Guys have Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Aquaman. The list is seemingly endless. But the few women superheroes have always been limited in their exposure. Even Wonder Woman, until now.
Female superheroes usually take a backseat to the male ones in movies, or their stories are only told on the small screen. Yes, we had the pink Power Ranger and the yellow Power Ranger. We had Storm, Catwoman, Supergirl, and Batgirl. But they weren’t at the forefront enough for many girls to even know of their existence, for anyone besides dedicated fans to know the female Power Rangers beyond their colours, and most of them were never given the chance to represent women in the way we want to see ourselves on the big screen.
Female superheroes from comic books that make it into films are usually reduced to cliches and/or sex objects, with little effort made to humanize them and give them as much depth as their male counterparts. In the Halle Berry “Catwoman,” the cat has more substance than she does. In “Batman & Robin,” the nipples on George Clooney’s batsuit have more depth than Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl. Even in “The Avengers,” Black Widow doesn’t get much screen time compared to some of her male costars.
Yes, 2017 — which kicked off with the Women’s March
— is the perfect year for a “Wonder Woman” movie, and it matters to women and to the film industry as a whole because it’s a big change. But a Wonder Woman movie after 76 years, and a summer blockbuster directed by a woman to boot, is only the first step in a long, tumultuous journey. It has come decades after it should have.
The thing that matters most about “Wonder Woman” is the portrayal of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince herself. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a fully realised character. She’s emotional, confident, yet also insecure. She has hope and she has fear. She can love and lust and she can feel sadness and joy. She’s not just a beautiful face or hot body kicking arse. She does have a beautiful face and hot body and she does kick arse, but that’s not the focus, as it has been for so many female superheroes before her.
With a female director (Patty Jenkins) behind the lens, Wonder Woman finally gets a story that women are proud of, and see themselves in. And this is how women want men to see them, too. The same connection a boy has to Batman or Superman (or one of the many others) is the same connection girls and women have seen in a character like Wonder Woman, but it’s never been shown on such a massive scale until now. Marvel has tried this in Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in “The Avengers” movies, but they barely have enough presence to scratch the surface.
In “Wonder Woman,” the typical female/male roles are reversed. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is a romantic interest but also a sidekick who needs some saving. It’s meaningful for women (and young girls) to see a woman capable of taking care of herself, and saving others. The romantic element between Diana and Steve doesn’t drive the story — it’s certainly not the only thing that drives Diana — and as opposed to what Black Widow gets in “Age of Ultron,” the romance is not the only thing she does in the movie.
“Wonder Woman” has started to make a slight impact on the industry, even just as it opens. It’s started (or restarted) an important conversation about women in film that’s been brewing for decades. But now it’s really in front of us, thanks to vocal director Patty Jenkins and actress Gal Gadot. And others, like Jessica Chastain, who recently called the portrayal of women in films at the Cannes festival “disturbing.”
“Wonder Woman” isn’t the only movie to make the conversation happen. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made a choice to have a female lead. So did “Rogue One.” We need more female leads like this, more female screenwriters and more female directors, but that’s not where to start. The film industry needs more women in positions of power: more female producers and executives, like Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, who will have themselves represented the way they want to be seen. More women with the power to choose who tells those stories is the next step to providing half of the world’s population more Diana Princes, more Reys, and more Jyn Ersos. “Wonder Woman” is a great start, but it’s just the beginning.
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