I was heading to Ottawa for work on Monday and grumbling to myself over the predictably underwhelming airplane movie choices when I chanced upon a documentary I’d been trying hard to get my hands on since Geek Girl Con 2011: Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines.
Director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan discusses the history of Wonder Woman from her creation in the 1940s to today and looks at the impact she continues to have on female fans of all ages. She also connects the changing depictions of Wonder Woman and other women action heroines in pop culture to shifting social power dynamics.
It’s a great movie because it shows, even though there are still important critiques to be raised, just representing strong women in pop culture can make a big difference in real people’s lives.
I know fans have been arguing for some time that Wonder Woman deserves her own movie (she’s never before hit the big screen) but I didn’t fully feel I could claim that same hunger until I saw this documentary and realized what it felt like to have this one bad-ass woman character overlooked again and again while we get movie after movie about Superman or Batman, and that’s not even getting into the same issue with the gender imbalance in Marvel characters.
So I was pretty interested in today’s news that we’ll be seeing Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman by Zack Snyder. My initial reaction was a bit of disappointment because I still think she deserves her own movie, and because I doubt Zack Snyder’s commitment or maybe even ability to do the character justice.
I formed this opinion mostly based on how frustrated I was with Man of Steel. While other feminist geeks like Susana Polo at The Mary Sue liked Lois and Faora in Man of Steel, I was less than impressed. I thought Faora (Zod’s sidekick) was badass but very one-dimensional, and while Lois started off okay, she gets less independent as the film goes on.
There are other reasons to doubt. As Charlie James Anders says in her io9 article, “I still don’t want to see Zack Snyder’s take on Wonder Woman”:
After watching 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch and Man of Steel, there’s plenty that I admire about Snyder’s film-making. He’s great at creating arresting visuals, and he has a deep appreciation for the grammar of comic-book storytelling, creating splash pages on the screen.
But he has a problem with capturing real emotions, as opposed to surfaces, something the cold and depthless Man of Steel confirms. And he especially has a problem with female characters, because his love for pulp imagery leads him to explore women as fetish objects. It almost doesn’t matter if, as some have discussed, Snyder is trying to turn this fetishization on its head or show how it’s harmful — it still tends to dominate.
But you know what? This thing is happening so I think what needs to happen is to get optimistic and hope the message gets through that we, the fans, expect Wonder Woman to be treated with the respect she deserves. And maybe if it works out she can finally get a movie of her own.
Here is what I’m hoping to see in the representation of Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman, broadly speaking because I want to make sure these things are all achievable:
- She should have a fair amount of screen time. The way I’m defining this is that she needs to have a fair amount of screen time (I’m thinking at least as much time as Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman did in The Dark Knight Rises).
- She should be not just strong, but also complex. There’s a lot to play with in Wonder Woman’s character given her long history and how depictions have changed over the years. That means there’s room to make her a three-dimensional, complex character. At minimum, she should be more than a goddess-y love interest for Superman and/or a sexy sidekick for the male protagonists.
- She should have her own narrative arc. Basically, I’m saying I think Wonder Woman could make this movie pass the Mako Mori test, which would mean it would have to have: A) at least one female character; B) who gets her own narrative arc; C) that is not about supporting a man’s story. Granted, given it’s by its very title supposed to be about two men, maybe C is a long-shot. But there’s no reason Wonder Woman can’t at least have her own narrative.
- She should have a significant impact on the plot. When we leave the movie, we should be able to say the plot would not have worked or would’ve been hurt without Wonder Woman in it.
- Her costume could take a cue from some of the many awesome fan redesigns. I think partly because the the Wonder Woman fans felt so under-served by DC for so long, there’s a lot of online inspiration to draw on and it would be awesome to see a costume that thinks outside the box but keeps the classic elements.
Anything to add to my wishlist?
Now, in the meantime before Batman vs. Superman comes out, let’s all go back to watching Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines.