If you find yourself cruising down Tel Aviv’s main highway, look up and odds are you will see a stories-tall billboard of Israeli celebrity Gal Gadot, wielding her sword and shield in all her Wonder Woman glory. Inscribed in Hebrew with the provincial “we love you” greeting, the billboard is a (literally) huge testament to Israel’s pride in the actress whose film was a box-office smash, grossing more than $228.3 million dollars worldwide in its debut week. But while Gadot ascends to the spot of Israel’s No. 1 ambassador abroad, elsewhere, an old debate has resurfaced surrounding Israel, race, and what it means for a superhero to embrace a Jewish identity.
Born in Rosh Haayin, Gadot made her mark in Israel early when she won the title of Miss Israel in 2004 at only 18, and went on to represent her country in the Miss Universe pageant later that year. Like the majority of Israeli citizens, she served a mandatory two-year term with the Israeli Defense Forces, later putting her modeling experience to good use when she appeared in the 2007 “Women of the Israel Defense Forces” Maxim photo shoot. Gadot, who speaks English with an Israeli accent — an accent that was copied by her fellow Amazonian cast-mates who adopted her dialect as part of the mythos of Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira — is both open about her Jewish faith and vocal on social media in her support for the Israeli army. “She represents the ‘good Israeli’ and does us a great service,” said Israeli citizen Ariel Oseran when speaking to The Associated Press, “When she talks about the army, it shows that serving in the military is not a bad thing. It’s something inspiring. It makes every one of our female soldiers seem like Wonder Woman.”
Despite Gadot’s obvious pride in her Jewish-Israeli heritage, others are not so supportive and are using the film to make a political statement. Lebanon banned the film before its international release and urged Jordan to do the same. “We remind the Jordanians of their obligation to boycott the film, and we refuse to be partners to the crimes of the Zionists and to increase their profits from this film,” reported Ynet. While the film passed the normal screening procedures in Lebanon, boycott supporters pressured the government, calling Wonder Woman the “Israeli Soldier film” and referencing a 2014 post from Gadot’s Facebook account.
Political critics aside, for many, casting a Jewish actress as the famous Amazonian warrior princess should be a no-brainer. Wonder Woman, whose comic book origins pit her against Nazis during WWII, shares a common history with fellow superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and many others — characters created by Jewish artists who found a creative outlet in comic books during the 1930’s. For others, Gadot’s success as Wonder Woman is a sign that things in Hollywood are moving in the right direction. “It’s a landmark film for women for so many reasons, and this takes it to another level,” said Emily Shire, politics editor for the website Bustle. “There is a history of Jews making movies and Jews loving movies, but who was on screen?”