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Protecting Becky at All Costs – Peak White Feminism in Wonder Woman

Protecting Becky at All Costs – Peak White Feminism in Wonder Woman

By: TaLynn Kel

Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

Full disclosure: I enjoyed Wonder Woman. I’ve also grown up in the racist shitstorm that is Amerikkka so white supremacy is the air I breathe, the food I eat, the water in which I bathe, and the bed upon which I sleep. It’s so entrenched in my life that I do white supremacist shit and have to constantly check myself about it. So it’s pretty natural for me to watch something with shitty messaging and not completely reject everything about it. Being a Black woman who is constantly told she doesn’t matter kinda trains you to parse things out of necessity.

It is my ability to parse that allowed me to enjoy the movie despite there being a moment where the movie breaks for me. It was when, during her struggle with Ares, Diana was faced with the choice of giving in to her rage and destroying humanity or choosing love and hope. Now, that choice isn’t a problem for me; I think we make that choice multiple times every day of our lives.

My issue is with whose life was spared to initiate that change – Dr. Poison.

Dr. Poison, played by Elena Anaya, is a character who took joy in her work. She loved making lethal concoctions and testing them on people. She had no issue with murder and often seemed to take a perverse pleasure in ensuring the deaths of those she experimented upon. Dr. Poison had no conscious. She knew her creations would murder hundreds, if not thousands, of people. She exhibited no remorse.

Dr. Poison was a sociopathic murderer who needed to die. Instead, the preservation of her life was the pivotal moment for Diana to choose to save humanity rather than destroy them, regardless of how deserving they are. This choice sends the message that to forgive the worst of us, to love the ugliest of us is what makes us good people.

Well, fuck that.

There is a problem with showing the active decision to spare a cruel killer. For that killer to be a white woman, the most underestimated agent of racism, is white supremacist propaganda. It begs the question asked by Kinitra Brooks, “what Becky gotta do to get murked?” Seriously.

How the fuck did the writers, director, and producer decide that sparing the life of a ruthless murderer, a white woman, was a good idea? How does this cruel mass killer get a second chance from Diana? Why would anyone support that type of message?

I will give one possible pass. Perhaps Diana didn’t know who Dr. Poison was. But she recognized General Ludendorff was so I’m guessing she had enough intel to know who the main players were. This brings us back to her decision to spare the evil white woman and protect her from her choices. I ask again, why?

My guess: Peak. White. Feminism.

The toxic white feminism this choice represented probably wasn’t intentional, but the decision to save Dr. Poison was. They didn’t have to do it this way. We could have seen Dr. Poison escape during the fighting. She could have crept away under the guise of night. There was no need for Diana to confront Dr. Poison and choose to save her. That act is an insidious choice made by the people behind the scenes.

The reason this stands out so sharply for me is because of how often we, Black people and POCs, are encouraged to be lenient when white women’s transgressions are revealed. How we are conditioned to look at white women as above wrongdoing when we have clear examples of them actively participating in racist acts that can and have led to Black people’s, Black children’s deaths.

We’ve seen articles trying to explain/justify white women’s support of that Cheeto in the oval office. I’ve seen articles painting his wife as a victim of him instead of an active participant in their relationship. White women are shielded from the consequences of their racism and when there aren’t any heroes there to shield them, they shed their white tears.

It is this constant picture of white women being deserving of special consideration and extra protection that makes Diana’s choice to let Dr. Poison live irresponsible. Especially as it was a plot device used to define Diana’s “goodness.” Forgiveness is not a tool that demonstrates one’s inherent goodness; it’s a tool to keep monsters unchecked. In this case, it was used to empower Diana and that is a very dangerous, subversive message to send.

We live in a world with many monsters. They look like our world leaders, police, teachers, and families. And our society protects them, much to our collective detriment. We live in a society where people believe their own lies and cannot recognize the rot within themselves. Watching Wonder Woman tell herself that sparing the life of a heinous murderer made her a good person was the reinforcement of all the lies this country tells itself to feel like heroes instead of violent, racist, mass murdering colonizers.

I did enjoy Wonder Woman. I liked the action and it was good to see a woman live the life she chose despite the men around her trying to control her actions. And yes, there were issues with inclusion and representation, as well as how it shrugged off indigenous genocide.

