless. Entry level employees working long hours, being paid very little and being treated terribly.
Additionally, so many people are happy to be working in such a competitive industry that they’ll take whatever they can get in order to move up. The “this too shall pass” mentality is rampant in the entertainment industry and after all of the crazy stories that have emerged about women being sexually assaulted by powerful men, it’s easy to see why “this too” has been passing for all of these years.
In film school, we were taught to expect mistreatment. We were told that we had to have a “thick skin” to work in entertainment. And although this is true in any industry, we’d also heard countless stories about the notorious “casting couch” or people who were berated and verbally abused in their day to day lives. Some of us even experienced this first hand. These stories shook me to my core because as someone who suffers from depression and high blood pressure, being verbally abused or even physically intimidated at work has the potential to be a matter of life and death for me. It could also rule me out as a candidate for entry level jobs that could lead to the jobs I ultimately want to do. I’ve managed to keep my blood pressure under control but I’ve accepted that depression is my life long battle. So what do I do if my mental illness is kicking in and I go to my minimum wage, twelve hour a day job and my self-bullying sentiments are amplified by an insensitive and extremely unprofessional boss? In every sense, it’s not worth it for me. So I try not to take that chance. I try to work for emotionally stable people and in environments that are professional. But the odds of finding that in Hollywood are slim to none (in my experience.) There’s always someone that is waiting for their opportunity to release their rage onto someone that they deem powerless.
I learned at the end of my career in news that I didn’t have the mental well-being to deal with abuse in the workplace. The way that I learned was through my body. At the time I was in my fifth year at a local news station and while walking to my car after a long day, I’d received several calls from my abusive boss. She’d left me messages telling me to come back. I turned back around and walked into the building to receive her wrath. She yelled and ranted at me that I’m not dismissed until she personally dismissed me (although that was never a policy and I’d already stayed fifteen minutes beyond my nine hour shift just hanging around). She proceeded to tell me how (in her words) I “fucked up.” She physically pulled me into my editing suite and pointed out every mistake I’d made that day, told me to correct them (which I did) and told me to sit and wait until she said it was time for me to go. After about ten minutes that I sat in, what was essentially, “time out” she dismissed me.
Being that I needed that job to pay my rent, I put up with this treatment but it affected my health. After that day, I’d started getting migraines. Being that I’d never experienced this before, it freaked me out. I was in so much pain I thought I was having an aneurism. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear. I was shaking so hard that I could barely drive home. After that, I managed the pain of my constant migraines as well as I could but my anxiety level of going to work began to manifest itself in different ways. I made bad choices. Misplaced things and forgot entire blocks of time. I would sleep through my alarm and through the day, to the point where I would miss entire work shifts. It was like my body was physically putting an end to this job whether I liked it or not. I tried to explain to people what was happening to me but I couldn’t because I didn’t understand it myself. And this only helped to make my depression worse.
It’s taken me years to understand that I suffer with depression. It’s taken me even longer to realize the many ways that depression manifests itself in me. Along with that, however, I’ve learned what I can and cannot allow myself to experience for over eight hours a day. And one of those things in the “I cannot” category is abuse. For the record, no one should have to deal with abuse, but just like there are children who survive being bullied and manage to thrive and those who get bullied and shoot up their entire classrooms or commit suicide, I know that how people handle abuse is not one size fits all. Just because an assistant had a stapler thrown at them, survived it and then went on to become the CEO doesn’t mean that another person’s life or career couldn’t be severely derailed by that experience.
As someone who had no power, no money, worked looooooong hours and was desperate to one day move up, I was easy to exploit and abuse. And although I’m older and wiser, the disability I suffer with knocks me out of the running for corporate entry level jobs that often come with a side order of abuse and minimum wage. This, folks, is the discrimination I was talking about.
And as a side note: I know it might sound like I’m just an extra sensitive person (or “snowflake” as my husband and annoying trolls on social media have been referring to each other lately) or someone who “couldn’t cut it” in a rough work environment. But gone are the days where I seek to take pride in my ability to withstand abuse. I think the more we address mental illness and exploring healthy workplace environments, the better society as a whole will be. Everybody benefits. To use the “bullying in schools” example, a low tolerance for bullies equals a better classroom not only for the child being bullied but the teachers and students who weren’t. In seeking to create a healthy and professional work environment for those with disabilities and mental illness, we’re creating a work environment that’s healthy for everyone.*
While women and people of color who have traditionally been passed over, ignored and excluded from the entertainment industry are beginning to break in, those with disability – mental and physical – are continuing to be excluded on the basis of an implicit bias within the film industry.
