This week Mary and guest blogger Bryana Fern share their thoughts on Wonder Woman. Mary tackles her prejudices against the character in general (and boy did she have a few prejudices), while Bryana tackles why the film is so important for women, but also for the superhero genre in general.
We want to hear your thoughts about Wonder Woman, too! Shoot us an email or tweet or find us on Facebook to let us know what you thought of the film and how Wonder Woman has been important to you.
“I need an entire movie about the Amazons and how they do all this super tough equestrian battle.”
I’ve found myself saying this over and over to anyone that asks for my opinions on the new Wonder Woman film. Truthfully, I’ve avoided saying much more than, “Sure, I really liked it,” or “it’s really different from other superhero films.” For a few days after seeing Wonder Woman, I couldn’t articulate my hesitation to wholeheartedly love the film. As Bryana mentions in her take on the film, several scenes gave me chills, chills I knew stemmed from never before seeing a woman be so unanimously tough and powerful on screen. After all, how many Batman movies, or Avengers movies, have there been where women are treated as an afterthought or sexy sidekick? Even superhero movies starring women--like the horrendous Catwoman or Elektra--have focused on how the women operate as sex objects, slinking around in their catsuits and playing, in large part, the hot villainess. If it isn’t clear, that’s not what Wonder Woman is about at all.
Let’s step back for a moment, though. Why am I so hesitant to jump headfirst into Wonder Woman fandom? It all starts with a man. A man named William Moulton Marston.
Marston created Wonder Woman in the early 1940s and continued overseeing her character development long enough for DC comics to get annoyed with how he wrote the character. Most issues featured Wonder Woman as the victim of her captors, tied up with the lasso of truth or chains, legs and arms spread wide in submission or bound in more alluring poses.
And this was the image of Wonder Woman I was most familiar with. In an intro to comics class in college, my professor (the wonderful Dr. Michael Pemberton at Georgia Southern University. His class on comics history and writing comics completely changed the course of my research by letting me know that looking closer at pop culture was a good thing. This class was amazing, and I even wrote a song about it at one point) told us a brief bit about Marston (I’m guessing as much as he was allowed to say by our conservative administrators) and showed us images of early Wonder Woman comics like the ones featured in this blog post. The entire class squirmed in their seats, uncomfortable at how different these images were from covers of Batman or Superman. Those were heroes in strong poses, saving people. Wonder Woman was often trying to save herself as much as she was trying to save others, it seemed.
And that is the image that stuck with me for years. Wonder Woman as submissive sex object made by a man to make other men happy (and undoubtedly aroused).
When I sat down to write this blog post, I was prepped to say my worst about Marston and the early version of Wonder Woman while praising Patty Jenkins and her feminist, forward thinking representation of a superheroine. But Wonder Woman talks a lot about love and respect for humans, both in the comics and in the 2017 film. I think she would want me to give Marston a fair shake, out of love for my fellow man.
After doing some research for this blog, I’ve changed my opinions on Marston (just a little bit). Here are some facts we all need to know about him:
-He invented the lie detector, which might give us some insight into the lasso of truth.
-His wife, Elizabeth, was actually the person to tell Marston he needed to create a female superhero. Marston said that he wanted this new hero to promote love and teach educational lessons (since many kids read comics). Elizabeth famously said, “Fine, but make her a woman.” Elizabeth sounds like a badass.
-Elizabeth and William lived with another woman, Olive Byrne, in an open relationship. After Marston died, Elizabeth and Olive continued living together.
-Marston publicly acknowledged that girls do not want to identify with female characters as long as these characters “lack force.” He believed female characters needed to be strong to encourage young girls.
He also believed people should learn to love being tied up, so mixed messages there.
I went to the theater with the image of a bound Wonder Woman, a weak Wonder woman in my mind. That’s not (thankfully) what I found in this film. Instead, I saw Gal Gadot bring a strong, vigilant, and most importantly kind superhero to life.
Even a week after seeing the film, I hold true to my initial reaction. I really enjoyed it. I loved the Amazons. I loved Diana’s costume and the way she displayed her raw power. I felt chills seeing powerful women getting stuff done on the battlefield.
And I completely forgot about how I felt about Marston, how I felt about the 1940s Wonder Woman I knew.
