Trish Heinrich

Mother, Author, Hero

Category: Pop Culture

The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful: Wonder Woman (Part Three)

And now for the Good in Wonder Woman.  We’re talking tears down my face, pumping my fist into the air and feeling like an Amazon GOOD!

The power of a movie like this.

 

When I came home from seeing this movie, I could barely speak. I could only cry. I felt so stupid at first. Who cries throughout an action film. Then afterward in their car. Then all the way home.  And then when she gets home too?

The Answer: Women who’ve waited for decades for a female superhero film like this, that’s who. And it’s not just that simple, actually. There have been female superhero films before. Supergirl, Catwoman, Electra, Barb Wire. But these films suffered from a lack of understanding of their source material and a lack of respect for the hero herself. With the exception of Supergirl, these films were created from and for the male gaze.

Wonder Woman was not.

For the first time, we have a superhero film that not only wasn’t created from or for the male gaze, but the people working on it knew and respected their source material. They appreciated the differences a female hero is supposed to bring to the story, and they made those differences heroic.

Wonder Woman is arguably, the best female superhero film yet .   And please, notice I specifically said SUPERHERO. I know that we’ve had female heroes for decades, Ripley, The Bride, Sarah Connor, Red Sonja, Thelma and Louise, just to name a few. I’m not denigrating their legacy. I’m drilling down into genre specifics here.

Wonder Woman benefits from the female heroes in films that have come before her.  All of them made me feel powerful and strong as a woman. But there’s something different when it comes to Superheroes.

The Power of Superheroes

Superheroes have lasted as long as they have because there’s something about that genre that speaks to  us like no other story does. As Jennifer K. Stuller says in her book Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors  “…superhero stories are American culture’s modern expression of myth. Modern myth serves a function similar to that of ancient myth, namely, telling stories helps us make sense of our lives.”

Mythology in ancient cultures were primarily religious stories about Gods and Goddesses and their interactions with us.  Perhaps, then, superhero stories are actually a kind of spiritual experience, touching a part of us that is rarely stirred by other kinds of stories.

If this is true, then taking a genre that has that kind of power and making it about one narrow group of people, makes everyone else feel cut off from the power of these stories.  “In.. Spider-Man 2, Aunt May tells…Peter Parker that she believes ‘there’s a hero in all of us.’ If this is true, what happens to our social consciousness if the presence of our mythic heroes is-and has always been-overwhelmingly male?…I often wonder where our Wonder Women are.” (Jennifer K. Stuller Ink Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors.)

I do feel something when I see Peter Parker become Spider-Man or Steve Rogers become Captain America.  But it’s nothing to what I felt when I saw Wonder Woman charge into No Man’s Land and take all that gunfire, then lead a group of soldiers.

Women felt uplifted in a way we never had before because we watched this modern myth with a female hero at the helm. In that moment, we were no longer just women. We were Women. Powerful. Warriors. Princesses. Heroes.

The fact that so many people were touched by this film should serve to highlight how much we need representation in this genre. Not just for women, but for people of color, the disabled, and the LGBTQ community. It’s well past time for the superhero film industry to stop catering to the few and start making quality films that represent our vast, beautiful world.

The age old argument that such representation won’t make any money, has been blown out of the water by Wonder Woman. And if enthusiasm for Black Panther is any indication, that film will also destroy the lame argument studios have been using.  Not only is there an audience for more diverse superhero films, but there is a societal necessity for it. The more we see diversity in the foreground of these films, the more we normalize it until it no longer is shocking or surprising or anything except, well, normal.

And that would be a truly, wonderful, powerful, awesome thing.

The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful: Wonder Woman (Part Two)

Part Two of my three part series on the Wonder Woman movie. Now we get to talk about:

The Beautiful

After seventy-six years, and a lot of wishing and hoping, we finally get Wonder Woman on the big screen. And what’s awesome is that we truly did get a Wonder Woman film because the people making this movie understood, at some deep levels, the hero whose story they were telling.

Like a lot of women, this movie was emotional for me. I cry just thinking of certain scenes.  The fight in No Man’s Land, or the charge of the Amazons on the beach. Not to mention the end. Why did a superhero film make me cry while watching it? And why am I not alone in that? It’s a good question, a hard one to answer because it’s different and yet the same for each of us.   I agree with many of the women who are already writing about this that there is an emotional release because at last, we see that these stories aren’t just for male heroes, they are for any and all of us.

The feminine is heroic.

To me, this is the power of this film.  Seeing my daughter pump her fist in the air and want to be just like General Antiope (Robin Wright). To see my son clap his hands with glee when Wonder Woman battles heroically.  I could use every adjective I know and still, I would not come close to how I feel when I think of this film.