Okay, one more story and then I’m almost done. Hang in there, you’re doing great!
I went to a panel discussion at a really small Women’s film festival in L.A. a few years ago. Now the panel that I went to was about diversity but imagine my shock when I arrived and saw that there were only white people on the three person panel. There was a gay man, a bisexual woman and a man in a wheelchair. My first instinct was to get up and go but I stuck it out attempting to suppress the cynicism oozing from my pores. I’m thankful that I did because the gentleman in the wheelchair educated all (7 or 8) of us in the room about the ableist nature of working in the entertainment industry. The lack of wheelchair ramps, how break rooms are set up, how offices in general are set up with no regard for the physically disabled.
Placing this within the context of entry level work, the discrimination he faced became as clear as day. Studios and production companies require entry level employees to perform a lot of physical labor and compete amongst other able bodied entry level people doing the same tasks. You have to be an “eager beaver” ready to go the distance to prove your undying loyalty to a demanding boss or company. A friend told me he’d interviewed for a position where the interviewer told him that his going out and choosing the perfect donut for his future boss should be done with the same seriousness and care that his boss takes when choosing their studio’s next film. Now if someone’s ability to be a great executive or writer or whatever hinged on their ability to perform obscure tasks unrelated to the job, then this would make perfect sense. But making a mean cup of coffee or picking up dry cleaning doesn’t mean you can write well. This is just an outdated method that Hollywood uses to vet potential employees and their commitment to the company. And it knocks people out of the running that would have otherwise been able to lend a much needed and long absent viewpoint to the kind of stories we tell. You barely see people in wheelchairs, the blind, deaf or hearing impaired, amputees, or anyone with disabilities in front of the camera because – well – they’re not behind the camera. Many of them can’t get past the first rung on the ladder – which is having access to that first entry level job.
So I write all of this to say that I despise Hollywood’s “assistant route” because it’s a stupid, outdated system that:
I would love to write about the array of sexual abuse allegations that have come to light recently but I’ve written enough for tonight. For now I’ll say that as a Black woman from a humble socio-economic background, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me in the slightest. I’ve always been of the mindset that those lowest on the food chain get to see society at it’s most honest. Our country teaches us not to value the time – and therefore the lives – of those it deems “less than.” So ultimately, if there wasn’t abuse in the entertainment industry (an industry that in it’s very essence, tells the stories that reflects our society’s values) then I’d be surprised.
I am a dog lover to the fullest. Every time I see a puppy, I go into full “awwww” mode and will pet and play and make kissy faces. I talk baby-talk to dogs, I give them treats and when driving, I wait patiently for them and their owners to cross the street. I can identify most breeds on sight and I even peruse animal shelters in hopes of one day adopting a dog to replace my beloved pup that passed away earlier this year.
I will never let a dog sleep in the bed with me. And I don’t understand how some people do it. My bed time routine is this… I take a shower. I shave every part of my body that needs shaving – armpits, legs, crotch area, etc. I get out of the shower and proceed to pat myself dry and make sure to stay damp enough for the lotion (that I plan on applying) to absorb. I apply said lotion and then – on particularly cold or dry days – I will apply a thin coat of oil onto my feet. I put on a hair bonnet and a clean nighty. And then I get into my clean (and well-shook) bed, with clean linens that I wash at least once a week.
Now what the fuck do I look like letting a furry-ass, shedding-ass dog, who’s been digging holes and walking all over god’s dirty ass earth all day, climb into bed with me?
I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.
So one thing about me is that I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. And for those of you who know anything about this religion, you know that JWs are notorious for what they DON’T do – most specifically for not celebrating holidays. The excuse for not celebrating was mainly attributed to the pagan and otherwise unsavory origins of the holidays and all of the excessive spending and marketing campaigns, etc., etc., etc.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was at Starbucks living my heathen life, sipping a latte and tapping away at my computer. Some middle aged man was sitting nearby waiting for an opportunity to chat me up and as soon as I stood up and prepared to leave, he used the word on my shirt (LOVE) to strike up a conversation.
Guy: “Hey! What does LOVE mean to you?”
