There Is No “I” in Wonder Woman, But There Should Be
Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi
Note: Film spoiler alert
Last night, I finally buckled and went to see Wonder Woman (at the Alamo Drafthouse, of course). There has been lots of social media chatter about the movie, several op-ed pieces across media sources, and The Daily Show's Michelle Wolf did a good (although not completely unproblematic) commentary on the larger issues of women's equity and equality in film (check out the clip below).
I saw the movie with a friend who is pretty well versed on gender equity issues and can offer up robust critiques on our society’s almost rabid attachment to the gender binary and its associated gender role narratives. I am also a DC Comic fan, and do enjoy the TV and movie representations of the varied and many, but mostly male, super heroes. Lots to say there. But that’s another post.
After my friend and I exclaimed simultaneously at the presence of Robin Wright aka Claire Underwood from House of Cards, as the revered and lauded warrior, General Antiope, I did find myself smiling throughout the movie. It also elicited chuckles here and there at the thinly veiled slights at male privilege and male domination. Seeing my gender represented on the big screen in such a determined and fierce way, did give me all the feels. Yet, despite the awesome fight scenes, the centrality of Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince, and her self-sufficient, independent attitude, I left the film underwhelmed. More accurately, I left the film annoyed, as did my friend. Despite the movie’s reputation as a feminist win, it still fell into old and tired heterosexist and gendered tropes as well as engaging in ableist narratives. Yes, Wonder Woman defeats Ares, the God of War. Yes, she kicks ass multiple times, looking on quizzically as the men try to “protect” her. But despite these things, the narrative still inserts men as a necessary component of her win. In fact, it is the fuel from her love for Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) that ultimately enables her to fully access her power.
For the Love
From the beginning, the viewer knows Diana Prince is the “God Killer” her mother refers to early in the movie, not the sword she takes on her mission. Created by Zeus, Diana is destined to be the warrior who is powerful enough to defeat Ares. With god-like power at her disposal, she really can do it all. The narrative tells two stories: one of defeating Ares, the reason for the world war she seeks to end and two, preventing the release of a deadly gas, likely to kill thousands.
Yet, Wonder Woman doesn’t solve both issues, even though, with her speed, power, and super human abilities, she easily could. In fact, before Steve dies, Wonder Woman is struggling to defend against Ares. In a heroic move, Steve tells Diana he loves her, and then runs off to board a plane, already in motion. His plan: to fly the plane filled with the deadly gas into the clouds where he will then detonate the bombs, sacrificing himself in the process. On realizing Steve’s sacrifice and death, Wonder Woman is finally able to tap into the full extent of her power and take down Ares (played by Harry Potter’s Professor Lupin, David Thewlis, which didn’t work for me). Before her final defeat of Ares, and as he tempts her to join him in ending “mankind” (because apparently there are no women?), she proclaims that while humans are flawed, humans have love, and that is what redeems them (#eyeroll). It made me think of the 1990s movie, The Fifth Element, where Milla Jovovich’s character, Leeloo, an embodiment of the Fifth Element, can only tap into her power to defeat evil through her love for hero Bruce Willis and his love for her.
All Together Now
I walked away from Wonder Woman frustrated that this kickass super hero still couldn’t be given the depth and breadth of character to save the world on her own. Flanked by a number of men throughout (no other women characters except Steve Trevor’s secretary), she leads the team of (male) heroes to victory but is sure to underline the fact she isn’t doing it alone. When Steve tells her that she “did this” in reference to saving a town, she responds “we did this.” My friend and I turned to each other that this point, with a sigh, and whispered, “no, Diana, you did this.”
When I think of Superman or Batman, invariably the women in their lives stand by in a supportive role (rarely with as much screen time as the men in Wonder Woman), and they are often in need of saving. Perhaps the women help in superficial ways, but really, it is the men who do it all; independently averting multiple disasters at one time. For male super heroes, they always find an “I” in “team,” if there is even a team.
While I acknowledge Diana/Wonder Woman does save countless men, including Steve at the start of the movie (a fact he does not wish to talk about), I am still left with questions: why couldn’t Diana, Princess of the Amazons, with all her (Greek) god power, do it all? Why did she need the love of a man to unlock her full potential? Why was her character still dependent on men despite everything she can do? Why does she need a team? Where were all the other women once Diana left her home? This doesn’t feel like as much progress in 2017 as I would have liked. Women’s visibility in blockbuster action movies largely amounts to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and now Wonder Woman. In both cases, they don’t fly solo even though they absolutely could.
Denver broads, do I think you should see this movie? Yes, I do. It is important that it makes bank at the box office and I did enjoy it. With a woman lead and a woman director, the money it makes does go some way to “prove” that action movies with lead women heroes do sell. But you shouldn’t accept that this one movie or representation is enough or unproblematic. We haven’t “made it” by any stretch of the imagination and while there isn’t an “I” in Wonder Woman, there absolutely should be.