Why The World Needs Wonder Woman
April 25, 2017
In October 2016, the United Nations decided to name Wonder Woman an honorary ambassador ahead of the 75-year-old comic-book character’s first feature film. The title had been previously bestowed on Winnie the Pooh and the red Angry Bird without much commotion. But this time, when the U.N. named the world’s first major female superhero “Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls,” the reception was quite different than her predecessors.
The U.N. press office set up a ceremony in October 2016 at the UN headquarters in New York City to honor the comic-book character as well as Gal Gadot, the Israeli actor who played Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman (2016) and will reprise the role this summer. Things quickly went sideways. As Gadot greeted dozens of cheering elementary-school girls, the adults sitting behind them shouted in protest and turned their backs. Outside, some 100 U.N. staffers gathered in protest. More than 600 U.N. staffers had signed a petition objecting to “a large-breasted white woman of impossible proportions” and “the epitome of a ‘pin up’ girl” becoming an official symbol of female power. Two months later, the honor was unceremoniously withdrawn—setting off more mixed reactions.
Gal Gadot is puzzled by the negative response. In a Time Magazine article, Gadot questioned the reaction asking, “There are so many horrible things that are going on in the world, and this is what you’re protesting, seriously? When people argue that Wonder Woman should ‘cover up,’ I don’t quite get it,” she says. “They say, ‘If she’s smart and strong, she can’t also be sexy.’ That’s not fair. Why can’t she be all of the above?”
There are many similarities between Gadot and Wonder Woman. The 31-year-old Israeli actresses is both a model and a soldier: Gadot won the title of Miss Israel in 2004 and served in the Israel Defense Forces as a gym trainer. Gadot has faced constant criticism ever since she landed the role of Wonder Woman for DC’s Batman v. Superman (2016). While critics agree that Wonder Woman’s 15 minutes of action in a two hour and thirty-one-minute film was the highlight of the movie, audiences expressed their disappointment that DC cast Gadot as Wonder Woman because Gadot is Israeli, but Wonder Woman is American. While Wonder Woman is closely linked to American pop culture, her origins stem from Amazonian warriors in Greek mythology. However, Gal Gadot took seriously the audiences’ critique that she was too skinny in Batman v. Superman and put on seventeen pounds of pure muscle to do much of the stunts required for Wonder Woman.
Ever since the character’s inception, Wonder Woman has been a source of controversy due to her ever-changing faces and costumes. In the comics, Wonder Woman has been a suffragette, soldier, sex symbol, and even the President of the United States. However, Hollywood has yet to produce a female superhero standalone movie on the logic that the target demographic—teenage boys—wouldn’t want to see a woman fight. Hollywood studios have also claimed that female moviegoers do not see superhero movies. The box office busts of the early 2000s movies of female superheroes such as Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005) have backed up their claims that female superhero movies will not make money.
However, much has changed since 2005. The MPAA reports that 42% of the ticket purchases for Marvel’s Avengers Age of Ultron were women, clearing proving that women do see superhero movies. Scarlet Johansson and Brie Larson, playing Black Widow and Ms. Marvel respectively have been consistently top-grossing actresses according to Forbes Magazine and box office sales.
Joss Whedon, director of Marvel’s Avengers (2012) and Age of Ultron (2015), expressed the grim reality of female representation in the movie industry. While superhero movies are everywhere, female superheroes are nowhere. Whedon criticized the comic book movie industry for their sexism in an interview with Digital Spy saying, “There is genuine, intractable sexism and old-fashioned quiet misogyny that goes on. You hear ‘Oh, female superhero movies don’t work because of these two bad ones that were made eight years ago.’ There’s always an excuse.” Whether the excuse is that women do not go to superhero movies or men would not see a female superhero movie, women have always been the minority in the movie industry in general. University of San Diego’s Center for Women in Film and Television reports that only seven percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016 were women. The report found that 29% of protagonists, an increase of 7 percentage points from 2015 were female.
Director Patty Jenkins will become one of the only three female directors to command a budget of over $100 million. Much more than money is at stake. If Wonder Woman works, it could change the kinds of role models we find at the movies. Certainly, Marvel will be looking towards Wonder Woman’s success in considering Captain Marvel (Marvel’s first female superhero standalone film set) is set to be released two years after Wonder Woman in 2019.
The unique history of Wonder Woman, the pressure from fans to get it right, and the fact that this film’s success and reception will determine future of female superhero movies, meant the filmmakers had to tread carefully treating everything from the supporting characters, costumes, and Wonder Woman’s personality as a “make it or break it” factor.
Wonder Woman’s love interest and companion, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) had to be supportive but not emasculated. While some may think that Steve Trevor will fill the traditional superhero trope of simply being the love interest, Jenkins had to find a compelling narrative for Steve Trevor. “After all, none of us wants to be in love with someone who isn’t grand in their own right,” Jenkins said in an interview with Time Magazine. In a way, Jenkins is touching upon what the feminist movement is all about–gender equality.
However, unlike previous superhero movies, Wonder Woman will certainly be different. According to the official synopsis and the three trailers released so far, Wonder Woman takes place during World War I, at the same time as the American and British suffrage movements. Wonder Woman lives on the mystical all-female island of Themyscira where Amazon warriors live and train. However, when a WWI pilot Steve Trevor crashes on Themyscira, Wonder Woman travels back with Steve Trevor to establish justice and peace in one of the darkest times in history. One might question Wonder Woman’s decision to follow a man back to fight in a war that does not involve her people. Both her family and Steve Trevor’s platoon ask her this same question. In response to her mother’s disappointment, Wonder Woman responds, “I cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost.” To the soldiers who disapprove of her involvement in the war, she simply replies, “It is our sacred duty to defend the world, and it’s what I’m going to do.”
From reports by those who watched the first act of Wonder Woman during a press visit to Warner Brother’s post-production facility in London and positive social media reactions from the film’s test first screening, the world not only needs Wonder Woman but Wonder Woman will be loved by the world. She is not a preachy political figure trying to rid the world of patriarchy. Instead, she genuinely does not understand the societal double standards, stereotypes, and attitudes towards women in our world. This confusion allows for some comic relief (something the DC movies has been lacking) but also a way for audiences to question our own societal oppression of women—a legacy that Wonder Woman would be proud of.
Wonder Woman is in theaters starting June 2, 2017. Watch the trailer below.