If you are a theatre artist or enthusiast (and let's face it, if you're reading this blog, you probably are), then by now you have heard about the kerfuffle over the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, in which the title character is styled to evoke Donald Trump, and is assassinated in an apparently very bloody fashion (full disclosure, I haven't seen the production). This depiction has incited such outrage among certain segments of the population that two of the production's corporate sponsors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, withdrew their support, and another of the Public's corporate sponsors, American Express, has gone out of its way to let people know they are not financially tied to this particular show.
The fact that some ruffled right-wing feathers made Delta and Bank of America drop their support like a hot potato is disturbing enough, but as I was reading about the controversy, what really struck me was a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. that read, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
As many artists and individuals were quick to point out, all art is political in some way, and depending on who you ask, being political is its main function. And as anyone who has ever had 10th grade English knows, Julius Caesar has always been a political play, dating back to its original publication in the 17th century. The play focuses on the treacherous navigation of public good versus personal gain, the corrupting influence of power, and the dangers of an unchecked leader whose popular rhetoric may mask sinister intentions (staging and casting choices aside, how can you not do a production of this play in 2017 without drawing parallels to the current state of American politics?). And it's not like this is the first production of Julius Caesar to incorporate current events into its concept.
Trump, Jr.'s comments are a shot across the bow, an attempt to undermine and intimidate not just theatre companies, but all artistic communities, by calling into question whether taxpayers should be funding art whose messages or implications offend them. As is the case with most things tweeted by the Trump family, it's a bs argument, because there are no taxpayers dollars funding this production, but it deserves the attention of all artists. It's a slippery slope from questioning whether art should be funded because its content or presentation offends someone to outright censorship, and now more than ever, we as a society cannot allow voices to be silenced, especially when they are pointing our challenging and uncomfortable truths about the world.
If the fallout from this rumpus is that theatres around the country decide to play it safe for fear of losing sponsors/donors or offending people, we all lose. Theatres, and all artists, need to stay strong and continue to produce work that is thought-provoking, socially and culturally relevant, and yes, maybe a little controversial. If we need inspiration, we need look no further than the Public's Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis, who said in his Julius Caesar opening night speech, "When we hold the mirror up to nature, often what we reveal are disturbing, upsetting, provoking things. Thank God. That's our job."
- Kristen M. Scatton
--**Contains spoilers about the film Wonder Woman**
Confession time: I have never read a Wonder Woman comic book. I have never seen the Wonder Woman TV show. My ignorance of comic book characters, lore and universes is probably second only to my ignorance of professional sports (hockey is still happening? STILL????) and I regularly make my more in-the-know friends shake their heads in consternation with my confusion of the DC and Marvel universes.
That being said, I was still pretty darn excited about the fact that, after 76 years, Wonder Woman was getting her own live-action feature film because, as our own Erin Carr said, representation matters. I mean, how many Batman reboots does it take to get to the center of Bruce Wayne's brooding? I don't need to fork over $15 every two years to see the same story retold with more explosions and worse acting (sorry, Ben Affleck - stick to directing). But a film exploring the backstory of a different, under-represented character who happens to be a woman? In the words of Fry, shut up and take my money.
Because of my general ignorance of Wonder Woman, any expectations or skepticism I had of the film were hinged on broader concerns of how Hollywood would treat her as a female character. Would she be oversexualized? Would she somehow be undermined by the male characters? Would there be some bullshit love story because we all know that all women really want is a dude with a strong jawline to sweep them off their feet, saving the world be damned?
Those concerns turned out to be both founded and unfounded. Sure, Wonder Woman’s costume is short and tight, but it actually provides more coverage than Lynda Carter’s costume from the 1970’s TV show, and it’s undeniably more functional than the more period-appropriate clothes Diana tries on during the London shopping spree scene. Additionally, Patty Jenkins’ direction doesn’t fetishize Diana’s body – I can’t recall a close-up of a heaving bosom or slow-pan of Gal Gadot’s statuesque frame. The male characters may be initially struck by Diana’s beauty, but they quickly learn that there is a hell of a lot more beneath the surface.
