by Gracie Bucklew
[Note: This column contains spoilers for the movie Justice League]
With a whopping $300 million budget and a lengthy comic book history, Justice League comes with high expectations. The team consists of DC Comics heavyweights Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, and Superman. This movie has many accomplishments and many downfalls.
Astonishingly, the film’s main cast includes more than one person of color (POC): Native Hawaiian and white Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and African American Ray Fisher (Cyborg). This representation, while poor, surpasses most mainstream action movies typically centering around white males.
Justice League further pleasantly surprised me by not only casting POC, but casting POC in roles highlighting their brilliance. Cyborg , a.k.a. Victor Stone, the only Black member of the League, has a father Silas Stone who is a successful scientist. It’s small, but the role bust stereotypical portrayals of Black folks found in the majority of mindless action flicks such as the Fast and Furious franchise.
Silas (along with his wife who doesn’t show up in the film) uses his brilliance to turn Victor into a half man, half-machine superhero. However, with the good comes the bad, as a high school athlete who gets into trouble with the law, the depiction of Victor does eventually play into tired stereotypes.
The film’s racial representation is also problematic because the League’s darkest skinned character is almost entirely a metal robot, leaving only half of Cyborg’s face to be seen. This hiding of POC’s skin is reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora and Drax.
More still, Justice League falls short in the gender category. News flash: your media isn’t inclusive if your “diversity” consists of only token characters, Wonder Woman serving as the token woman in this case. While there were certainly aspects of Wonder Woman’s portrayal that felt empowering (mostly due to reshoots filmed after her own movie performed well at the box office last summer), they were overshadowed by the gross misogyny and sexism that appeared in the film and within the cast in real life.
Unlike Wonder Woman, Justice League was directed by a man – Zack Snyder – and had a male costume designer – Michael Wilkinson. Despite having fully developed costumes by Wonder Woman’s designer, Lindy Hemming, Wilkinson thought it would be a good idea to dress most of the Amazons in bikini armor. Why?! It’s not realistic or functional at all! While off the clock as Wonder Woman, Diana Prince consistently wears skin-tight outfits that display significant cleavage. These are only a couple out of the countless examples of women in media being present only for the straight male gaze.
On top of the clothing, there are camera shots in Justice League that are crudely objectifying of the character and the actress, Gal Gadot. There are shots where you can practically see up her skirt. In others, her butt is the entire subject of the frame. It’s ridiculous.
In a short scene where Aquaman is spewing honesty because he is unknowingly sitting on Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, he lets loose small witty insults about each of his team members until he gets to Wonder Woman. He expounds on her beauty instead. Of course.
This objectification is eerily similar to that in an MTV interview of the cast. When asked to describe the cast member to their right, everyone gets adjectives like intelligent, inspiring, and talented, until they get to Gal Gadot. Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, describes Gadot as “charming, caring, and beautiful.” Of course! When you can’t think of anything else meaningful to describe a woman, nothing about her character or work ethic, compliment her appearance. That’s all a woman has after all, right?
With that, I did find success elsewhere. While this isn’t a typical hot-topic in representation discussions, it stood out to me in Justice League. Most of the team members are in their thirties – fully into adulthood – but the character Flash, played by 25 -year-old Ezra Miller, is portrayed as a teenager.
Outside of him, I didn’t identify with the other characters as they are grown and successful with careers and homes of their own. It was refreshing to see a superhero I could more closely relate to as a young person – someone who is a little rowdy and awkward with adults and is still struggling with the idea of maturity and adulthood.
All in all, Justice League wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t terrible either. Though judging from the movie’s disappointing box office take, I’m not sure its $300 million dollar price tag was worth it.
Justice League is currently playing at Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City.
Gracie Bucklew is a musician, artist, Unitarian Universalist, intersectional feminist, and activist and contributes a regular local pop-culture column to the Emerald. She is currently a student at The Center School. She lives on Beacon Hill with one of her moms, and is a lifelong resident of Rainier Beach with her other mom. She loves her friends, cats, and ice cream.