Characters live beyond their creators, they grow and morph throughout the decades (if they’re lucky enough to last that long), and Wonder Woman has significantly changed over the years, growing in her feminist message and providing an example of strength and, more important than anything else, love, for her readers.
Many audiences and critics, including celebrities, have written extensively, just within the first five days of the film’s release, about how much the new Wonder Woman film means to them. In particular, many women are talking about the emotional experience of watching Diana fight her enemies. And not just Diana--Robin Wright’s Antiope has caused waves now that our Princess Buttercup has grown up to become a General, fierce, strong, kind, and wise, with wrinkles of experience and battle scars of survival. If there’s one thing many people have decided, it’s that we need our own Themyscira film, because we need more Antiope.
Antiope is the one who made Diana what she is, in many ways. Through Diana’s battles, Antiope lives on. The hashtag #NoMansLand has already gone viral as a unifying scene for many viewers. It’s certainly true that the way in which Diana fights battles and defends herself has struck a major chord with women who are seeing something they didn’t realize they needed to see. One of the reasons we never realized we needed Diana is because we’ve been denied her for so long. This film is 76 years in the making—a fact that is simply unacceptable. Lynda Carter made leaps and strides for us, that’s undeniable; but the fact that this film with a female superhero lead, directed by a woman, is only coming out now speaks to the serious misrepresentation in a closeted misogynistic Hollywood, as director Patty Jenkins testifies to herself. The fact that the film has already taken its place as the #1 movie in the world since its release last week, and has broken records as the first major superhero film directed by a woman to do so—not to mention the unrelenting support and positive response from audiences and critics alike—is more than enough supporting evidence to show the ramifications of this film’s impact. It is undeniable that the heart of this film is the female warrior, a concept that transcends culture and race and age. The viral pictures of little girls dressed as Diana for the premiere (some dressed up with their mothers in a beautiful rendition of mother-daughter strength) speaks to the power of the female warrior. And it is those fight scenes, spectacularly orchestrated and executed, that speak most to this image.
I will admit that the No Man’s Land scene gave me chills. Diana steps out and begins deflecting bullets like she’s swatting away flies. She doesn’t even realize the danger of the situation. She doesn’t care. She smiles when she blocks the grenade, just as Antiope smiled when leading the cavalry charge on the beach. She gets it. This is her first big moment to shine. This is what she is here to do, just as she told Steve before climbing out of the trenches. When she lowers her frame to the ground, leaning into her shield as the machine guns rage harder, gritting her teeth and digging her heels into the mud, I experienced some serious chills.
I can definitely understand celebrity tweets like Elizabeth Banks’ “#NoMansLand is my everything” and Bryce Dallas Howard’s “Sobbing in the cinema. Now living in a post- #WonderWoman life. #GameChanger.” And you know what? Suffering Sappho, I’m going to share the entire tweet from Lupita Nyong’o just because:
“Ok people, I just left the theater and KNOW for CERTAIN that the GODS have seen fit to BLESS us with #WONDERWOMAN. W.O.W. It is a superhero movie like none I have ever seen. Epic. FUN. Engaging. Stylistically Captivating. Funny in an honest, not-trying-too-hard way. Witty. Smart. Perfect length. Fierce. Sensual. Just amazing. @Gal_Gadot will glue you to the screen and at the same time make you want to run to the nearest costume shop to get your W on and join the #GODESSNESS right away (W = #WomanWarriorOfTheWorld). Director #PattyJenkins IS NOT PLAYING AROUND, as she gives us some AMAZON REALNESS in an exquisitely directed story. Chris Pine is irresistable. The score is KILLER. And it is the type of film that I think you can enjoy over and over. This movie definitely goes down as a classic in its genre for me. @wonderwomanfilm #RunAndGoSeeIt #HadToGush#PromotionFromTheHeart.”
