Published Jun 2, 2017 Updated Jan 27, 2021, 1:56 pm CST
Here’s a tip for male film critics: When reviewing a female-led movie, don’t focus on the hotness of the lead actress. Not unless it’s actually relevant to the review, anyway.
I loved Wonder Woman, but as a critic, I’m open to reading negative reviews. Film criticism would wither and die if everyone shared the same opinion, after all. But if you frame your review like David Edelstein for Vulture, we’ve got a problem.
While Edelstein is a respected critic at a major publication, his response to Wonder Woman is embarrassingly sexist. Alongside more general criticisms (he hated the music, and thinks Patty Jenkins is bad at directing action), the review is peppered with comments about Gal Gadot’s attractiveness, launching in by describing her as a “superbabe” in the first paragraph.
A quote from the review is making the rounds on Twitter, shared by blogger Priscilla Page. In it, Edelstein condescendingly discusses Gadot’s Israeli heritage, and what he perceives as Wonder Woman’s simple-minded worldview.
“She’s a treat here with her raspy accented voice and driving delivery. (Israeli women are a breed unto themselves, which I say with both admiration and trepidation.) In some scenes, Gadot’s Diana pauses mid-rant and a vertical crease appears at the base of her broad forehead — her mind is churning. Why do humans kill the innocent? Where is Ares? “
He compliments Gadot throughout an otherwise negative review, but those comments mostly involve her appearance: her face is “Pre-Raphaelite;” her suffragette costume “looks fabulous” but is no match for her “superheroine bodice.” She’s a 5′ 10″ former model with “the perfect blend of superbabe-in-the-woods innocence and mouthiness.” It echoes the many Avengers franchise reviews that focused on Black Widow’s catsuit without examining her role.
Edelstein goes on to mention Wonder Woman’s S&M backstory for a laugh (“fans might be disappointed that there’s no trace of the comic’s well-documented S&M kinkiness”) before adding a snide remark about Patty Jenkins’ viewpoint as a female director. He even namechecks the original Wonder Woman as a “buxom pinup,” a painfully shallow estimation of her legacy.
“With a female director, Patty Jenkins, at the helm, Diana isn’t even photographed to elicit slobbers. Slobbering, S&M-oriented American patriots will be even more put out, given that WW is no longer dressed in red, white, and blue but golden-toned for the international — and perhaps these days less American-friendly — ticket buyers. I didn’t miss Lynda Carter’s buxom, apple-cheeked pinup, though.”
Edelstein offered plenty of criticisms that I don’t personally agree with, but they’re mostly a matter of taste. The real issue is his unexamined condescension toward the film’s female characters, lead actor, and director. As the first female-led superhero movie of the post-Marvel era, Wonder Woman is a meaningful cultural event, and it deserves a respectful response from critics.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor