Wonder Woman hit a major milestone on Tuesday, when its North American box-office take topped $400 million. The film is now the highest-grossing film ever made by a female director and the third highest-grossing domestic release in Warner Bros. history.
Woohoo! Feminist #win! Think of all that money flying out of women’s paychecks and into the pockets of female actresses and a female director, keeping it in the sisterhood! And also, think of the way, way, larger sums of money going into the bank accounts of the right-wing billionaires who funded it!
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
It turns out that the feminist fave of the summer reportedly counts among its investors not just any rich dudes, but the literal Koch brothers. These are the men we can thank for the Tea Party, the funding of the “education reform” movement and organized opposition to Obamacare, and some of the most concerted efforts against environmental regulations the country has seen. They are some of the wealthiest men in the world, and they use their money to influence policies that protect the rich at the expense of the poor.
The Hollywood Reporter published a piece Wednesday morning describing Charles and David Koch’s “significant stake” worth “tens of millions of dollars” in RatPac-Dune Entertainment, which invested $450 million in 2013 to cover Warner Bros.’ entire slate of up to 75 movies over four years. That includes the “masterpiece of subversive feminism” that argues, according to the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg, that a world without misogyny “would be liberating and wonderful for men.” Post-Wonder Woman, misogyny is still around, but the success of the film has no doubt been liberating and wonderful for the men who funded it. (A Koch Industries spokeswoman gave THR the vague assurance that the brothers themselves and Koch Industries “do not have any involvement with this investment.”)
Full disclosure: I did not find Wonder Woman to be the tear-jerking feminist masterwork so many of my colleagues and contemporaries claim to have seen. To me, the movie baited women into the theater with some heavy-handed surface-level empowerment schtick, then gave us 180 minutes of jokes about how sexy half-dressed women are when they know how to fight. That normally wouldn’t have bugged me so much—blockbuster films are blockbuster films, and superhero movies are among the most formulaic of blockbuster genres—if critics and lay-viewers and men’s rights activists alike hadn’t made the movie out to be some kind of monumental step for womankind. Of course Wonder Woman wouldn’t star an average-looking bulked-up fighter, because they don’t look hot on movie posters. Of course the titular character would sleep with the first man she meets in her entire life, because otherwise people might think an athlete from an all-woman island was a lesbian.
I don’t think many, if any, of the people extolling Wonder Woman’s feminist bona fides believe that supporting the film meant they were supporting feminist causes in any significant way. Warner Bros. is not a nonprofit, and big profits are how big, splashy movies get made. But it’s just so rich to consider that the money it cost to send these little girls who “might make your heart explode” to see Wonder Woman now support the Koch brothers’ efforts to call climate science into question, making it measurably less likely that those little girls will grow up with a livable Earth to inhabit. The price we pay to see a woman kick ass with killer CGI effects is the continued electoral dominance of Koch-funded politicians who want to force women to give birth against their will. It’s no surprise—it’s how the system is designed. It’s what happens when unimaginable wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few white men looking out for themselves and their buddies. It’s called capitalism.
And under capitalism, in case you haven’t heard, there can be no ethical consumption. Every dollar spent in this messed-up marketplace supports exploitation, a fact that’s become even harder to swallow since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision allowed corporate entities to all but cast physical ballots for their preferred political candidates. The Koch brothers aren’t the first right-wing puppeteers to invest in a corporation that produces a seemingly feminist product, and Wonder Woman is far from the only girl-power movie to enrich men working hard to make the world a harder place for women to thrive.
In fact, one of the last blockbuster action movies with a woman in the leading role, Mad Max: Fury Road, was also funded by RatPac-Dune, the company that bankrolled Wonder Woman. One of the founders of that company, Steven Mnuchin, was the finance chair of Donald Trump’s campaign, donated $425,000 to the campaign and the Republican party to help him win, and now serves as his Treasury Secretary. In other words, if you bought a ticket to see Imperator Furiosa bust the heads of a bunch of sexual abusers, you may have helped America elect one.