I managed to avoid answering his random-ass question but did engage in conversation with him for a little bit because – why not? So any who, we start talking about holidays, specifically Kwanzaa. As someone who has celebrated Kwanzaa, I told him that I love the holiday and what it stands for but I don’t think it’s very accessible. He – a person who hadn’t celebrated Kwanzaa in a long while (from what he said) – seemed to become defensive of it. “Well, we need to start exhibiting some of the qualities of Kwanzaa, like Nia (purpose) or Kujichugalia (self-determination)” he said. I agreed, but also remembered that “damn… Kwanzaa has a lot of big African words/phrases that I don’t remember.” Again I reemphasized that it’s not accessible and he starts in on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Guy: “Christmas is supposed to be about Christ but people are focused on giving gifts to EACH OTHER.”
Me: “Well, I’m sure Christ doesn’t mind that people spend time together and take time out to give gifts to each other in celebration of him.”
Please don’t take that last sentence as my endorsement of Christianity or Christ. I’m not saying I don’t believe, but I’m not saying I do either.
Guy: “And then you have Thanksgiving. A holiday that celebrates the slaughter of Native American people. How can we sit there and–”
Me: “I’m Black so that’s not MY burden to bear, nor is it yours… BROTHER.” (I emphasized brother because he was also Black, obviously.)
And for those of you who may feel confused, here’s what I meant by that’s “not my burden”. As Black people, we don’t carry the cultural burden of having ancestors that enacted and carried out the slaughter of millions of Native Americans. And additionally, we don’t carry the moral burden of benefitting from white supremacy so we haven’t received anything from Native American genocide. We can feel anger for Native Americans and the injustices of this country, but Black people have been co-opting American holidays (that were forced on us) and doing whatever we wanted with them since slavery days. And in MYYYYYYY experience, when MYYYYYY Black-ass family gets together, we continue that tradition by using our time together to talk politics, entertainment, history, day to day life and ways to fight white supremacy soooo…. yeah, ain’t nobody wearing Pilgrim hats or standing around saluting the damn flag.
Anyway, I told him that if our country is collectively giving us a day off and telling us to eat delicious food/spend time with our loved ones (something I don’t do enough of, as it is) – then that’s what the hell I’m going to do. And this goes for Independence Day*, Christmas or Memorial Day, my family will be enjoying our day off, eating together and talking shit about white supremacy. It’s just how holidays work for us.*
What was interesting about this entire exchange, though, was I knew everything he was going to say before he said it. It was as if I was hearing all of the speeches, anecdotes and excuses I’d recited as a Jehovah’s Witness kid being thrown back at me. And it all sounded like the words of an overly self-righteous person who took themselves way too seriously. I wanted to tell him to lighten up. Eat a Snickers or Kit-kat or Butterfinger (or whatever candy bar is supposed to make you relax). He was stressed out trying to make me feel guilty for celebrating holidays (outside of Kwanzaa, of course). And I didn’t understand why. I didn’t get why he’d stopped me on my merry way to my car to express his irritation with so many traditional pastimes that – in and of themselves – are harmless and open to personal interpretation. (He also spoke of the trappings of cell phones taking away from person to person interaction – – insert eye roll).
Either way, I still maintain that Kwanzaa needs to be more accessible but I’m going to study up so I can see about celebrating this year even though it’s literally been over fourteen years since I’ve last done so. I’ll consider buying a candle and see where the discussions, performances and dinners are going to be. Again, lovely holiday but as someone who has enough on their plate… it can be exhausting to have to research and actively participate in a week long holiday.
So yeah, that was my interesting experience talking to a total stranger yesterday and it’ll probably be my last for the year. I try not to chat with strangers on the street – if I can help it – and, well, this guy caught me on a good day.
I worked on a film project not too long ago and a few days after we wrapped, myself and another producer were going over receipts. When I couldn’t find a particular bundle of receipts from our hairdresser, I brought this to my co-producer’s attention.
“Hmm, I can’t find the hairdresser receipts.”
My co-producer responded without looking up, “Well I gave them to you.”
This comment was in no way a source of help or comfort. Her specifying that she did indeed give it to me didn’t help me to find the missing receipts. It didn’t shed light on any new information that could perhaps help me to figure out where they were. In fact, the only thing this information did was free her of potential blame that she thought I might hurl at her.
