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.