For many viewers, like Lupita, No Man’s Land was the scene that pushed them over the edge in these feelings. What started with Antiope on the beach culminated here. For me, however, the actual scene that had me in a state of utter sublimity was the final portion of the fight against Ares. This is where she truly becomes Wonder Woman and not just Princess Diana. This is where everything comes together and she realizes her full potential in a way that she wasn’t able to in every moment prior. She thought she’d defeated Ares, but she realized that man itself was the true harbinger of evil. “I killed Ares. They can stop fighting now,” she tells Steve. “Why are they still fighting?” It is a heartbreaking scene of realization for her where she questions everything she left Themyscira for. And when she fights the real Ares (admit it, we were all screaming, “Lupin, no!”), all of those emotions are still at the forefront of her mind. “It’s not about deserve,” she tells him. “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” She echoes Steve’s words as Ares tries to trick her into destroying humanity, the humanity that took her first companion from the outside world, the first companion who she realized has the same capacity for all the evil they’re fighting. “Maybe it’s me,” Steve even told her. She understands that for the first time.
And it’s soul crushing.
And when she watches Steve’s plane explode in the night sky, the emotions become overwhelming. She does not come to her full power because of Steve. Let me be clear on this, because some have argued that Steve is the real reason behind Diana’s success. Yes, he is the one who brought her from Themyscira, who brought her to the war, who fell in love with her, etc. But let’s face it. The war was coming to Themyscira anyway, as both Antiope and Hippolyta warned. Diana was stubborn since she was a child. She was going to find a way off Paradise Island and into the war with or without Steve’s help. And when he sacrificed himself, it did not spur her on because he was her lover now dead. It was so much more than that. “I can save today,” he said to her. “You can save tomorrow.” Ever since coming into our world, Diana was bombarded with new experiences, new truths, new horrors. To see Steve sacrifice himself represented the sacrifice all of them were making, and the goodness that they were all fighting for. There are consequences for fighting. And she is the only hope. Now, she embraces that.
Now, she embraces herself.
As she races through the fire with newer, faster speed than ever before, wiping through soldiers with unrelenting agility and strength, that is when I became emotional. When she roared, not in anger, but in pure power and righteous action, that is when I got chills. And when she gathers Ares’ lightning on her bracelets, rolls it like a toy, and smiles Antiope’s smile again, that is when I knew she knew. Because then, then in that glorious stance that all Wonder Women know, she crosses her bracelets. That is when I pumped my fist high in the theater and yelled “YEAH!” That is when the tears came for me, as I was still grinning like a five-year-old. Her eyes are closed. Her face is calm. Her head is bowed. In that moment, she is pure serenity, grace, wisdom, and authority.
She is wonderful.
She is not just fighting Ares. She is fighting for love. And that is what enables her to reach the full potential of her powers. Not because she’s taking revenge, but because she’s enacting change. Director Patty Jenkins describes this best when saying why it should not be a negative thing for a hero to fight for love: “I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. […] I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind.” Indeed, people are picking up on this, which goes back to the whole response of people saying they didn’t realize how much they needed Wonder Woman’s sincerity until they saw it. Jenkins was adamant that she was not directing a female superhero movie specifically: “I wasn’t directing a woman, I was just directing a hero, and that freed me up to go broader with her personality than someone might be able to do if they were afraid to make her vulnerable and loving and warm, and not always right, which is absolutely imperative to a leading character.” This vulnerable love is what makes her lasting as a character and as a superhero with actual stamina beyond the battlefield.
She is a character in our society now who has embraced us and joined us. She is one of us.
One blogger, Carly Lane, writes, “When we get a glimpse of her a hundred years later in scenes that bookend the film, she’s continued to maintain that optimism despite the passage of time. It’s a heartening conclusion when juxtaposed against the brooding male heroes she’s frequently ranked against; out of all of them, Wonder Woman is one of the few who continues to put her faith in the people she’s protecting rather than being motivated by a need for vengeance.” That is why that final scene with the iconic bracelets means so much to me. Those powers are hers, and she is embracing them fully in a sincere—and still vulnerable—confidence that is simply beautiful to behold. As Lane concludes in her article, “Thanks to this film, we get to meet a superhero who we can really believe in. And who believes in us, too, even if we may not deserve it.” That is why the choice to continue fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves is so revolutionary. That is why that final scene is so empowering. She chooses mercy for Dr. Poison. She chooses mercy for us all. Because she is fighting for goodness and love, she is able to embrace a power greater than the potential for evil she glimpsed even within herself. That is why she is someone we can look up to. That is why she is someone we can be, even though we are not Amazonian goddesses.
Because of Diana, we can all be Wonder Women.
We would like to thank Bryana Fern for guest blogging this week! You can check out more of her work over at Women at Warp.
About the Blog
The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.