This particular co-worker on this project had a history of being passive aggressive and I suspect it’s because she (at the time and at present) worked in a corporate setting. As someone who’s worked in corporate settings for over 10 years, I’m very aware that games of “Who’s to Blame” or “Pass the Blame” (think Hot Potato, but replace the potato with blame) are as important to office culture – if not more important – as fixing problems and getting actual work done. So in an effort to explain to my co-producer the significance of my bringing up that I can’t find the receipts, I replied “I KNOW you gave them to me. What I’M saying is that I can’t find them.”
At that moment, it clicked for my co-producer that she was playing “pass the blame” alone. So she offered up some valuable information that might help in our procuring the receipts. “It’s in a black folder.” This little bit of information got the ball rolling, as a black file should be easy to identify in a sea of receipts and manila folders. Also, I remembered that the black file was something I’d had a long time ago – like near the beginning of production. I asked her when she’d given it to me (to be sure) and she said several weeks ago. And that’s when it hit me that I’d delivered the black file inside of a huge binder of other receipts to our Executive Producer who we were about to meet with in a few minutes. Problem solved. (And nobody died).
The point to this anecdote is this… solving actual problems is infinitely more productive than pointing fingers – unless, of course, you’re Sherlock Holmes and your entire job is identifying a culprit. Yes, it’s absolutely important to hold people accountable, put them under the light, expose them, make them pay for their mistakes, never let them do it again but if there’s a crisis happening, maybe fucking deal with the crisis… immediately.
This whole Libya slavery thing is a mess. I don’t even have the words for what a mess it is. I would say it’s a nightmare, but I don’t want to – even in hyperbole – insinuate that this isn’t reality. It’s very real. And horrible. But what I’m constantly seeing is how much this is Obama and Hilary’s fault.
Now let me devote an entire paragraph to how much this blog rant is NOT going in the direction you think it is. From what I’ve read, this is absolutely and positively Obama and Hilary’s fault. (And I’m saying “from what I’ve read” just in case new light emerges – which I totally doubt. But you never know. The older I get the more I realize that once you think you know something and make a loud, declarative statement, that’s the moment when life slaps the shit out of you and tells you to sit your dumb ass down, so now I always put a “at this moment in time” disclaimer on any definitive statements because… yeah, life.) And for the record, I am not an Obama and Hilary worshipper. In fact, I have a functional level of distrust for politicians and people in power as a general rule of thumb. I say “functional” because I vote and can still hold a conversation – to some degree – about the every day goings ons in politics, without sounding like the Unabomber, but I still have an underlying level of cynicism when it comes to my beliefs in this democracy. Under every U.S. president, people all over the world have died, been tortured, and punished unfairly for our leader’s rulership. So why would an Obama presidency be any different? Also, just in case you’re confused about how I feel about the current administration… F*ck Trump now and forever and into eternity. And his demonic spawn.
But back to Obeezy, should he and Hilary be punished? Maybe. But is that the problem right now? People are literally being sold. How do we fix this? Yes, we’ve figured out who to blame but what good is that right now? Can we re-install Obama back into office and he can undo everything he did in Libya? No? Then let’s figure out what we can do to help these people being sold into slavery. I’m not a big advocate for American Imperialism so I’m not quite sure how the situation can be helped without America making it worse. But I’m open to finding out what regular people like myself can do to stop this madness, whether it be calling a congressman or donating to some charity that’ll get people the hell up out of that situation.
Anyway, I’m frustrated (if you can’t already tell) and my heart weeps for those who are and continue to be abused by the world’s leaders. I’ll be all up and through the internet trying to figure out what tangible thing I can do besides pray and retweet everything. But at the end of the day, it frustrates me when I see the myriad of snarky “Obama’s fault” tweets and articles because I’m seeing more of those than actual tweets and articles about solutions. And I’m terrified that this means that there are none. Knowing why this happened is immensely important but even more-so is using what information we have to figure out how to fix the shit. And again, in no way am I saying that we should collectively take pressure off of Obama and Hilary. If more politicians were held accountable for their actions, perhaps we wouldn’t have such a toxic government, country and planet in the first place. But solutions? What are they? What can we do with what we’ve learned?
We have a man child in office and we already know President Baby isn’t going to do anything but does that completely relieve us of our responsibility to bring light to this issue and shame him for not – at the very least – making a statement? (At this point in time, he hasn’t said anything except tweet a cryptic message about “fake news”).
At the end of the day, I just hope this game of “Who’s to Blame?” ends with an effective solution. On a brighter note, this article from Bustle gives several great tips about how to help…
I’ll try to post more solution oriented articles as I find them.
