Wonder Woman: A feminist in the war

Wonder Woman is the most successful DCEU’s movie in the US. The movie by Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s performance were heavily praised by critics and fans alike. While a great comic book movie it also tries to go bit beyond the fantastic world of superheroes. Read few comments about what separates Wonder Woman from many other comic book adaptations.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Credit: http://wonderwomanfilm.com/

Questions:

1. What kind of effect, (or maybe no effect at all?), might have a portrayal of Wonder Woman in the new successful movie on the general portrayal of women in the Hollywood movies, or maybe even on society?

2. It the current times of cynicism and  seemingly endless conflicts Wonder Woman is fighting the war to stop the conflict not just to defeat the enemy. Some observers see this as an important distinction. What is your take on this?

Answers:

Ruth McClelland-Nugent, Associate Professor of History, Department of History, Anthropology, and Philosophy, Deputy Director of Women’s and Gender Studies, Augusta University

1. The intention of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, was to show the world a new kind of hero; he believed strongly in the power of popular culture to influence opinion and hoped that Wonder Woman would help both girls and boys appreciate women’s leadership qualities and respect values that were, in 1942, considered traditionally feminine–kindness, compassion, and love. I can only imagine that he would be delighted by the success of this film, as it very much keeps those core characteristics of the character: someone who is strong physically but also has kindness and love in her heart. Will this portrayal change the way movie executives approach female heroes? It certainly can’t hurt for them to see that a story showcasing a female hero can be so financially successful, especially when she joins the successful Hunger Games films, which have already done well. As for society at large, I would argue that Wonder Woman has already had an effect–she was adopted by feminists in the 1970s as a beloved symbol, and indeed, was featured on the cover of the first issue of feminist publication Ms. magazine. The movie, of course, has reached a new generation. Both men and women seem to be loving it, which certainly suggests that perhaps Hollywood has underestimated its audiences.

2. Wonder Woman as an agent of peace has been a core part of the comic since its inception. In the original comic fromt eh 1940s, she and the Amazons are agents of Aphrodite (rather than Zeus as in the film) who is opposed to the god Mars (the Romanized form of Ares). They fight for the cause of love, truth, and compassion, against Mars, who is seen as the force of brute force, greed, and deception. In this way, the film gets back to the character’s roots as someone who believes in the human capacity to choose good over evil. The character is not cynical, despite seeing the worst of humanity. Considering how dark many superhero films have become, it is significant that audiences are responding to the film’s basic message of hope and light. Perhaps more than ever, this is something that people need to believe. I think the film’s deliberately international character also helps with this message. Although Wonder Woman is not an American, many of her past incarnations have been closely associated with the United States. In the film’s vision, she is not taking a side in the First World War so much as trying to stop war itself. At the end of the film we see German soldiers cheering her defeat of the god of war. Her small band of heroes includes the American Steve Trevor, but also an Egyptian, a Scotsman, and a Native American speaking Blackfoot (which is actually the native language of actor Eugene Black Rock, who is a Canadian), as well as the British Etta Candy. In the modern world, she lives in Paris, rather than New York or Washington DC. She is international rather than nationalist, an agent of compassion and understanding  in a world of cynicism and fear. Perhaps she is something that we need to believe in, more than ever.

Lisa Funnell, Assistant Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, University of Oklahoma, Co-author of  The Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond 

1. With the release of Wonder Woman, there seems to be (re)new(ed) excitement for action women in Hollywood. The film offers a compelling origin story that centers on the moral character of Diana. Since childhood, she wanted to be a warrior, secretly trained over many years, and emerges as a strong and capable fighter. More importantly, even as her skill set expands, her sense of moral purpose does not waver. In this way, she reminds me a lot of Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise. While Luke Skywalker and Han Solo run away from their heroic destiny, Princess Leia remains steadfast and firmly at the helm of the rebellion. Wonder Woman references this heroic archetype while developing a broader set of fighting skills.

Given its success at the box-office, Wonder Woman sends a message to Hollywood that greater diversity both in front of and behind the camera can be both popular and profitable! Patty Jenkins does a tremendous job with the film and offers us the opportunity to see an action woman through a female gaze. The film does not present moments of erotic contemplation in which the female body is placed on display for the sexual gratification of male characters who serve as screen surrogates for the viewer and instruct us to look at her. We tend to take action women less seriously when they are overtly sexualized and view them as love interests (i.e. that marriage is the ultimate goal) rather than simply heroes. Instead, Diana comes from a strong line of Amazon warriors and is set up to a hero rather than a love interest in the film. She is defined by her heroic actions and moral intent rather than her brief relationship with Steve Trevor. This shift is important.

2. In Wonder Woman, Diana is such a compelling hero because she is fighting to stop the source of conflict/war—that being Ares. But she discovers that even when Ares is gone, people are still fallible and can/will be pulled towards the darkness. Over the course of the film, she chooses to look for and believe in the light of people. In this age of cynicism and echo chambers when we close ranks and seem to be afraid of those who look, think, and act differently than them, she reminds viewers to search for the goodness and humanity in others. Because it is really hard to hate, discriminate against, and even harm someone for whom you have empathy and understanding. Wonder Woman offers a timely and universal message that finding the humanity in others is the way to diminish conflict and the underlying fears that propel it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: