Why ‘Wonder Woman’ is Banned in Lebanon: taking a stand against propaganda that denies history and exalts violence and brutality

Nora Barrows-Friedman, “Why ‘Wonder Woman’ is Banned in Lebanon” (Electronic Intifada, 8 June 2017)

With every passing year, the commercial movie industry in the United States, popularly known as Hollywood, reveals itself more and more as the propaganda arm of US foreign policy, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the spate of superhero movies, based on characters in comics published by DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The Batman / Dark Knight trilogy of films directed by Christopher Nolan insinuates that in order for good to triumph over evil, good must stoop to the level of evil (including the killing of innocents as “collateral damage”) and promotes the cynical notion that societies can only function if their citizens are persuaded to believe lies – because knowing the truth would inevitably lead to chaos. These and other superhero films fetishise technology and violence, in the process disdaining character development and sticking to stereotyped plots and narratives that reject diplomacy, compromise and co-operation between opposed forces, preferring instead to solve problems with overwhelming force.

In this context, the casting of a former Israeli soldier, who participated in Israel’s war against Lebanon in 2006, and who supported and praised the Israeli Defense Forces in their pounding of Gaza in mid-2014, as the superhero Wonder Woman in a film of the same name in 2017 takes Hollywood and the superhero movie genre to a new low. Hollywood’s use of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman represents a tacit acceptance of Israel’s ongoing war against the Palestinians and Lebanon. No wonder that Lebanon – admittedly after much prompting from its own activists – banned the screening of the Wonder Woman movie in its cinemas, in line with a law banning transactions that involve Israeli partners which “normalise” or implies acceptance of past Israeli actions or policies that oppress Palestinians and people living in territories neighbouring Israel.

In this interview hosted by Electronic Intifada, reporter Nora Barrows-Friedman speaks with academic and activist Rania Masri who explains why the ban on “Wonder Woman” is a boycott and not an example of censorship. Masri calls attention to the settler movement in Israel which continually encroaches on Palestinian lands and forcibly ejects Palestinians from them with approval and support from the Israeli government. She also reminds listeners that Israel also threatens people in the Shebaa Farms region in southern Lebanon bordering Israel, and people in Syria’s Golan Heights region. Masri then turns her fiery ire onto the English-language press which has deliberately misrepresented the Lebanese ban on “Wonder Woman” as censorship and left out the context surrounding the Lebanese decision.

Masri emphasises that the people now known as Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians were one before World War I and were separated when their lands were divided and claimed by Britain and France as colonies in the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. It was as a result of this agreement that the Zionist movement in Palestine, enabled by the British who thought to use the Zionists as their sheriffs in the Middle East to keep watch over the Arab peoples, took deeper root especially after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, eventually giving rise to the founding of Israel in 1948 after the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem by the Irgun terrorist gang in that year. How galling it would be for Lebanese audiences to watch a film in which the star is not only a former soldier and a proud patriot of a country that still seeks to destroy Lebanon, but is also a reminder of the forced separation of the Arabs in the Levant which deliberately weakened them and subjected them to a subservient role in their own lands.

Left out of Masri’s argument is other reasons why films like “Wonder Woman” are propaganda: they help promote the idea of the United States as an exceptional nation, as they espouse values and behaviours considered typically American, with the result that those who resist the US must want to destroy all that the US supposedly represents and defends; and they flatten history, especially recent history, and drain it of context so it has nothing to teach audiences or to encourage them to think about what they have seen. Masri could have included these reasons in her criticism but perhaps time did not permit and Barrows-Friedman had quite a list of questions to ask her.