It’s been six months since I last wrote on this thing. Six months!!! What is going on?! I don’t know, to be honest. I guess the better question would be, what is inspiring me to pick up my laptop and write right now?
For starters, I just finished my Shonda Rhimes master class and it was super inspiring. Made me want to get up and write every single thing I’ve ever thought about in life. Secondly, I went back and looked at some old blogs I used to write. And I mean ooooold. These blogs were from eight and nine years ago and I spilled my guts nearly every single day about every single thing. While a lot of my blog posts didn’t age well (i.e. my love for religion and belief in the bible – hashtag yikes) many of it was really lovely to read and it made me wonder why I’ve fallen so hard off the wagon. I have such a strong desire to get started again. Being that my old blog was on Blogger.com, I sometimes wonder if I should just start back up on that blog since there’s a certain level of nostalgia that I associate with the format. WordPress looks very washed out and dry to me, for some reason. But I told myself, nope! You’re going to take to this blog and write a little every day (if possible) and then build on what you’ve already written. (Also, if I should change my mind… I’ll just give you all a heads up so that you can know what my new blogger domain is).
Anywho, a few other reasons I haven’t been writing lately are because I had a few barriers to entry. My laptop crashed and I needed to get it fixed. Then I’d gotten a producing job on a feature film (which was really cool and I’ll write about that soon) and it was extremely time consuming so no writing. At the end of the day, I have some good excuses/reasons for not having been able to write but I’m done with all that. Now it’s time to make time for writing no matter what (she tells herself for the fiftieth time this month.)
So with that said, if you or a friend of yours is a creative, storyteller or writer I implore you to purchase the gift of MasterClass. To be honest, you don’t have to even be a writer or creative because there are classes for everything – playing basketball, cooking, learning music, etc. Whatever you can think of… there’s a class for it. And it will definitely inspire you. So that’s all I got for now.
More to come tomorrow.
I saw Wonder Woman the other day and thought about writing up a review… then I read David Edelstein’s shit show of a review and his subsequent shit show of an apology for said trash-ass review and realized that it’s my duty as a woman and a human being with (common sense) and a background in film to write something up about the movie, so here tis…
In the critically panned Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne summons Diana Prince – otherwise known as Wonder Woman – out of hiding. And thank Zeus, he did. With an impressive weekend box office debut, the first female-lead super hero flick in over a decade sparks a glimmer of hope for the DC Extended Universe films which have (up to this point) stood in the shadows of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and their constant onslaught of wins.
Wonder Woman made her first appearance in DC comics in 1941 and has since been well-known among comic readers as well as everyone familiar with the hit TV show from the 1970s (or the re-runs, anyway) and has pretty much been engraved in our collective superhero memories. In other words, this movie directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, is well overdue and has been highly anticipated.
Jenkins, well aware of this pressure, starts the movie off on an awe-inspiring note. We meet Diana Prince – Wonder Woman’s alter ego – similar to how we met her in Dawn of Justice, she’s an antiquities curator at the Louvre. The setting is dreary and grey as she looks at a mysterious photograph from her (very) distant past. Moments later, we’re whisked away to the beautiful island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. A sea of vibrant blue, white sand, lush foliage and Amazonian warrior women. Gorgeous, fierce warrior women training, skillfully riding and doing tricks on horseback, shooting arrows and being outrageously bad-ass. The sudden burst from slow and dreary darkness to action packed brightness is a smorgasbord for the senses, reminiscent of the moment Judy Garland’s Dorothy opens her eyes to a world of technicolor. Unlike every superhero movie we’ve ever seen up to this point, in this one, there are powerful, interesting women everywhere and well . . . we are NOT in Kansas anymore.
In this setting, we meet Diana as a precocious child, naturally inclined to becoming an Amazonian warrior and being shielded by her overprotective mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) who clearly knows something that Diana does not. Regardless, Diana is trained by her aunt, General Antiope (outstanding performance by Robin Wright) and grows up sharpening her warrior skills in the event that the evil god of war, Ares, might return and wreak havoc. After a shocking discovery about the extent of her powers, Diana does not have much time to process before she is saving a blue-eyed damsel in distress, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), from a watery death immediately after his airplane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. It’s at this moment that the outside world of men meets our heretofore peaceful Amazonian kingdom. The Amazons’ perpetual training is put to the test in our first (and my personal favorite) epic battle scene that sees our warrior women going to battle against German soldiers who pursued Trevor to the island. The warriors utilize their horseback riding skills, archery, deft hand to hand combat and bad-ass-ed-ness to kill these dudes but they’re no match for the mens’ weapon of choice and the only weapon that doesn’t rely on physical strength or effort – guns. This battle is hard won by the Amazons and sets our protagonist on a mission to end the Great War (World War I), a phenomenon Diana believes has been brought on by Ares in an effort to destroy mankind. Shortly before they leave the beautiful, peaceful island of bad-ass women being awesome, viewers get one last treat in seeing Chris Pine naked.
