Last weekend, I attended a protest. We were protesting the confederate monument in Forest Park–or rather, counter-protesting a “rally to defend American history”. Mainly because people cannot distinguish historicizing and memorializing–the difference between learning about a shameful part of our history in a museum or education facility and honoring that shameful part of history in a public park. But that’s another rant for another day.
There was triumph to that day, as we managed to shut down the rally. But there was also an intense weariness to it all. I witnessed a neo-Nazi assault a black man, one of our protesters pull the neo-Nazi off of him, and that protester got arrested. The neo-Nazi was not arrested until he tried it a second time. I witnessed people passing out KKK literature. One man joked about “shooting monkeys” and then tried to deny it. All of this occurred under the guise of patriotism and loving your country.
There was one point where I attempted to talk to someone about why we wanted the monument torn down or moved. Somehow, the conversation moved towards Syrian refugees and I told them that I believed in open borders–that we had a responsibility to help the widows and orphans. That there were people in need and that we can and should help them, no matter the risk.
As I said all this, there was one man who laughed at every word I said. Every time I talked about compassion, about the bravery of kindness, about how we should help everyone we could, he scoffed and laughed at me. I suppose what I was saying wasn’t very “America first”. But the more I talked, the more I became infuriated and disheartened by the absolute refusal to empathize with someone who wasn’t American or Christian. I finally snapped and yelled,
“WHY DON’T YOU CARE?!”
Fast forward to last night. My baby brother and I went and saw Wonder Woman, which was nothing short of phenomenal. I can’t laud it enough, and I’m generally apathetic towards superhero films. I actually got emotional during the film at odd moments–like during the Amazon battle sequence near the start of the film. There was something intensely amazing to see all these badass women fight in a non-sexualized way. (I SAW HAIRY ARMPITS!!!)
But I think the most powerful moment for me happened later on. Diana is in the trenches of WWI with Steve Trevor, he’s leading her towards where they need to go. Diana stops short, speaks with a woman, who tearfully tells her that her village has been completely razed. Furious, Diana demands the company stop so they can rescue the village. Steve tells her that they can’t save everyone in the war, that they have to keep moving. Beyond the trench is No Man’s Land, where no one can escape alive. It’s horrible, but they have to keep moving. The practical thing is to keep moving forward and to abandon the village.
But Diana refuses. She takes off her cape, climbs out of the trench, and starts down the path of No Man’s Land, in full Wonder Woman regalia. She is deflecting bullets, she has her sword and shield, she is unafraid and determined, staring in the face of people trying to kill her. Steve realizes she is taking all of the fire, and charges forward with the rest of his company.
It was around this point I started crying.
Somewhere around the time Diana was arguing with Steve that they should help the villagers, despite the foolhardly risk of it all, I immediately connected it with my conversation at the protest. Now obviously Steve Trevor has more respect for Diana than the man who scorned my idealism, but I felt this powerful kinship with Wonder Woman in that moment. Here was a strong, powerful, amazing woman who was arguing that no person should be sacrificed. That EVERYONE deserved to be saved. From the poor villagers in the film to the Syrian refugees. That love and compassion were worth the danger. It was this intense beautiful display of idealism and sincerity that moved me. There was no moment where Diana learns the hard gritty truth of the world, that belief in the goodness of humanity is weakness.
Rather, there is an entire subversion of that concept. There is a moment where Diana loses her faith midway–but it is restored in this indescribable moment of clarity and love. There’s a moment where she’s facing down the villain who tells her that humanity does not deserve her. She says to them, “It’s not about ‘deserve’. It’s about what we believe. And I believe in love.”
There is something intensely powerful and moving to me that love and optimism are showed as strengths rather than weaknesses. There is something deeply beautiful that Wonder Woman–who has so often been an inspiration to women–her strength comes from this passionate idealism and love for people. And it was a comfort that my belief that we should help others–from Syrian refugees, to minorities under an oppressive system, to everyone in need–is not a weakness. It is not a weakness to believe that we are strong by helping others. It is not stupid or naive to believe that love for others is worth the risk.
After all, Wonder Woman’s on our side.