“Wonder Woman 1984” Brings Back the 80s and Archaic Muslim Stereotypes

“Wonder Woman 1984” Brings Back the 80s and Archaic Muslim Stereotypes

In DC’s “Wonder Woman 1984” (2020), we follow the story of superhero Diana Prince, played by Gal Gadot, as she returns for another adventure after the events of “Wonder Woman” (2017). The film premiered in December 2020 and was released on the HBO Max streaming service. Despite never hitting theaters partially due to COVID-19, “WW84” was one of the year’s most successful releases on the streaming platform. The film amassed nearly 2.3 billion minutes of view time among U.S. audiences and was viewed roughly 14.9 million times.

In an interview with Deadline, director Patty Jenkins remarks that she created “WW84” with the idea of depicting the vibrancy and nostalgic bliss of the 80s. Diana’s journey relies on the well-loved tropes often associated with the superhero genre, featuring a female-led cast and in turn allowing for new and diverse storylines to be explored. The plot revolves around acquiring the prized Dreamstone, a mythical artifact that holds the power to grant any wish, but at the risk of jeopardizing something the person highly values. Corrupt businessman Maxwell Lord, played by Pedro Pascal, is after the stone in an attempt to exploit it and grant his own wishes against the will of others. 

Coining “Wonder Woman 1984” as a superhero period piece might be a stretch. However, as I watched the film, I did recognize thematic elements that had historical connections. The film’s antagonist, Maxwell Lord is a power-hungry “businessman” willing to sacrifice anything in order to obtain the Dreamstone and in the end he is destroyed by this quest for power. From a historical context the Dreamstone could be seen as symbolic of the American Dream, an ideology that gained mass popularity during and towards the end of the Cold War (1947–1991)

Anna Obropta, associate producer of “WW84,” explains the creative choice behind the film’s setting. She remarks, “Why 1984? America is at the height of its power and pride in 1984.” Obropta continues by saying, “It’s the decade of greed and desire, the time of me and more. It’s humanity at its best and at its worst.”

Although there is no direct mention to the historical significance of the Cold War in “WW84” these subtle references throughout the film speak to this collective American dream and the thirst for success and power that followed after the war.

Paired with historical references to the American dream “WW84” is also riddled with a trope not so novel to western cinema: the villainization of Muslims and the othering of the Middle East. Along with antagonist Maxwell Lord and archaeologist turned supervillain The Cheetah, the story introduces a wealthy Egyptian king named Emir Said Bin Abydos. Emir is the ruler of oil-rich lands near Cairo. 

Emir is visited by Maxwell Lord, who uses the Dreamstone to grant him a long-awaited wish for his ancestral land to be returned. However the nature of the stone goes into effect and in exchange for the wish being granted the oil fortune is transferred into Maxwell’s possession. 

This subplot felt out of step with the rest of the film. Unlike Maxwell’s other victims, Emir’s character is strangely villainized, even though he too is outwitted by the Dreamstone. Emir is portrayed as an arrogant tyrant after he is exploited by Maxwell for his oil fortune and then successively is erased from the rest of the plot. 

The physical portrayal of Emir’s character is also reminiscent of the stereotypical depiction of Middle Eastern and Muslim characters in film and television. Emir is dressed in a long flowing garment and head wrap. This ambiguous depiction acts as an erasure of the characters identity.  

“I wish for things one cannot attain,” Bin Abydos says. “All of my land to be returned. My ancestral realm. The Bialyian Dynasty. And for all the heathens who dare trod upon it to be kept out forever, so that its glory may be renewed.”

Emir’s identity was made synonymous with his country and the creators didn’t develop anything beyond the surface. His purpose of the exoticized villain was filled and done with.

It’s important that we have more female-lead superhero movies like “Wonder Woman 1984.” New-age superhero movies will continue to make strides for the future production of female lead superhero films. The data shows that these new-age superhero films are profitable and audiences will tune in to watch from the theater or even their couch. However, my perspective is that these positive outcomes are overshadowed by the blatant negative depiction of Muslim and Middle Eastern characters in the film. We’re taking a step forward in terms of the diversity shown in films but also taking leaps and bounds back because those depictions aren’t positive or accurate. 

It was announced earlier this month that Wonder Woman 3 will not be moving forward. The WarnerBros. Entertainment Company is in a transitional period navigating a new executive team in preparation to launch DC Studios. I strongly hope that with this new rebranding comes the introduction of diverse characters that develop beyond their ethnic stereotypes. 

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