But for me, the stand-out message will always be how Wonder Woman protected Becky despite Becky’s malevolence.


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  • Interesting article. I also rooted for the death of Dr. Poison but, full disclosure, I’m a white lady and I rooted for that because I hate the way evil characters have to be spared for use in future movies. I know that Dr. Poison is a DC character and they will probably have to battle again but it seems lazy or beholden to men who feel so much ownership over these stories. I don’t know which direction to move next. I would love to see more diversity in all of these superhero movies. I don’t feel an attachment to the gender or race that they were drawn as. I’m also not attached to always heading back to WWII where the nazis are evil and America is great. Right now Germany is outdoing us and I don’t have any confidence in America’s path forward. I’m a writer and trying to be more conscious in what I write to remember that my worldview is narrow and when I try to be inclusive I probably get it wrong. Always good to hear thoughts about this!

  • I suppose I fail to see how Wonder Woman choosing not to act as a judge, jury, and executioner in that moment has anything to do with white feminism. It really doesn’t make much sense to me. Wonder Woman is a character that is defined by her compassion. While she’s typically been portrayed as willing to take a life in battle, it would seem out of character for Diana to murder someone on their knees in cold blood, especially at the encouragement of another villain.

    For the sake of full disclosure, I’m a white guy, so I totally recognize that my perspective is limited when it comes to this stuff and thus my comment should probably be taken with a grain of salt. However, as someone who believes in intersectionality and feminism, and also stands opposed to the death penalty and all forms of capital punishment, it would abhor me to see such a heroic and inspiring character perform an outright execution like that.

    Maybe it’s true that Doctor Poison doesn’t deserve life, but the onus shouldn’t be on Wonder Woman to outright murder her.

  • Here I am, the third white person to comment on this piece. When I saw the movie, this kind of thought didnt even cross my mind. I do agree with Nick down here that it is not Diana’s place to pass sentence in this case, but I can also see your point and do completely agree. It was indeed a poor choice of character for that scene, and I dont think Diana would let her escape in a different setting, but I see how fucked up the message the scene passes is, and how ultimately in the real world, we white ppl (and especially white women) are given a racist pass. This definitely gets under the list of things the movie could have done differently.

  • I’m having a hard time buying into this thesis as well. Were you equally upset when Batman spared the Joker? If not, feeling like this is a double standard.

    Dr. Poison is a central villain in several of WW’s story arcs, so from a writing/ production standpoint, it makes very little sense to kill her off. Personally, I’m excited to learn more about her villain origins and motivations in future installments of Wonder Woman.

    That said, I’m also irked by the casting– though for a different reason. Canonically, Dr. Poison (Princess Maru) is a queer Japanese cross-dresser. Only the former trait (slightly) came through in the film. Given the recent Ghost in the Shell controversy, this struck me as especially lame.

  • Having seen both WW & ‘Get Out’ in the last week, here’s my $.02: I thought the decision to ‘spare’ Dr. Poison’ was a trope we’ve seen a zillion times in a zillion comics & films (except w/ Zod in the new Superman, apparently), where a hero spends a few seconds agonizing on whether to vaporize / crush / shoot / Ricky & Morty Portal or otherwise kill the villain, then stays their hand, ostensibly because killing would make them ‘no better’ than said baddie. But I do think here in Trumpistan, USA that the idea of the sinister undercurrent of the white female demographic absolutely bears deeper exploration; look no further than Trump’s outdoing Clinton w/ 53% white women (even wider margin if you drill down to white women w/ no college degree…)

  • I agree that Dr. Poison deserved to be killed, but I don’t think Diana or the writers spared her life because she was white. The movie needed just a bit extra to show that Wonder Woman still turned her over to a war crimes tribunal for execution. (If the movie Amazons had Reform Island like in the Golden Age to send Dr. Poison to, that’d be ripe for a punishment vs. rehabilitation debate.)

  • Well, I am a POC and I really fail to see how you could frame this as some evil white feminism thing. Ares needed to corrupt Diana by pushing her to kill an helpless enemy and Diana did what any superhero would do: she resisted. Dr Maru being white as nothing to do with it.