God! I’ve waited so long to see a female hero like this. Strong, beautiful, compassionate, loving, kind. Wholly a woman and wholly a hero. The two coexist in Wonder Woman as naturally as breathing, and no one doubts that it should be that way.

We have seen so many sister heroes who have had to justify their strength and showcase their feminity in ways that weaken them as characters, heroes, and people. We have seen them reduced to sidekicks, to have to be one thing for all women. And even though Diana is one woman, we get to see her Amazonian sisters alongside her for the first twenty minutes or so of the movie. They are of all shapes and sizes, all skin hues. They are young. They are older. They are all completely female and completely heroic.

I didn’t realize it at first, but most of the Amazons are portrayed by athletes, the real-life superheroes of our world. And watching it a second time in one weekend I could see the strength, grace, courage, and grit that made them heroes in the real world.  They were, individually and as a whole, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen on film.

For Wonder Woman, Love is the most Powerful

Wonder Woman is arguably one of the most powerful heroes in all of DC, and she uses her powers with compassion and love. Really, that’s the theme of the movie: Power used with Love.  It’s profound, especially in our worldwide political climate. She sees the suffering of mankind, and is told again and again by the men around her “You can’t do anything, this isn’t our mission.” And, finally fed up with it, does what her heart and soul tell her to. In the process, she inspires an army of men and saves a village of innocent people.   She is clear-eyed and sure in her purpose, no matter the naivete that she carries with her. When faced with the shattering of deeply held beliefs and heartbreak she doesn’t respond with anger or vengeance, she chooses to love.

 

Was the film perfect? No, but it was damn close.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful: Wonder Woman

I have a lot to say about Wonder Woman, too much for just one blog post. So, I am going to write a series of three: One about the Good. One about the Bad. And one about the Beautiful.

Let’s start with:

The Bad

In the past two weeks there have been many criticisms about Wonder Woman. A lot of it has centered around the feminism and the lack of representation in the film. I’ve read some of the criticisms, not all.  I’d like to focus on two that really stopped and made me think.

*SPOILERS AHEAD!!!*

1-Dr. Poison gets off too easy

This is one has taken many forms. Some think that a psychopath should just be killed and mercy isn’t an option. Some have said it was anti-feminist and compared Dr. Poison’s treatment by Wonder Woman to Ludendorf’s. Some have said that it contributes to the societal judgment of those with scars.  But this criticism from Black Girl Nerds.  is the one I want to focus on. Out of all of them, it’s the one that’s stuck with me.

Before we begin, let me say that I in no way intend to call bullshit on the experiences of people of color in this country. Though I am a woman, I still have lived from a place of privilege because of my skin color. I need to take what people of color say seriously, to give it thought and examine why it makes me uncomfortable. That’s what I’m trying to do here. I would like very much to find a balance where I can disagree about the interpretation of a piece of art without taking anything away from the experiences of a person of color. I have no idea how to accomplish that because very often white women step in it, whether we mean to or not.

Personally, I see the scene in question as a key moment in the film. It shows us the core of who Wonder Woman has always been: A hero who operates out of mercy and compassion, not hate or judgment. What Ares was asking of her was to judge and execute. That is not who Wonder Woman is. Now, I’m not saying the writers at BGN know less than me about Wonder Woman or anything like that, and if that’s how this comes across, I am very, very sorry. I am only using the history of the character to explain why I believe this scene was a simple, yet profound, character moment for Wonder Woman. That’s all. But, I am also seeing it through the eyes of a white woman, and my experiences are very different from women of color

The argument in the BGN article was that this scene is white supremacist propaganda. The author of the article, TaLynn Kel, expresses it much better than I could:

“There is a problem with showing the active decision to spare a cruel killer. For that killer to be a white woman, the most underestimated agent of racism, is white supremacist propaganda….The reason this stands out so sharply for me is because of how often we, Black people and POCs, are encouraged to be lenient when white women’s transgressions are revealed. How we are conditioned to look at white women as above wrongdoing when we have clear examples of them actively participating in racist acts that can and have led to Black people’s, Black children’s deaths.”

Ouch, in a big way.

I can not argue with her social criticism, not one bit. We do get a pass as white women. And then we whine and argue when a person of color points it out. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with this.  But it doesn’t mean we should ignore it or make excuses about why we get to be this way.

I’ve done that, I will admit. I do get angry when someone tries to lump me in with the women who voted for the orange piece of trash in the White House because he represents everything I am against. But a better reaction would be to stop and ask how I contributed to a society that would allow him to get there in the first place.

Again, OUCH.

So, what to do?

There’s a lot of possible answers to that question. In this instance, it’s not dismissing what she says just because it made me uncomfortable . The fact that it made me feel this way was a sure sign that I needed to examine what she was saying.

Her article was a good reminder that I need to be aware that there are other lenses to see things through. I may not agree with everything someone says, but I can be open to hearing their side of it nonetheless. In the process, I just might learn a thing or two.

