Why Wonder Woman matters

WW courage

What, you may wonder, is a blog about a super hero film doing on IntLawGrrls? Well beyond my own personal excitement about the newly released Wonder Woman film, I think there’s an important symbolism that anyone committed to the Women, Peace and Security agenda of UN SC Resolution 1325 will appreciate. And a narrative that anyone committed to raising the profile of women’s voices in international law and international security will value. The film did a superb job of presenting the 75 year old comic book character the way she was intended by her creator William Moulton Marston, as a champion for peace, truth and equality at a time of conflict. He invented her during the Second World War, based on his belief that we need heroes in times of instability and conflict, and the retelling in the DC movie released just this weekend not only stays true to her origins, but reminds us that we all have capacity for war and for love within us.

In the height of the Second World War, Marvel Comics had just created a new character to raise the spirit of a fighting nation, Captain Marvel. He was dressed in the American flag and was a super soldier, and his comics were an immediate hit. Desperate to compete, DC Comics approached Marston, a psychologist who had been writing about why we need heroes in times of war;

Wonder Woman Sensation Comics Issue no. 1

as symbols to galvanise our beliefs. They asked him to create a character that would sell as well as Captain America, and he answered that what they needed was a female superhero. Marston was a staunch feminist, and believed that if women were in positions of leadership there would be more diplomacy and less war. Though many of us today would question this essentialism, there is no doubt that having more women at the decision-making table makes a difference to pre- and post-conflict negotiations, and that women are disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Marston wove the story of Wonder Woman around his classical education, drawing from Greek mythology stories of the Amazon warriors, who in his origin story were entrusted by the gods to protect Pandora’s Box and keep peace in the world. When “the world of men” finds itself caught up in a world war, Wonder Woman is sent as their champion to teach men the ways of peace and justice. She is incredibly strong, but she fights only to defend, never to attack, and she carries the Lasso of Truth, which forces anyone she ensnares to tell the truth. Marston is credited with also having invented the lie detector, so Wonder Woman was a multi-layered creation of his commitments. He even created an alter-ego for her as a military intelligence officer, granting her a status higher than the inevitable title of “secretary”.

In the film, director Patty Jenkins (who may just have broken the Hollywood glass ceiling for female directors with the sweeping box office success of Wonder Woman’s opening weekend) presents the origin story true to Marston’s values, with one small difference that it is set during the First World War, the War to End All Wars. This allowed for interesting commentary about women being completely politically disempowered at the time, still fighting for the vote, and being hustled out of any room where political negotiations were taking place. Placed in a period of history when we knew women were politically disenfranchised, it’s easier to understand, but it’s a mirror of the way women are still absent and underrepresented at the most powerful tables in the world today. The impact of the mass weaponry of the First World War was also the perfectly devastating background for depicting  how civilians are targeted and affected by war. Women and children are highlighted as the innocent victims, and an entire village is decimated by a deadly gas. One is reminded painfully of Syria today. As she begins to understand how power relations play out, Wonder Woman becomes the voice of the civilians, and fights for what she believes in: the possibility of peace. She is the representation of women in leadership positions, and the importance of women’s participation in decision-making.

The complexity of her character is beautifully portrayed. She is shocked at the corruptibility of humans, at our capacity to destroy each other, but she learns that it is not a simple question good versus bad people. Instead she sees that we are all just as capable of warring (as we know from non-state armed groups, from civilian participation in conflict, and from horrific war crimes and crimes of torture perpetrated by highly trained members of the military) as we are of love. She comes to the conclusion that she cannot save the world, but she can continue to bring love, peace, justice and equality to everything she does. That is her mission as Wonder Woman.

Although I was a fan of the 1970s series with Lynda Carter, which was fun and campy, it was a hyper-sexualised representation, and a long way off the character Marston intended her to be. WW Lynda Carter

In the film she is played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli woman who has trained in the armed forces and understands the warrior mentality just as well as she understands the feminine mother energy of the character she plays. (Stunningly, Gadot was 5 months pregnant during final shooting of the film, and they used digital effects to edit out her rounded belly. I have to admit I was moved to even greater excitement to learn that Wonder Woman was carrying life while fighting the god of war!) WW Gal Gadot

The film also does a great job of referencing the classical education which informed her creation, and the feminist role she was created to play. Gadot’s Wonder Woman speaks hundreds of languages, ancient and modern, and when confronting the German General Ludendorff, she cites Thucydides – in such a way that reminds us of today’s competing powers.  She refuses to have men of high rank tell her what to do, even her love interest Steve Trevor, and when she questions the assumptions about obedience in marriage, she cites Sappho, reversing the wartime assumption that women’s bodies are for men’s pleasure: rather, men are necessary for reproduction, but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary. (Let’s not debate the truth of that statement! The point was her challenge to the mainstream assumption.) Marston himself was polyamorous, living with two women, who stayed together as partners after his death. He believed marriage was a patriarchal institution which subordinated women and treated them as property. His comic book character defied men’s superiority but still sought partnership between the sexes, which is a subtlety maintained in her film portrayal.

