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Why casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman really matters

When 28-year-old model/actress Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman in Warner Bros.'s upcoming “Batman vs. Superman,” she took to Twitter (where else?) to express her elation:

“Wonder Wom[a]n! So exciting!!! Can’t express how happy I am :)))),” she tweeted to her 212,000 followers. A similar posting on Facebook earned nearly 74,000 “likes” — which isn’t hard when you have 1.8 million Facebook fans.

Surely, this was good news for the Jews. The editorial board of the Jerusalem Post even saw fit to pen a column on why this casting choice was so momentous: “Israel — and the Jewish people — need heroines such as Gal Gadot,” the editorial gushed. “They present a picture to the world of the beautiful, sexy Israeli, countering the all-too pervasive negative and ugly imagery of Israel and Israelis in the international media.”

In the social media age, superheroes don’t just save the world; they can apparently save Israel’s image. Or so goes the JPost’s slightly delusional logic.

The real power in casting Gadot as Wonder Woman is that it offers the moviegoing public both a real and fictive revenge fantasy.

“Wonder Woman was created in and for World War II,”  Glen Weldon, author of The Unauthorized Biography of Superman” said recently during an interview on National Public Radio. “That was her whole shtick, fighting the Nazis.”

In his original conception, psychologist and comic book writer William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman as a redemptive figure for the World War II era. Male superheroes, he reasoned, suffered from “blood-curdling masculinity,” as he described it in a 1944 article for The American Scholar and that may have seemed too simpatico with real war villains like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. According to Marston’s rubric, male superheroes, like their evil counterparts, lacked warmth, tenderness and love. The world needed someone totally new.

With Europe in shambles and scores of Jews and other minorities getting tossed into the gas chambers, Superman and Batman fell short; as popular projections of divine, supernal power, their super-ness had obviously failed the populace of Europe. So along came Wonder Woman, “with all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman,” Marston wrote. She would be the new, epicene ideal of heroism.

How appropriate then for director Zack Snyder (“300” “Man of Steel”) to cast the Jewish, former IDF soldier Gal Gadot as the Nazi-crushing super-heroine. Wonder Woman may not be the only superhero to take on the Nazis (see Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”) but it’s the first time that the actor playing her can arm her character with real-world cultural vengeance. In “The Fast and the Furious” movies, Gadot’s fighting spirit was so obvious, the director added to her character’s backstory by making her a Mossad agent. “He really liked that I was in the Israeli military and he wanted to use my knowledge of weapons,” she told the Forward in 2011.

Tender, smart and strong, Wonder Woman was designed as a feminist archetype. She would be a “warrior for peace” — neither provocateur, nor pacifist — but one who would only use her strength against an unambiguous enemy.  She was conceived specifically to combat the world’s most unassailable evil: Nazism.

In casting Gadot, Hollywood is answering historical tragedy with a touch of irony: Wonder Woman is an Israeli-Jew.

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