2-Feminist? Yes. Intersectional? No.

If you are a white woman like me, you saw the diversity on Themyscira and thought “Holy Cow, that’s awesome! Look at all those different women! Women of color, women of diverse sizes and beauty! Look at the older women kicking ass!”  But an article from Bustle made me rethink that a bit.  Yes, there was a diverse group of women on the Island. And yes, it was amazing to see all those female bodies doing so many amazing things during the training scenes and the beach battle. But, those women of color had few lines, and none were named. I did hear someone refer to one as “Nubia”, which I geeked out about, but Nubia didn’t have any lines. In the comics, Nubia was Wonder Woman’s sister. But here, she was just another face in the crowd.

There were many things that could’ve been done to remedy this without changing the core story. We could’ve seen Nubia talk with Diana as she considered leaving Themyscira. There could’ve been a scene with Antiope and her lover Menalippe, even just a few gestures, hand holding, a kiss.  Some women of color in the honor guard that Hippolyta has with her would’ve been good.

When Diana leaves the Island, anyone of color disappears off the face of the earth.  I had thought, like many, that this was just historically accurate. But I was wrong.  London would’ve had a significant population of color, and there were soldiers of color fighting on the front lines. There could’ve been more women in general present as well. We don’t see any nurses after Diana leaves London.  And though I loved her troupe of misfits, why couldn’t one of them be a woman?

We hear a lot about the need for women in positions of power in Hollywood, but I’d like to take it a little further.

I once heard a male showrunner and writer say that the problem isn’t that males are anti-female, it’s just that they write, unthinkingly, from what they know. I would like to think that the women behind Wonder Women just didn’t think about the lack of representation. That maybe they just didn’t see it. If that’s the case then there’s something that can be done about this going forward.  If there were more people of color and people from the LGBTQ community in positions of power, then we would see more diversity in film.  So really, the issue isn’t just that we need more women in Hollywood, we need more DIVERSITY.

Wonder Woman was in no way perfect, what film is? And these two things aren’t the only criticisms possible. They just happened to be the two that affected me the most. What was it about Wonder Woman that you thought could’ve been better? Different? Do you agree with these two criticisms as they apply to the film?  I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment or email me at trish@trishheinrich.com

 

A New Urban Fantasy Hero to Love

Unleash (Spellhounds Book One) by Lauren Harris

I will admit that I have become burned out on Urban Fantasy. I often find it predictable, recycling the same old magic systems, problems, etc.

While Unleash does have some familiar elements, it still managed to fee fresh and exciting.

Here’s a little about the book from the author’s blurb before we go on.

Helena Martin doesn’t know who she hates more, the sorcerers who fired the magic laced bullet or the gang-lord master who used her mother as a shield. It’s not the price she expected for escaping magical slavery, nor is the unstable power now pulsing in her veins.

Caught between her former master’s hunters and the Guild of Sorcerers determined to kill them, she finds a safe haven at a dog rescue willing to take in a different kid of stray. But Helena’s newly-unleashed power is a beacon for her enemies. And they’re threatening the first place she’s ever thought of as home.

 I give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and here’s why

So yes, there are some elements here I’ve seen before. The difference? In the execution. The book starts off at break neck pace, doesn’t slow for several chapters. When it finally did I felt like I’d been running a marathon.  There are calm moments that are interrupted by fights, attacks and the unveiling of truth. The pacing and structure was spot on and only fell to explaining things once. Which in a book with a unique magic system, is pretty impressive.

And yes, you read that right, I said unique magic system.  I have become so bored with magic systems that were either too complex because the author was in love with their world building.  Or so simple that there were giant logical holes in the system that it was part of the reason I stopped reading the genre. This magic system, however, is based on Mandalas working with different metals; iron, gold, etc. And, since blood has iron, there is also a type of magic where you can use Mandalas and blood. The scene where the history of this is explained could’ve verged on the info dumping side if the author hadn’t built up to that moment the way she did. I didn’t care that I was getting a little history lesson because I was nervous about what the Guild was going to do the hero I had become very invested in. As well as just knowing that the bounty hunters were probably about to attack.

And that leads me to our hero: Helena Martin

I’ll admit that I also have been tired of the beautiful, thin and all powerful hero in Urban Fantasy. While Helena is pretty, thin, white and does have unique power, she is clueless about how to use it and so the author uses that as an opportunity to teach us a little about the magical system and about Helena too. The kind of childhood that Helena has had means she doesn’t trust anyone easily. She’s secretive, suspicious and scared. Instead of neatly resolving all of this so that Helena can boink the cute Korean guy quicker, or dumping it because it would be easier to write (like I’ve seen other authors do), the author full on embraces it. We see Helena’s painful PTSD, we see her inability to grieve for those she’s lost, the fear of trusting, the fear of bringing pain and death to anyone she might begin to care for. The author uses the past she’s given Helena to take us on that journey with her. It’s awesome, and even a little frustrating because I just wanted her to kiss the cute Korean guy already! By the time we reach the end of the book, though, I felt that Helena’s journey was all the more satisfying because of how true to the character the author stayed.

