Barbara Sofer

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The Human Spirit: Take Grandma to See Wonder Woman

By Barbara Sofer

June 23, 2017

On the first Tuesday after the Israeli opening of Wonder Woman, the day tickets are discounted for seniors, the Jerusalem movie theater is full of gray-haired Jerusalemites, even for the show that ends at midnight. Grandmas, too. Wonder Woman is the first superhero movie to draw more women than men viewers.

A spontaneous burst of applause greets the first appearance of Wonder Woman's star Gal Gadot. She's not just a shayner punim. This sabra superstar is one of ours, and she's the ultimate world-repairer. Instead of separating the identity of actor from role, the fortuitous choice of an Israeli to portray the Wonder Woman means that for many of us, the identities merge.

For anyone who hasn't read the reams of reports by fascinated journalists and bloggers, Gadot, 32, grew up in Rosh Ha'ayin, the city in central Israel named for its proximity to the Yarkon River. Gal means "wave" in Hebrew, and Gadot means riverbank.

Her mother is a teacher, her father an engineer. Always a beautiful child, she became very tall in high school and played basketball. At age 18, she became Miss Israel, then went on to be a combat trainer in the IDF, and later a model. After the army she enrolled twice in law school, but irresistible acting offers kept her from becoming a lawyer. She's married to an Israeli businessman and has two daughters. She was pregnant while filming Wonder Woman.

Most of us grandmothers grew up with Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane, unaware how prominent Jews were in American comics. Lois's character was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, both children of Jewish immigrants to North America. Not to belittle the woman reporter who evolved into a stronger and more complex character over the decades, but Lois Lane stayed in Superman's cloaked shadow.

Wonder Woman was less well-known, although her character goes back 75 years. She was the creation of William Moulton Marston, a psychologist and the inventor of the systolic blood pressure test. Marston, who oddly lived with both his wife and mistress, reportedly found Superman sexist. He suggested Wonder Woman to his friend Max Gaines (né Ginzburg) and co-founder Jack Liebowitz of All-American Publications.

Nonetheless, according to a young friend who belongs to a burgeoning Facebook community of some 1,400 women called "Orthodox ladies united in fandom" ("a passion for geek while observing Orthodox lifestyle") and who brings me up to speed on these matters, all the old Wonder Woman was known for was strength. Not Gal Gadot.

Gal's Wonder Woman is compassionate, courageous and clever. In Gadot's words she's "fearless, proactive, believes in herself and believes she can do everything."

We hear what's called her "origin story." We see her growing, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta on the Amazons' idyllic island of Themyscira, demanding to learn how to defend herself. When the first man she's ever seen, First World War pilot Steve Trevor, crashes his plane nearby, she leaps into the water and rescues him, only to learn that the world needs rescuing, too.

The arch-enemy? Until I saw the film, I didn't realize that our Israeli Wonder Woman would be fighting Germans! The plot is set in the Great War (which didn't become WWI until the second) but the characters resemble Nazis. The film's evil German general is named Erich Ludendorff, a real WWI officer who blamed the defeat of the Germans on communists and Jews, and went on to conspire with Hitler.

Fictional evil scientist Isabelle Maru, Dr. Poison, is working on transforming the horrible mustard gas used in WWI into a more lethal weapon of mass destruction, In one scene she and Ludendorff lock their own colleagues in a room and gas them, which particularly resonates with World War II images.

Our heroine is ready, able and determined to save the world. When the male lead says he can't let her take such risks, she corrects him. "What I do is not up to you," says Diana.

This, more than Gadot's nationality, may be the potent reason why Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia (a country where more than 20 percent of the population can't read in 2017) have banned the movie. We women, grandmothers included, are tired of people telling us what we can wear and what we can and cannot do.

Here's something you may not realize about today's grandmothers and our grandmothers. All that talk about how saintly grandmothers were blissfully satisfied with limitations, be they professional or religious restrictions, is, well, fantasy.

Film reviewer David Edelstein got push-back for writing the following, meant honorifically: "Israeli women are a breed unto themselves, which I say with both admiration and trepidation." He later explained, while offering an apology: "My God, do I stand by the sentiment. They live in the pressure cooker that is Israel, where they have to stand up to a lot of angry Jewish men. (Doubt that characterization? Try driving in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.) They serve in the army alongside men."

No apology needed, Mr. Edelstein.

Gadot's little daughter once skipped around a park and told the other children that her mother was Wonder Woman. Gadot corrected her: every mom is Wonder Woman. So, if she hasn't seen it, take grandma to see Wonder Woman. Me? I'm taking my granddaughters.

 

 

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