Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wonder Woman - Why she's awesome, why there's not a movie and why casting is difficult if not impossible

Some of the clearest memories of my childhood involve a pair of Wonder Woman underroos, running around in the backyard and protecting the world from evil. For a while there, I think I actually believed that some printed cotton and elastic bestowed superpowers on me.

Of course, back then, I was just a little girl with no understanding of the history of the character. I didn't know why there weren't more female superheroes, I just knew she was there and that I wanted to be her. Little boys had their choice of everyone else, but all the little girls wanted to be her, the Amazon princess turned crimefighter in heels.

For a great many years, I loved Wonder Woman quietly. The show ended when I was in preschool, and she mostly disappeared from pop culture. Unless you actively read comics, you didn't see or hear about her much for years and years. Occasionally she'd pop up on a cartoon or two, but that was about all.


In the last few years, though, my love for her has become fuller and more open. I've spent a lot of time learning about the development of this character and why we perceive her the way we do now. I don't just love her, I identify with her. When you understand the back story, it becomes easier and easier to see why she has yet to assume her full potential as a super among supers, why she hasn't been the lead character of a summer blockbuster film.

Wonder Woman was first developed in 1940 by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist by trade, after a suggestion by his wife that there should be a female hero that triumphed over evil using love rather than strength and power. The idea was submitted to DC, which was dominated by male-led hero comics at the time.

His goal was to take all the strengths of women and use them as her greatest attributes, while still making her appealing and beautiful. He wanted her not just to appeal to other women, but to men as well, and make her strong but not overly intimidating.


The comics have been in continuous printed series ever since then, except for a few brief breaks. The show, as anyone in my generation knows, aired during the 70's. A few attempts at television series have been mentioned since then, to no avail, and the blockbuster movie is still on hold.

At Comic Con earlier this month, I sat in on a panel about Wonder Woman, led by two of the current content creators, both men. They detailed how the character has evolved (or devolved as some would say) over the decades. Diana started as a warrior princess turned American superhero during the war in the 40's. When the war ended, our nation struggled with the identity of women who had run everything while the men were gone fighting, but were expected to return to the home upon the end of the war. Like many women in real life, Wonder Woman started to struggle with her identity as well.

The character was drawn in more domestic settings, the storylines started to revolve around finding love and wanting a relationship, less about fighting evil anywhere in the world. Though the character had always been depicted in bondage-like settings, she became more so. Women were supposed to relearn their place, and accordingly, she was reminded of that too.


Once the feminist movement started, Wonder Woman slowly began to change back, caring less about love and marriage, more about saving the world again, but there's an argument to be made that she still hasn't fully resumed her original role as warrior princess. Many fans, male and female alike, seem preoccupied more with what she's wearing than what she's doing.

When is the last time you heard someone discuss the practicality of Superman's costume? Or were taken aback by how much skin a male super is showing? While male superheroes have rarely been sexualized, she has been from the beginning. She has been, because in order to appeal to the male-dominated comic book market as a female superhero, she can't just kick ass, she has to be gorgeous and desirable too.

Wonder Woman isn't just about comics though, she is a cultural icon. There aren't many female heroes out there in general, and she is certainly the most well-known. In the decades since the TV series aired, there has been a movement towards more female hero leads, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena the Warrior Princess, Sarah Connor from Terminator, Ellen Ripley from Alien and Katniss from the Hunger Games.

When asked questions from the audience about why there isn't a movie yet, the panel didn't really have a clear answer, because the reasons are many. The main one is that Hollywood isn't willing to gamble on a movie about a female lead hero because they aren't sure they can sell her story enough to make it worth their while. She's a peace-seeking powerful princess who fights for justice in the name of love. She isn't about violence or revenge. She protects the women and children of the world...and they aren't sure that will put enough butts in theater seats to justify bothering. Imagine that....the male dominated film industry unsure if a female character, created and drawn by men is compelling enough to appeal to a fan base that they are already assuming is predominately male.

What's missing here?

It should be fairly obvious. The WOMEN.

You know, Wonder WOMAN.

The women are missing. The legions of little girls who ran around in underroos that grew up and taught their daughters to love superheroes - nowhere in this discussion.

What no one seems to understand is that there is an entire generation of women who grew up idolizing Lynda Carter. Who wanted an invisible plane and a truth lasso. Who made bracelets out of aluminum foil and begged their moms to make their hair curly just like Wonder Woman.

The women who've grown up with her, with the Buffys and the Xenas and Sarah Connors and the Ellen Ripleys and the Katniss Everdeens would love to embrace this character entirely.

So, the interest is clearly there, I can promise you that, even if Hollywood isn't convinced. Maybe those execs need to watch the documentary PBS aired earlier this year about Wonder Woman.

Then you run into the second problem. Casting.

Lynda Carter is Wonder Woman in the eyes of pretty much everyone. She was gorgeous, her body was to die for. She was strong without being masculine. Who is going to follow in those footsteps??? Who could???

There are a great many websites devoted to arguing about who should be cast as Wonder Woman already, and no matter who is suggested, the masses will find a reason to disagree. Whoever plays Wonder Woman needs to be tall....really tall. She needs to have a ridiculous body. She needs to be able to act. She needs to be able to do stunt work. She can't bring along with her any baggage from her personal life or prior film history. She needs to be believable. She needs to be a goddess.

The biggest problem with that is that everyone seems to have a different idea of what that all looks like, women included.

Wonder Woman isn't just a character, she's an icon, a cultural ideal, one that we attach our own set of values and expectations to in a way that simply doesn't happen with male heroes. She's an imagined perfection that looks a little different to each one of us....so how do we take all those images and find someone who embodies them all?

This is one of my favorite WW drawings ever, and can be purchased
in the etsy shop of the creators, the Satrun Twins, here.

Talk about setting the bar high.

Ramona Fradon was on the panel as well, a comic book artist from the Golden Age of comics. She brought a unique insight to the discussion, as a rare woman in this male world. In her eyes, the movie hasn't been made yet because it can't be. The world isn't ready for a woman as powerful and strong as Wonder Woman. We live in a world where women in positions of authority are often referred to as bitches for demonstrating the same personality traits and leadership qualities as men. Until we can accept the value and importance of women as equal leaders, Wonder Woman should wait, she thinks.

Women in general, and women in the fantasy world of superheroes, she argued, have much to bring to the table. Our concerns are different. Our motivations are different. We fight for those without voices. We protect the interests of children. We urge peace over war. Wonder Woman embodies all of that, and the world just isn't ready yet.

But it will be.

Soon.

Very soon.

And we'll all be waiting.

The world needs her.

My costume is always ready.


3 comments:

  1. This is so interesting. I can't believe they don't think a Wonder Woman movie would have an audience. I seriously think that is just ridiculous! How cool was it to be at the convention and get to attend that panel??? Talk about good timing!

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  2. I wanted a truth lasso and deflector bracelets. With simply those two things I could rule the world.

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  3. Your blog should be called Wonder Woman.

    There's no excuse for the movie not being made. I watched Hunger Games and saw a brilliant actress carrying a movie that made a gajillion bucks.

    Wonder Woman is the greatest female superhero, ever. A well made movie would be a huge success.

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