Inspiration

The Dangers of Overhyping the Jewishness of Gal Gadot (And Jared And Ivanka, Too)

June 14, 2017

Have you seen Wonder Woman? Even if you haven’t, you’re no doubt aware of it. This movie is huge, and rightfully so. First of all, it’s a DC superhero movie that doesn’t… now, what’s a nice way of putting this? Ah, yes. Unlike Superman Returns, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman is a DC superhero movie that doesn’t stink like week-old fish.

Wonder Woman avoids many of the pitfalls that plague action movies with female protagonists, not the least of which is the hypersexualization of the characters. Such movies are notorious for promotional images in which the actresses pose in a manner that simultaneously emphasizes both breasts and buttocks. Aside from the need to contort unnaturally to achieve such an effect, it only takes a moment’s reflection to realize (a) how impractical such poses are in scenes that are meant to depict battle-ready characters and (b) how utterly ridiculous Thor, Batman or Wolverine would look if posed like Black Widow, Catwoman or Mystique.

Because of its superior storytelling and enlightened sensibilities, Wonder Woman has broken records. Its $103 million domestic opening weekend set a new high for a film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, far outstripping the relatively meager $85 million generated by Fifty Shades of Grey.

But not the least of Wonder Woman’s accomplishments comes from its star, Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot. Aside from her background in beauty pageants and Israeli TV, Gadot made a name for herself internationally through appearances in Date Night, Entourage, the Fast & Furious franchise, and the aforementioned Batman v Superman, in which she originated her role as the superheroic princess from a hidden civilization of Amazons. Casting Gadot contained an element of risk because, as talented and visually-striking as she is, the BDS movement does love to marginalize and protest anything “tainted” by contact with Israel, Israelis or, you know, Jews in general (because we probably support Israel).

Surprisingly, Gadot’s role generated virtually no protest in the US or, to my knowledge, Europe. Unsurprisingly, it did generate boycotts and/or threats of boycotts in such Arab countries as Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia. Wonder Woman was also bumped from being screened at a film festival in Algeria. (The legitimacy of such boycotts is dubious. Boycotts are supposed to target institutions, not individuals. Gadot had no control over where she was born, nor over serving her two mandatory years in the IDF. But there has always been a double standard when it comes to Israel.)

We’re proud of Gadot – again, rightfully so. She’s talented, proud, strong, and people love to see tweets of Wonder Woman lighting Shabbos candles. But the danger is that the more Israel’s enemies object, the more she becomes a symbol of Israel and, if not of Judaism, of Jews. This is not a role for which she auditioned, so she should not be cast.

This is nothing against Gadot; it’s just experience talking. We tend to get overinvested in our celebrity representatives and we thrust duties upon them that have nothing to do with their actual careers. For example, every time Jared and Ivanka do something of questionable halachic validity, the Jewish community scrambles to take sides evaluating their behavior. You know whose fault this is? Ours. There are lots of Jews in public life but we collectively decided that Jared and Ivanka are meant to represent something they never claimed to represent.

Similarly, some people literally had a crisis of faith when Matisyahu shaved off his beard, dyed his hair and tweeted “No more Chassidic reggae superstar.” You know what Matisyahu’s job is? To sing. That’s the role he signed on for. (For which he signed on? On for which he signed? Whatever.) Matisyahu never asked to be your rebbe. If you gave him that job and he let you down, that’s on you.

When I was 17 or 18, someone told me, “If you say you don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) because the Chofetz Chaim says not to, that’s avodah zarah (idolatry). We have to avoid lashon hara because God says not to speak it.” (If this is a famous statement, please let me know the source; I only ever heard it from a classmate in yeshiva.) The Chofetz Chaim was a wise, pious individual who educated generations about the dangers of misused speech. If we have to be careful not to attribute to him a role above his pay grade, how much more this is true of politicians, singers and actresses.

According to the traditional story, Wonder Woman was magically brought to life from a sculpture. Nevertheless, Gadot is not a statue and should not be placed on a pedestal. (See what I did there? I worked hard on that, so please be kind!) She is an actress – that’s the job she signed on for (on for which she signed) and we should not burden her with our expectations. If she chooses to become an ambassador for women’s issues, a spokesperson for Israel, or anything else, then it would be appropriate to hold her responsible for her actions in those areas. Until that happens, any responsibilities you place on her are of your own imagining and you do so at your own risk.