Likewise, the male characters quickly learn that their attempts to undermine her, however well-intentioned, are unnecessary and ill-advised, which is a pleasant subversion of expectations. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) starts off the film by mansplaining war to an Amazon warrior goddess, but by the end, when she is locked in her epic final battle with Ares, the God of War (Professor Lupin! Say it ain’t so!), he knows there is nothing he can do for her that she can’t do for herself, again subverting the insinuation that, even though she’s a superhero, she still needs a man to bail her out.
And as for that love story? Yeah, it’s there. In the words of Liz Lemon, "Commencing eyeroll sequence." It's not the main focus of the plot, so I'll at least give it that. If they're going to continue shoehorning romantic storylines into the plots of future Wonder Woman features, here's hoping that they use them to explore Diana's bisexuality next time.
But what I really want to talk about is the way Wonder Woman shows war through a woman's eyes. The movie is set in the last days of World War I, which at the time was known as "The Great War" and the "War to End All Wars." While Diana has been told stories of war and trained for war her whole life, her arrival in the trenches is her first real exposure to actual warfare, and her immediate response is "Holy shit, this is awful, why do people do this to each other? How do we save these innocent lives from this hellish destruction?" (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) My point is, Diana enters the field of battle and sees the human toll of war, something that is often lost in movies told from a male perspective, whether they are superhero or actual war movies. In Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor represents that point-of-view - he is also on a mission to stop the war, but he's not going to let a little thing like innocent civilian casualties get in his way. As is often the case in superhero and war movies, these innocent lives lost are collateral damage, an unfortunate sidenote in the hero's journey to save the world. But it's Diana who points out, these people are the world. If the mission is to stop the war to save humanity, you actually have to give a fuck about humanity. And mind you, this is not a sheltered, squeamish little lady offering naive morals in the face of massive destruction; this is warrior goddess who has been training for slaughter and self-defense since she could walk.
I'm reminded of something my mother used to say: "If women were in charge, there would be no wars, because no mother wants to send her child into battle." Sure, that's an overarching statement in many ways, but I think it speaks to the heart of why Diana sees war in a different perspective than her male counterparts. Too often in movies and life, we lose sight of what the human cost of war actually is. Diana shows that you can be fierce, and fight for justice and peace, but ultimately, if we're not fighting to preserve the dignity and safety of human life, what are we fighting for?
-- Kristen Scatton
This is not your ordinary superhero. And it's not one to be skipped.
This past Thursday night, I went to see the midnight showing of Wonder Woman. Now a little bit about me, I've been obsessed with Wonder Woman since I was nine years old when I received my first Wonder Woman comic - the August '87 comic by George Pérez. I was mesmerized. This version emphasized her strength and the importance of mythology in her backstory. It gave her spirit depth and showed a woman who was fearless rather than just attractive. Wonder Woman is what inspired me to dive deeper into the storytelling of comics/graphic novels, study stage combat in high school and ultimately begin this company with Carly. Wonder Woman was not a sex symbol, but rather a true symbol of hope through adversity.
When this movie was initially announced, I was skeptic. How would they bring this warrior to life? Would Hollywood over-sexualize her as they had so many other heroines? I have seen my share of superhero films. Well, actually, I've seen several people's share of superhero films. So I am no stranger to the transition from comic to screen and the adjustments made in backstories. However, with the current state of the world, this particular backstory needed to click. We need to see someone raised with strong morals who fights with hope, not just because they can skill-wise, but because it's the RIGHT thing to do. Our children need a role model of a human who uses all skills, whether super or not, to help the world become a better place.
Thanks to the brilliant direction by Patty Jenkins, my fears became just vapors in the wind. Jenkins brought this warrior to life in way that hadn't been done before. Wonder Woman, known as Diana Prince, is a princess on Themyscira - an island of Amazonian female warriors - and from an early age has the fire to protect those she loves. The kids in our country right now need to see that they can play a positive role in helping better the world. That no matter their gender, race, religion, sexuality or ethnicity, if you are determined, you can change the course of history.
It cannot be put into words how impactful it is to see a woman in a powerful position, being treated with the respect she deserves, due to her strength. I can only hope that young girls seeing Wonder Woman come to life, will realize that the glass ceiling is only there to be shattered.
Change their minds and change the world.