Documentary Shows How Wonder Woman Catalyzed American Feminism

“Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines” is a documentary directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. The film was screened during South by Southwest in Austin this week. The movie deals with the lack of female comic book characters and the impact they have made on feminism and society at large. Academic scholars, everyday heroes, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fame, and Gloria Steinem provide lively stories of how Wonder Woman was a catalyst for feminism. Steinem even shares a humorous story as to how Wonder Woman was resuscitated during the height of the Feminist Movement.  She was given back her powers and even gained an African sidekick named Nubia.

The Good: This is a clear example of female empowerment. I was surprised to know that Wonder Woman was more of a feminist role model when she was introduced in the 1940s — it was continuously stressed that she did not need a man. However, somewhere along the line, namely after World War II, Wonder Woman went from clobbering bad guys to pondering about wedding proposals.  Kathleen Hanna is particularly amazing in explaining the influence of Wonder Woman’s image on the Riot Grrrl movement.

The Bad:  Although it was refreshing to find that this movie did not blame men for the downfall of Wonder Woman, it cannot be avoided. This movie places the blame on society at large. However, this movie starts heading in various directions when they start to link Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some of the testimonials go nowhere fast because they give Wonder Woman that deity status that is usually reserved for Captain Kirk and the rest of his “Star Trek” descendants.

The crowd’s reaction: Based on the questions that were asked, I feel that there were audience members who felt that Wonder Woman represented sexually repressed creator, William Moulton Marston, than a feminist icon. Audience members were sympathetic to the young girls on the screen who wanted to be Wonder Women as well as the women who gave up on domestic ventures to become engineers and college professors.  In other words, I think we were on the same page where we loved it, but we were not in love with it.

I do think there is a lack of female leads – and those that exist are usually relegated to second banana roles that are simply begging to get trapped or ensnared asking for the male lead to rescue them. There is a hilarious scene where Hanna points at the Spice Girls as the new disciples of “Girl Power.” The film is very optimistic about pushing Hollywood into producing a Wonder Woman film.

I am less optimistic. In fact, I see an Aquaman film being made beforehand. I do not think we will get a feminist Wonder Woman, but rather one where she plays a single gal in the city trying to navigate the choppy waters between trying to maintain her career and finding love with possibly Ryan Gossling or Ryan Reynolds – simply because it’s a wonder any other kind of movie gets made.


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