Even though Helena as a  white female is nothing new, the author surrounds her with a diverse cast of characters. The already mentioned Korean guy, a curvaceous lesbian, a woman with mental health struggles, an East Indian a sorceress, and a mixed race woman who runs a dog rescue.  I loved seeing the real world represented so well, without stereo types. In fact, there is much poking fun of said stereo types.

I also loved the ever present menace of the villain, who is “on screen” for very little time. The Guild was far more present, as well as the creepy bounty hunters. We see him at the beginning and the end, but I felt his presence throughout the entire book. I’ve seen other authors try to pull off something like this.  But they only succeeded in making it all feel clunky and over done. Not so here. I knew that this guy was haunting her every step, even when she thought he was dead.

One of the only things that kept me from giving it five stars was the formatting. There were some serious issues at certain points. These included key pieces of dialogue missing or combined with another characters, which made it difficult to figure out what was happening. There was also extra words in sentences that stopped my flow of reading. Sometimes this happened in the middle of a really tense moment. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of a handful of such things, but this was a rampant problem throughout the book and became frustrating by the end.

Overall, I would highly recommend this to anyone who is or has been a fan of Urban Fantasy.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Ode to a Hero: Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher

 

How do I wrap my head around the passing of a woman who meant so much to me?  A woman I never met outside of her movies, books and interviews? It feels like losing that Aunt you look forward to seeing every year at Christmas. The one who speaks truth no matter who it offends, who believes in you no matter what crazy dreams you want to pursue. The one who has had the kind of life people only live in books.

Growing up I had two women I could look up to in my vast consumption of media. Two women who had agency and courage. Two women who were Heroes.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

Carrie Fisher-Princess Leia

Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter)

Lynda Carter-Wonder Woman

I’d memorized every line of the original Star Wars trilogy. To this day I can tell you where the laser disc stopped and you had to switch it out for the next one. It was always assumed that my youngest brother was the Star Wars fanatic. But no one seemed to notice how little I protested when he wanted to watch one of them for the thousandth time.

Princess Leia was beautiful, brave, and smart. She didn’t take any shit from anyone, even Darth Vader! She stood up to the Empire all alone on the Death Star even though it cost her planet, she shot a blaster, and she killed a Hut.

Carrie Fisher was a lot like Princess Leia, but she was also more. She was funny, man was she ever! Her self deprecating humor was brilliant, and when she wasn’t lampooning herself, her barbed wit was dead on. She was a little filthy, and she didn’t care who it offended. She had demons who drove her into the ground, but she got back up again and again. She was intelligent and driven.

Her critics threw it all in her face. Her mental health problems, her drug and alcohol abuse, and the way age changed her body.  I’m sure it hurt, I’m sure that there were many times she was deeply wounded by the things people said.

But Ms. Fisher didn’t let that stop her. No way! Like the role she’d immortalized, Carrie Fisher kept going. She found a way and in the end came out stronger, more brilliant and admired than any of her detractors. In other words: She spun the shit they flung at her into solid gold.

Her honesty about her flaws, and her struggles with mental health and drug and alcohol abuse was incredibly brave. She spoke about these things at a time when no one dared; especially a celebrity.  Her honesty helped take the shame off of these issues so that we could all see the beauty of broken humanity.

One of the things I loved so much, was how she embraced the changes hard living and age had brought to her body. She turned the criticism of her appearance around onto those who spoke against her, skillfully illuminating the bullshit of ageism.

I first fell in love with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, but since I’ve grown to admire her as herself; warts and all. Because she showed me something to strive for: the courage and beauty of accepting yourself.

She left us way too soon, but at least while she lived, she lived as herself not who others wanted her to be. And that is something to celebrate. Something to emulate.

I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine there were many times she was tempted to lay down and stop. Who would’ve blamed her?

She didn’t seem capable of doing that, though. Carrie Fisher always got back up, she always seemed to go for it, even if the effort wasn’t graceful or couth.  I admire that too.

And so, this year, 2017, I am trying to tackle some things that scare and exhilarate me. And I may be tempted to give up. But when I am, when I may want to give in to fear, or pain or any number of things, I think what I’ll do instead is take a deep breath, give those obstacles the middle finger and blast them to hell.

Because I think that’s what Carrie Fisher would do.

What does this awesome woman mean to you? Did you ever meet her? Leave a comment below to continue the conversation. Or find me via my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

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