From here, we are brought to the grey and dreary world of London and everything is in direct contrast to what we’ve seen in Themyscira. The movie makes no qualms in showcasing that although our main character, Diana, is a fish out of water that believes she’s been shaped from clay and brought to life by Zeus – she did not just fall off the turnip truck. She can write in and speak over one hundred languages, is well-versed in the sciences, politics, philosophy and, of course, combat. She knows what a penis is and what it does but just doesn’t understand why having this body part dictates so many confusing rules for society. Trevor acts as Diana’s guide, but he learns quickly – as does the audience – that at no point can he or any man protect Diana. She has this part covered and frankly it’s just not that kind of party. Trevor instead attempts to explain and translate the muddled, unspoken languages and rules of mankind, which is even more futile as Diana only sees the world in black and white and right and wrong. “Just take me to the war so I can stop Ares,” she demands and despite his confusion and trepidation, Trevor has no other choice.
In a nod to the first superman, there is a scene after Wonder Woman is given her alter ego, Diana Prince, where she protects Trevor from some bad guys in an alley. Diana deflects the bullet (wink, wink) with her arm cuffs and makes light work of them before heading to the Imperial War Cabinet with Trevor as he hands off a notebook to his superiors. In this scene, the men are flustered at the idea of a woman being in their midst while Diana, however, is outraged at the cowardly and morally backward decisions that are being made by these so-called leaders. This common theme runs throughout the film as Gal Gadot’s piercing eyes, inquisitiveness and confidence lends to the character not so much a doe-eyed innocence but, an unabashed idealism that questions and challenges pointless traditions. In a sense, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman lightly touches on the endless frustrations of woman-hood in an excruciatingly backward male-ran society.
Despite all of the fighting scenes up to this point, Wonder Woman does not quite wonder woman until the scene where she is literally in the trenches. Not understanding why she can’t just cross enemy lines, Diana bypasses Steve Trevor’s admonitions and climbs onto the battlefield with shield and sword in hand, completely taking on every bullet. In this scene, beautifully shot and extremely intense, the superhero takes form. If you didn’t believe Gadot before, you do now and similar to the motley crew that follows her – the viewer does as well.
Jenkins attempts and succeeds in giving Wonder Woman an optimistic and hopeful take on an otherwise dreary world. And she does it in a way that does not strip the character of her wisdom or fierceness. Steve Trevor is also a fully realized character who recognizes and trusts the hero’s abilities early on and – when he’s not following her lead – he utilizes her as a kind of highly intelligent weapon. The romantic portion of the film is mutual and light staying in line with the film’s PG-13 rating but there doesn’t feel like too much is missing in this department as the sexiest scenes take place on the battlefield.
Despite all of the salacious action sequences that utilize quick cuts, slow motion superhero jogs/leaps/walks, and tremendous explosions, the movie manages to avoid the recent DC Extended Universe mistakes of taking itself too serious and being too brooding. Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy, for one, is delightful and while Trevor’s weird group of buddies should have been fleshed out more, they were introduced on a fun note and managed to add some light moments. The “bad guy” characters, however, could have used a bit of work as Lundendorff and particularly Doctor Maru had a campy thing going on that I’m still trying to figure out whether I liked or not.
There’s one glaringly bad casting choice that’s made and it comes as a reveal near the end of the movie. It’s a spoiler, so I’m not going to give anything away but I will say that a VFX moment only helps to magnify and confirm this unfortunate decision. Although this sets the climax back a bit it doesn’t manage to break up the film’s momentum and the movie is delicately brought to an end leaving us in the exhilarating afterglow of having actually watched a DCEU movie that wasn’t straight trash.
Ultimately, Patty Jenkins managed to climb out of the proverbial trenches and do what no man could. How deliciously appropriate!