Props to Ya: A Critical Review of the WOC Characters in Wonder Woman
I thought I'd written enough on the Wonder Woman movie until I began to think a bit more about the women of color in it--and why their characters had bothered me so much. There weren't many of them, so the few WOC that were present stood out...but not in the best way.
In my spoiler-light pros and cons review of the movie, I briefly touched on the appearances of the Amazons. I talked about the "tough big girl" character, who is a black woman. She was Diana's next-to-last test of warrior skill before Diana faced off against General Antiope in her final skill test.
The reason this particular character struck me as off-putting was the fact that even though the other Amazon warriors Diana went up against in her tests were shown as skilled, this one is portrayed as fearsome and somewhat savage in comparison. Larger and stronger than most of the other Amazons, she's also made to look like a walking stereotype:
A violent black woman caricature, even among the fabled ruthless warrior women.
Not to say that the other BW in the film are portrayed in the same way. One of the other highly visible BW, one of two who had lines, is an Amazonian senator. The other was Diana's nanny.
There were a few things that struck me as odd about the senator's character. The main one was that the senator's title is only mentioned in passing by Diana, and that's the only way the audience knows her occupation. She has virtually zero significance--save for a few seconds in one scene. The senator isn't shown as counseling Hippolyta on many other occasions, either. In fact, Hippolyta seems to make a lot of decisions with very little consultation from anyone. So essentially, the senator's a throwaway character.
Now go ahead and call me "nitpicky," but Diana's nanny was another WOC character that didn't impress me. The fact that one of the very first WOC the audience sees is a black Mammy-esque character gave me some serious pause, but equally as annoying as the age-old Mammy trope was how terrible useless she was at her job. She was shown as being an ineffective caregiver, as young Diana is able to run amok around Themyscira and leap off a very tall ledge before Diana's caught/saved from becoming Amazon street pizza by Hippolyta.
If you read my pros and cons review, you'll recall that I said that none of the female characters are made to look useless. Allow me to correct myself. Most of the female characters aren't. In spite of being a trained warrior like the rest of the Amazons, Diana's nanny being ineffective at her job makes her just that. The senator's lack of importance outside of a few lines of dialogue makes her useless as well.
But wait, what about Big, Tough BW, you ask? While she's by no means physically weak, her one-dimensional function in the movie makes her a weak character.
So when I say "props to ya," that's exactly what I mean. In Wonder Woman, women of color are just that--props--to ya.
As in, to Hollywood and mainstream (or non-intersectional) feminists, "diverse" still seems to be a synonym for "tokens" or "caricatures" rather than "equal representation." But then again, such is to be expected from mainstream feminism, especially in the hands of Hollywood. It isn't actually concerned with WOC or our portrayals. It's concerned with being able to say, "Look at how inclusive I am!" without actually bothering to include WOC representations that are any better than the insulting caricature portrayals we've been subject to since before Hollywood was even a thing.
As much as I enjoyed the movie overall, the WOC representation was severely lacking in proper portrayal and execution. When you market yourself as a "feminist" movie, either go intersectional or go home--and have at that drawing board again.