In the December issue of “Empire,” the 2016 Warner Bros. film “Suicide Squad” is profiled, with various covers, information and photos of the various characters, and commentary from the film’s writer and director David Ayer.
Based on a group of supervillains forced into government service as a unit designated Task Force X, “Suicide Squad” shows a more secretive area of the DC Comics cinematic universe, personified in the character of Amanda Waller.
A Black female government official played by Emmy award-winning actress Viola Davis from ABC’s hit series “How To Get Away With Murder,” Amanda Waller has to use extreme measures to get the criminals of the world under her thumb, one of which includes subdermal explosives.
If any member of Task Force X acts outside of Waller’s guidelines during a mission, she has the means to get away with long-distance murder and remove that villain from employment.
This is, in part, what David Ayer had to say about Amanda Waller:
“…Bad versus evil is a lot more interesting. And Amanda Waller is the worst there is.”
The clear implication is that Waller is an evil person in comparison with stone-cold killers, sociopaths and people who make money simply from killing other people.
It’s a provocative sound bite, and until we see the film it’s impossible to know if that statement truly matches the depiction of Waller in the film, or if it’s meant to generate interest to help ensure a high attendance in movie theaters when “Suicide Squad” drops.
I’d like to think Ayer does not make statements lightly, and this one is a drive-by demonization of a Black female character, so it made me think about what it takes to make a Black woman in America “…the worst there is.”
Viola Davis is 50 years-old, older than the DC Comics version of Amanda Waller, so let’s say Amanda Waller is the same age.
A Black woman in America would have encountered various social obstacles in the last 50 years, from childhood forward.
A likelihood of growing up in conditions of poverty, to start.
The Civil Rights Movement came with the beating, imprisonment, and murder of Black women, on the part of operatives working for authority structures.
Women like Angela Davis and Assata Shakur were activists and revolutionaries, eventually branded as criminals, later to become fugitives.
Such were the punishments of speaking and protesting against a government ruled by a Caucasian patriarchal structure.
Waller would note this, and not become an outspoken radical.
The fight on the part of Black families and communities to emerge and grow in the ’70s would suffer the setback of the Crack epidemic of the ’80s, leading to America’s “War on Drugs.”
The following excerpt from an ACLU paper titled “Facts About The Over-Incarceration of Women In The United States” states:
Over the past 20 years the war on drugs has caused significant rise in the number of women incarcerated and their access to adequate drug treatment.
40% of criminal convictions leading to incarceration of women in 2000 were for drug crimes
34% were for other non-violent crimes such as burglary, larceny, and fraud
18% of women in prison have been convicted because of violent conduct
7% were for public order offenses such as drunk driving, liquor law violations and vagrancy
Waller would note this, and see the growing power of the American Prison Industrial Complex, and how it treats women.
The last four decades would reveal an increase of women entering the Armed Forces.
A 2011 study from The Pew Research Center titled “Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile” stated the following:
From 1973 to 2010 the number of active-duty enlisted women in the military has grown from about 42,000 to 167,000.
The current active-duty female force is more racially diverse than the male force. Nearly one-third (31%) of active-duty women are black compared with only 16% of men, and a smaller share of active-duty women than men are white (53% vs. 71%). While military women are less likely than their male counterparts to be married (46% vs. 58%)…
…women veterans are more critical than their male counterparts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-fully 63% say the Iraq war was not worth fighting and 54% say Afghanistan has not been worth it (compared with 47% and 39% of male veterans, respectively).
Waller would have seen all of this, and noted a potential career trajectory in the military, her White counterparts being less likely to get married, and the value of going against the grain by having a pro-war ideology.
From Waller’s birth, she would be conditioned by a national power structure, its assault on women, people and communities of color, indoctrination into said structure through the military alternative, and the trending behavior of women in the armed forces.
To excel in military and government circles, Waller would have to acclimate herself to the environment, becoming akin to the Dan Freeman character in Sam Greenlee’s 1969 novel “The Spook Who Sat By The Door,” and then she would have to adopt courageous, unconventional tactics and actions to be given any vestige of power.
She would have no husband, no lover, no children, no partner in life other than her job, with the achievement and maintenance of excellence.
Simply put, Amanda Waller is a product of the American System. She is its Black daughter, and if she is evil, as David Ayer said, then the power structure serving as her parent and mentor is equally, if not more so.
Amanda Waller walks through America, seeing how the Caucasian patriarchal structure regards Black females.
She would have her room of multiple television screens, watching various events as they unfold. Along with covert operations happening in real-time, Waller would see video footage of things like:
- Dajerria Becton, a Black female teenager wrestled to the ground by a police officer, knee pushed into her back while having her face pushed into the grass and dirt
- Sandra Bland, a Black woman forcefully apprehended by a traffic officer, and found hanged in her jail cell in a town ironically named Waller County.
- On October 15, a Black female teenager pulled forcefully out of her classroom, with an officer’s arm around her neck, getting slammed, thrown, and dragged like a rag doll.
Amanda Waller would see this, and know that she lives in a time of true villainy, with no sign of its end on the horizon.
Her decision would be to thrive on the inside, in a pit of vipers, and use bad people to accomplish some kind of relative good.
Every bomb she plants in the body of a villain, is the defense against the system that would like to do the same to her.
That is a possible portrait of Amanda Waller, the commander of a group of villains, a Suicide Squad.
It serves to reason that actress Viola Davis, having lived through poverty and discrimination for her gender, ethnic background, and complexion, has a deep, authentic understanding of Waller, and informed her with this understanding in her performance.
But when writer/director David Ayer says, “…Bad versus evil is a lot more interesting. And Amanda Waller is the worst there is,” That’s a gross over-simplification, even for a sound bite.
If he thinks Amanda Waller is the evil to compare to a bad, then he may need to watch the news and read newspapers.
Amanda Waller is a survivor, a person of power, and a Black woman.
Which are all one and the same.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.
His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.
Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.
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