A look at ‘Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines’
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines is a documentary that chronicles the journey of famed superheroine Wonder Woman from her creation in the 1940s to the present day. Director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan takes a fresh perspective on a character that is often under scrutiny by feminists and non-feminists alike, and explores female characters in the action genre.
Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by psychologist William Moulton Marston, who had some very interesting ideas about the character. He thought that women should have a superhero of their own, and that Wonder Woman was “a psychological propaganda for the type of woman that would soon rule the world,” Jennifer K. Stuller, author of Ink Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors, said in the film.
In the documentary, Stuller states that Marston predicted that in 100 years we would be living in a matriarchy. These are some pretty feminist ideas coming from the creator of a comic book character that has received so much criticism for being what some might consider a sex-symbol created by men. The only problem is there are a lot more factors that go into the making of a female icon than the initial creator might have control over. The film sets Wonder Woman into a timeline of world history that helps us understand how she was shaped by war, the feminist movement, and censors.
With the very first images of Wonder Woman, we are seeing a strong female character who knows how to take care of herself and others. She comes from an all-female land called Paradise Island and is quite amazonian. An American pilot crashes near the island and tells the women of the horrible war going on in the “Man’s World.” During real-life World War II, Wonder Woman’s character was depicted fighting the Nazis. She rescues the pilot, Steve Trevor, who is to be her primary love interest.
But after the war, the comic took a different turn. With women no longer needed in the workforce, the 1950s brought pressure for women to return to the household. A book by Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, accused comic books of being a bad influence on children. Wertham also had a problem with Wonder Woman, the largely female cast, and images of the superheroine saving other women, which he claimed was promoting lesbianism. With this movement came a voluntary code of ethics from the comic book industry and a reform of Wonder Woman. She began to be depicted “daintily” in the arms of her love, rather than the other way around as she had previously been portrayed.
At this time, many women in comics were shown bound and needing to be rescued from being killed or raped.
“Girls actually need superheroes much more than boys when you come right down to it because 90 per cent of violence in the world is against females,” Gloria Steinem, a feminist, journalist, and political activist, said in the film.
This fact, contrasted with the images of these victimized women, gives a stark connection between how females are portrayed in the media and how they are treated in reality. The film gives a very positive view of Wonder Woman and her effects on the girls who grew up watching her. One speaker in the film makes the point that the women were in chains in order to be rescued by the hero, while Wonder Woman was in chains in order to break out of them and save herself.
Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in the 1975 TV series, recalled in the film someone saying to her before she got the role, “If you get this, you’re going to have a lot of women hating you.”
Why is it that women are always set up to go against each other? Carter said she consciously worked to portray Wonder Woman as a character that was for the community of women.
“Not against men, but for the community of women,” said Carter in the film.
This documentary gives us an image of how much progress these types of characters have given us. It can’t be said that any strong female character is a good one regardless of her other traits, but it is upon the bones of each imperfect character that the foundations of so many strong women were built. We will always need our icons and each will serve to help us define ourselves.
Although Wonder Woman has been redefined by history, she has inspired women to create films that honour her creator’s original intentions and offer an examination of where we stand today. As criticism grows, the people in power will no longer be able to use the excuse that “ticket sales” won’t support a heroine. With characters like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, female superheroines are making huge strides.
Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary is a fascinating look at women through comics and action movies. It is available on Netflix and is definitely worth watching.