Wonder Woman is unafraid to use force when that is necessary, but she believes in the possibility of all of us being released from “the grip of Ares, god of war“. In the comics she used to go to great efforts to turn Nazi characters – particularly, but not only, the women – back towards good, and would release them rather than kill them if she saw a possibility of remorse. Marston reminded us that women also play the role of perpetrator in many conflicts, and one of his female villains, Dr Poison, has a key role in the film, inventing the chemical weapons used against civilians. Yet even when Wonder Woman has the chance to kill her, she sees the humanity of Isabel Moru behind the mask of Dr Poison, and decides to let her go, rather than be corrupted herself by the desire to destroy. At the same time, Wonder Woman is not naive: there are times when force is called for, as long as it is proportionate and there is a distinction between lawful and unlawful targets.

Which is why Marston was so committed to us understanding the importance of super heroes. It’s not that we should look to these non-existent fantasy figures who have indestructible (and highly sexualised) bodies as models, it’s that we need something to believe in when the world becomes politically unstable, unpredictable and violent. And given his commitment to women’s political participation, and his understanding of the complexity of human nature regardless of gender, anno 2017, Wonder Woman is a hero for our times.

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Call for Applications – 11th Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy summer school

Are you interested in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy?

Then this summer school is for you.

CHRA.e-flyer.2016

The call for applications for the 11th Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy summer school, is now open.

More info at: www.chra.ie

Apply at: http://www.chra.ie/apply.php

Email us a query at: info@chra.ie

11th Summer School in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy

16-25 June 2016, Galway, Ireland

This Summer School programme has for the last 10 years attracted young talented filmmakers, human rights professionals, and activists from across the world who wish to engage in an exciting training course where ideas and projects are shared, developed and challenged by fellow participants and internationally acclaimed experts of film, television, photography and human rights. Cinema and Human Rights and Advocacy (CHRA) is a training initiative offered by the Huston School of Film & Digital Media and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, part of the National University of Ireland, Galway. This, the 11th Summer School in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy will run at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media in Galway, Ireland, from 16th to 25th of June 2016.

The Summer School is led by our director Nick Danziger an internationally renowned practitioner in the field of human rights documentary making, and our associate director Claudia Modonesi a human rights expert and media trainer. The 10-day programme consists of eight teaching sessions, workshops and film screenings that combine human rights expertise and media studies. Sessions develop issues relating to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a History of Human Rights Cinema, Freedom of Expression and Censorship, the Use of Video in Human Rights Documentation and Advocacy, Producing Social Documentaries, the Role of Media in Period of Conflict and Production and Distribution of Human Rights Films. Each module is illustrated by film or documentary screenings. Elements of the summer school include information on the fundamentals of human rights, how to raise awareness of human rights on camera, developing a project proposal and how these ideas should be pitched.

This is a unique training opportunity in Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy!

APPLY NOW! Deadline for applications is the 30th of April 2016.

Early Bird ends on the 18th of March 2016.

For more information please visit www.chra.ie or email us at info@chra.ie

Social media:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Summer-School-in-Cinema-Human-Rights-and-Advocacy

*Please help us spread the word, by sharing and circulating this message!

*Tweets and social media shares are greatly appreciated!

You can use this link: eepurl.com/bOiHCX 

Thank you.

Dr. Zoi Aliozi

CHRA summer school coordinator

Irish Centre for Human Rights

On Art! Geeta Patel Tackles Religion and Culture Through Film

Geeta V. Patel certainly isn’t the only person in Hollywood using the big screen to tackle serious issues. That she does this across genres, however, makes her stand out. The Indian-American writer, director, and producer has already made a documentary about the conflict in Kashmir, a romantic comedy about modern arranged marriage, and is currently working on a film that promises to change the face of action movies. She was also selected as one of 29 filmmakers to represent the United States abroad in a US State Department initiative in the arts.

In her 2008 documentary, Project Kashmir, Geeta deftly grappled with thorny issues like war, borders, and religion. She, along with a Pakistani-American friend, traveled to Kashmir to investigate the long-standing conflict between the Hindu-Kashmiris and the Muslim-Kashmiris. In the film they confront their conflicting personal perspectives about the conflict and attempt to foster dialogue between these two groups.

Geeta then inadvertently began filming a movie that looks at semi-arranged marriage. While she was fiddling around with a new video camera one day, Geeta’s recently-single brother, Ravi, wondered aloud whether the system that worked for their parents might also work for him. Thus, Meet the Patels was born, and follows Ravi’s journey through this process, which he embarks on with his parents and sister in tow. Despite being a romantic comedy, the film, currently on the film fest circuit, addresses universal questions about finding and keeping love.

