I once had a classmate who said that she didn’t “get” the need to gender superheroes. Specifically, she felt it was sexist to refer the hero as “Super Girl” and “Wonder Woman.”
“Why do we need to call them -girl and -woman? Isn’t just being who they are enough?” She didn’t read comics, but this anecdote is still important and I’ll come back to it.
Everyone and their aunt seems to have gone and seen Warner Bros.’ first successful DC movie: Wonder Woman. As Patty Jenkins’ first foray into blockbuster territory, it’s been succeeding spectacularly. Critics and fans alike seem to fawn over lead actress Gal Gadot and the iconic character that is Diana of the Amazons, aka Wonder Woman. The opening weekend has been likened to that of 2008’s Iron Man by Rotten Tomatoes.
And it’s little wonder. Wonder Woman has lots of mass appeal: killer outfits, great cinematography (none of that DC darkness that has often been critiqued in past films), jokes that are actually funny (none of Harley Quinn’s “You got that one-liner off of Facebook, didn’t you?”), and memorable characters that make the world feel like more than just a stage. Sammy, the actor, Chief, the smuggler; Dr. Poison, the malicious-yet-vulnerable evil genius; these are voices with perhaps fifteen minutes of screen time, yet their stories fill up the movie with heart and empathy.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman leads this crew with the naivety we can expect from a woman raised on an idyllic man-free paradise. However, she’s also capable of expressing believable and genuine sorrow in the right moments. While I, personally, would have liked to see a bit more attitude from the character, I understand that my Negasonic Teenage Warhead movie isn’t going to be made and I’ll have to content myself with a problematic Harley Quinn if I’m going to see on-screen punk rock in women. Shudder.
Wonder Woman is not without its faults. It moves from location to location very quickly, in a way that is at best unrealistic. And it is predictable. There are characters with signs on their foreheads that say, “You’ll see me again half an hour from now being an asshole, don’t wait up,” and there’s a little bit too much foreshadowing of Diana’s Great Destiny. However, I’m not expecting Logan-levels of angst from a Wonder Woman film, nor am I expecting any great amount of realism from a movie that needs to make money in the box office. In fact, I’m rather glad it made these decisions. Even though I hate these flaws, I know they’ll appeal to a mass audience, and that’s what’s important. Why?
Three — no, is it four? Four Marvel movies have starred white dudes named Chris. Even with the upcoming line-up of movies, women and brown people are still in the great minority of lead characters. This isn’t for some outright misogynistic reason — that dangerously oversimplifies the problem. It’s that the people and companies who produce these movies don’t think women will go see them. So they make a few movies with a few kick-ass women, but mostly focus on what they view as their main demographic: white dudes. The only way we change their minds is with our wallets.
With Wonder Woman breaking the $100 million mark over its opening weekend, it sounds like we are well on our way to doing so.
So, to my classmate who suggested we drop gender from superhero titles, removing gender from the titles will no more progress the issue than ignoring the color of someone’s skin. Being “colorblind” doesn’t fix racism, and gender-neutrality, in regards to superheroes, won’t fix sexism. Paying attention to gender and its problems will. To take away the Woman in Wonder Woman not only ignores a central part of her identity, but ignores the fact that for a long time there were no women-lead superhero movies at all. Celebrating these differences, and demonstrating that we care about these differences by going out and spending money on these movies, is how change is made.
So, by all means have the women-only screenings in Austin, highlight the Woman in Wonder Woman. Be perfectly clear about what it is you value in this movie. Aside from the electric cello theme song, because that’s pretty dope too.