  • That article is a reach too. But so is this one. Commentary is not a zero sum game.

  • Yeah ok. People see things & interpret what they see. Your inability to relate doesn’t make it a reach. It makes our interpretations different. I’m pointing out that there are people seeing this, even if you don’t.

  • by the way multiple posting of that Mary Sue dreck doesn’t make its argument anymore valid either.

  • I thought about Wonder Woman sparing Dr. Poison, but only though a “What Measure Is a Mook?” lens. Wondy had been handing out asswhoopings left and right, and killed a number of people, but suddenly spares Dr. Poison, who has been shown to be an unrepentant murderer who has killed hundreds with her chemical weapons?

    My own guess is that the in-universe reason for her not killing Dr. Poison is because Ares was expecting her to do it, not because she didn’t want to, and she didn’t want to vindicate his point of view.

  • but dr. poison isn’t played by a white woman? unless spanish is considered white? what i took from the scene was diana resisting ares’ urging to kill. did dr poison deserve to die? probably. but like others have pointed out, other heroes spare villains all the time to show that they are “better than that”.

  • I have two sort of responses to this (as a WOC, though not a black woman). The first is that, part of what I think is important about that scene is that the Dr. no longer posed a threat to anyone when Diana decided to spare her. Diana kills people in WW, but the people she kills are usually literally in the process of trying to kill or mortally harm others. Yes, the Dr. science contributed to the potential harm of many, but by the time Diana got to her, the chemical weapons had been de-weaponized by Steve Trevor, et. al. People who are in the process of doing harm, or have the continued capacity to do harm need to be prevented from that, by force if necessary. But someone has *already been stripped of their power to do harm* doesn’t then need to be killed on top of that. Killing shouldn’t ever be an act of revenge.

    Secondly, probably the most inspiring aspect of the film for me was the message about people being “deserving” or not, and letting go of that analysis when one is trying to decide how to treat others, particularly in terms of compassion. So much conservative ideology is premised on the paranoia that people in society are getting all kinds of good things from the government they don’t “deserve.” The whole concept of the “Welfare Queen” is a cultural trope built around the idea that a particular group of people receiving government aid don’t ~deserve~ it, and they are just lazy. Conservative forces in our world want to prevent access to so many necessities for marginalized groups because they are so outraged by the idea that someone who doesn’t “deserve” help is going to get it anyway (off their hardworking, morally sound dime!) This is where that odious idea of the perfect victim comes from. It is how a lot of conservatism justifies itself — okay, we’ll make exceptions for rape, incest and health of the mother (maybe) but all you stupid sluts who voluntarily had sex don’t DESERVE access to abortion. Okay, we’ll research AIDS and HIV treatments for all you moral heterosexuals who accidentally got the virus via blood transfusion, but you queer men who had unprotected sex, you aren’t DESERVING of proper medical care. And disabled people, well we all know it is harder for capitalism to capitalize on them, so why do they “deserve” my hard-earned money to just, ya know, LIVE while not being a contributing (i.e. “deserving”) member of society.

    The line-drawing between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” in society is a huge part of how conservatism works and maintains itself. It is how social services for the most vulnerable get slashed, because surely, someone somewhere doesn’t deserve that check they are getting, and so clearly we should burn the whole thing to the ground.

    Diana is clearly in favor of stopping those who are in the midst of actively doing harm to others. She kills German soldiers who are trying to kill them. But when someone has been disarmed, and is no longer an immediate threat to others, she lets go of the deserving/undeserving question, and I think that’s an incredibly politically potent move from a liberal stand-point, because conservatism depends HEAVILY on that framework to victimize vulnerable people. You are right, Dr. Poison doesn’t actually deserve compassion, but giving it anyway when she is no longer a threat intervenes immediately in the slippery slope of trying to determine who DOES deserve compassion, a moral practice that historically has led to people on the brink of homelessness and starvation getting their welfare cut because horror of horrors, there might be the occasional scammer in the system who doesn’t deserve it!

  • It’s a reach, who is wonder woman to judge who deserves to live and who deserves to die ? She’s not jesus and that’s the whole point that went right over your head.

  • It’s not, she doesn’t have an answer so she quotes a lame article from a lame source.

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