Geeta’s latest project, an action movie called Mouse, not only introduces a new form of martial arts, but uses action to tell a story about love, freedom, and the incredible power of consciousness. And, perhaps most interestingly, Geeta says she is using the action movie genre to inspire nonviolence.

Looking forward to seeing what stories my friend of two decades tells next.

 

 

Munch’s magic Oslo “Scream”

blackOSLO –  Remember the famous Edvard Munch image of The Scream? Well, that’s it at left. At least, that’s how it looked to me on first glimpse at the Munchmuseet, a highlight of this Norwegian capital.

A while back, thieves stole The Scream and another painting, Madonna, from this museum. Both eventually were recovered and again placed on display. But The Scream suffered damage. And so when I entered the small room where it hangs, I found nothing but darkness, so much that I began to leave. Suddenly, an unseen guard said:

‘No, wait. Magic will happen.’

As I inched again into the room, a motion-sensor was triggered, and The Scream emerged from the blackness. The 1893 oil painting’s bright colored swirls madonnawere more brilliant, more moving in person than in any reproduction –  so much more expressive than Munch’s black and white lithograph of the same image. True magic.

A ban on photography in that room precludes showing any but the “before” picture. But the photo at right of the other formerly stolen painting, Madonna, serves to remind of Munch’s eerie genius.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann. Thanks to IntLawGrrl Cecilia Marcela Bailliet and her colleagues at the University of Oslo PluriCourts project for the opportunity to visit and take part in a brilliant conference.)

Les femmes qui lisent sont dangereuses

I was in a bookshop in Paris recently and came across a lovely book, Les femmes qui lisent sont dangereuses, authored by Laure Adler and Stefan Bollmann and published by Flammarion. It is a remarkable collection of 130 paintings and photos of women reading books, letters, and newspapers. The works included Manet, Rembrandt, Matisse, etc. The book describes how women in different epochs pursue reading as a form of liberation, contemplation, intimacy, and discovery. The authors explain the context behind each piece, and each painting communicates the particular feelings and state of mind of each reader as reacting to the tome. This beautiful collection is truly inspirational and most recommended to all IntlLawGrrls readers.

LA Times OpEd Distorts Both Archaeology and the Law

iStock_000003539805SmallAn op-ed on cultural patrimony laws in today’s Los Angeles Times has done a great disservice to the public by misrepresenting the purpose, history, impact, and very definition of such legislation.

In “The Archaeology Paradox: More Laws, Less Treasure,” Adam Wallwork argues that “tight restrictions on export and ownership of artifacts is leaving the world a poorer place.” Mr. Wallwork is not the first to call for a return to “the age of piracy,” in which tomb raiders could plunder archaeological sites with abandon (to borrow a phrase from Thomas Hoving, the Metropolitan Museum’s former director).  But he is the first, at least in a leading publication, to use this argument:

I surveyed 90 countries with one or more archaeological sites on UNESCO‘s World Heritage Site list, and my study shows that in most cases the number of discovered sites diminishes sharply after a country passes a cultural property law. There are 222 archaeological sites listed for those 90 countries. When you look into the history of the sites, you see that all but 21 were discovered before the passage of cultural property laws.

On average in art-rich countries, discoveries that landed on UNESCO’s list diminished by 90% after these laws were passed. To illustrate: Italy has seven archaeological sites on the World Heritage list; five were discovered before its 1909 cultural property law, but only two after.

Many variables may cause a drop-off in archaeological discoveries country by country, but statistically speaking, it’s nearly impossible that the decline shown in the data isn’t also related to the passage of cultural property laws.

This is a textbook case of mistaking correlation for causation. Yes, there are fewer archaeological discoveries in today’s world, especially of major ancient sites. However, there are fewer and fewer blank spaces on the map, too. And in fact, who can say that anyone ever “discovered” the Pyramids at Giza, the Acropolis in Athens, the Great Wall of China, or the vast majority of World Heritage nominations?

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U.S. v. Cambodian Sculpture: 3 Years Later

U.S. v.  Cambodian Sculpture: 3 Years Later

Exactly 3 years ago today, this thousand year old Khmer masterpiece was put on the auction block at Sotheby’s, where it was expected to fetch $3 million. It was pulled from sale when Cambodia demanded its return, citing evidence it had been looted during the country’s bloody civil war. 6 weeks later, the US government filed a civil forfeiture action, seeking to recover and repatriate the statue. This litigation made headlines around the world, and was only resolved 3 months ago, when Sotheby’s settled. To learn more about the case — U.S. v. 10th-century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture — click the photo and visit the New York Times.