Although Wonder Woman has been raking it in at the box office, $263.7 million so far, the film has sparked controversy around the globe on topics as far ranging as Middle Eastern politics, cinematic universe bias and of course, feminism.
The revolutionary female-led superhero film has been used as a vehicle for argument across a wide spectrum of social and political issues. Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman herself, is Israeli and due to Israel’s mandatory military service served as an officer in the Israeli Defence Force. Naturally, the film has caused some upset throughout the Middle East for its embrace of Gal Gadot, and has been totally banned in Lebanon and Tunisia.On a slightly lighter note, comic fans have taken it as an excuse to argue over the merits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) vs. the DC Cinematic Universe (DCU); the two are highly contested with the general vibe being that DCU, home to Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman, have never been as good at film-making as the MCU, home to Iron Man, Spiderman and Captain America.
However, the real press frenzy when it comes to Wonder Woman and her controversies was over women-only screenings planned in the US. Alamo Drafthouse, a maverick Texas-based cinema chain famed for its mid-screening service of locally inspired food and drinks, had set aside two screenings of the film exclusively for those that identify as a woman. There was uproar. Men complained to the cinema chain and terms such as reverse sexism, discrimination and exclusion were freely used. One man was so deeply offended by his exclusion from the screening that he wrote to the Mayor of Austin calling for an all male boycott of the town and detailing his plans, “to diminish Austin and cause damage to the city’s image”.
Warner Brothers clearly figured out that stroking hot-topic controversial issues leads to press interest. The studio has allowed all dialogue surrounding the film, whether on women-only screenings or Palestinian occupation, to continue freely and in doing so, secured long-term media attention for the film. Embracing the debate has proved the more powerful strategy in comparison to either proactive or reactive smoothing over. The only comment from the studio or film officials comes from the director Patty Jenkins, who diplomatically explains she understands both sides of the argument encouraging lively discussion on the topic, and of course, her film.
In fact, Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin, took a similar strategy in response to the complaint he received about the women-only screenings. He penned an earnest yet humorous email alerting the sender that his account had been hacked by an, “unfortunate and unusually hostile individual”. His response was highly praised in National and International press and serves to prove that engaging and promoting dialogue rather than shying away from controversial social issues can be a good PR move. When faced with a dilemma over a difficult topic, it can be easy to either not respond at all or to take the easy way out and take the middle ground. It’s clear from Wonder Woman and her lasso of truth that an open forum for dialogue is key to driving the media crazy.