Wide-Eyed Wonder

It seems strangely appropriate that the last time I blogged was a superhero movie review, and now I'm going to do it again. What follows is 100% spoiler free! 

1981. Me, being held aloft by my mother wearing the Wonder Woman underoos of Legend.

1981. Me, being held aloft by my mother wearing the Wonder Woman underoos of Legend.

I'm a Marvel girl. That's no secret. While there are individual things I enjoy in the DC comics universe, and I found the first two Nolan Batman films to be amazing, I've never connected with DC characters like I have those across all of Marvel's platforms. But, I'm a red-blooded American woman who grew up with Lynda Carter wielding the Golden Lasso, and marveling at the invisible jet on Superfriends. I wore the star-bottomed costume on more than one occasion. As I grew up, I found other characters in whom I could believe. Characters I saw myself in. 

But Wonder Woman is special. For many women she was the first. 

And so, when DC said they were actually going to make a Wonder Woman stand-alone film to go with their line of mediocre movies, I rolled my eyes. Just one more thing they're going to ruin. I refused to allow myself to hope. I've been burned before, and not just by DC. My sacred Dark Phoenix was butchered before my eyes by the Fox/Sony X-Men films. Harley was...well, Suicide Squad didn't do well by her. Even when trailers began popping up for Wonder Woman, and I got goosebumps seeing Gal Gadot kicking ass.... I refused to believe this would be IT. The movie we've been waiting for. The stand-alone female-lead superhero flick. It's become a sort of Holy Grail. People talk about it, but no one ever actually has seen it. 

So imagine my surprise when last night I found myself in a movie theater with tears streaming down my face five minutes into that same Wonder Woman film. Because five minutes in, I knew exactly what I was seeing. 

I saw myself. 
On screen.
For real. 
In the lead role. 

Oh, dearly beloved, something incredible happened. I cried so much during this movie, and not because it was a bad film, or because that's what a scene warranted. No, I cried because there were parts of me that I had forgotten existed. Parts of me that I had no idea were empty were filled by this film. 

I'll try to explain this... the women reading this will probably understand, but you gents may have a harder time grasping this. That's not an insult, as I hope you'll see, but bear with me. 
 

The author as a superheroine of her own choosing: Star-Woman. (Using Spider-Man glasses, and Wonder Woman panties.) Circa 1985.

The author as a superheroine of her own choosing: Star-Woman. (Using Spider-Man glasses, and Wonder Woman panties.) Circa 1985.

As a kid, the only times I saw a female-led movie were things like Annie or a Disney movie. Annie was cool, but she was a peer and not a super hero. Disney princesses in the early 80s were Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Passive. Hardly heroines. And not me. The movies I loved were things like Star Wars, Superman (oh, my sweet Mr. Reeves) and Ghostbusters. The women in these movies were badass (well, Lois screamed a whole fucking lot, but that's beside the point.) I loved cartoons like Superfriends, Thundercats, and He-Man. In all of those things, however, the women were supporting cast. Cheetara, Tee-la, and even my beloved Wonder Woman were part of a team helping the male lead tell his story. 

Boys could see themselves as Optimus Prime, Liono, He-Man, Luke or Han. Boys could always be the hero. Boys could fight Cobra Commander and Destro one-on-one. Boys could tear down Shredder and the Foot Clan while the girls just stood by and took pictures. Boys could always be the one to break apart from the pack and save the world while their friends looked on in amazement. Boys could see themselves as the star--one that is active, bold, and courageous--any time they switched the channel. The most honest depiction of a female hero came from Penny on the cartoon Inspector Gadget. While her uncle bumbled his way through fights with super villains, she saw the whole picture, called the shots from afar and, with the help of a smart dog, saved his ass. (And the dog was more active!) She would let Uncle Gadget think he'd done it all on his own to coddle his ego because even in a cartoon masculinity is fragile. 

And this is how super hero films have continued for the past three decades. Women can be strong as long as they are supporting cast. Princesses can be more bad ass and have agency, but the male roles still have more screen time or dialogue. And you know what, let's leave aside all the political and economic bullshit about how male-driven films get a million and one shots to get it right, but a female-led film is considered a risk. That's not the stuff that had me crying in the theater. 

What had me crying was seeing Diana of Themyscira being a fully-formed character. Seeing a little girl who looked a lot like me want to be more, want to be a fighter. Seeing a woman punch the shit out of proto-Nazis. Seeing a woman rebel peacefully. Seeing a woman speak truth to power. Seeing a woman treated as an equal. Seeing a woman supported, not usurped. Her accomplishments were not overrun by a man saying that he did it, or that he could do better. The men around Diana support her. They acknowledge she is capable on her own, they understand she is the best person for the job and they do everything they can to help her accomplish it, or they leave her to it and do what they can do to help other people in the greater fight. Seeing a woman use the very emotions we're told make us weak to turn the tide of a visceral war. Watching as she taps into those emotions to strengthen her already awesome power. 

Is Wonder Woman perfect? No. It stops short of having a female villain, and it's not intersectional in terms of race or trans representation. However, this film gets so much right. Diana is not filmed in ways that appease the male gaze. While there are brief moments where she is sexualized by other characters, the film itself does not seek to reduce her to just a pretty face in a tight costume. 

But I feel like this movie getting so much right means we can correct the problems of intersectionality. We can build from this strong foundation and make films that represent everyone. Everyone deserves to see themselves on screen. Everyone deserves to know that they are valued and seen. 

Don't believe me? 

We sat waiting for a stinger (there isn't one, heads up) and at the end of the credits there was a line that said, "Special Thanks to the Marston Family". To most people that might not mean much, but here's a quick primer on why that is a big deal. Wonder Woman was created by a polyamorous triad. A husband, wife, and their lover. Puritanical social mores have all but erased the lover's role, and the wife was reduced to a helper. However, the Marston Family created this character together. And so, when the poly comic book nerd beside me saw  Family on screen, when he saw this one-word acknowledgement, he burst into tears. Why? Because they and he were seen and given value. They were represented. 

I spent most of a super hero movie crying. Not because it sucked, or because it was sad. I wept because this was the movie I needed when I was five years old. What more could I have been had I seen this in 1985 rather than Ghostbusters (which, I might add, is sickeningly full of rape culture)?  And what more can we all be when we all are allowed to see ourselves as the best humanity can offer?

Photo courtesy of Josh Rossi.

Photo courtesy of Josh Rossi.