Sat in the cinema watching Wonder Woman I could have burst with excitement. I experienced what I can only imagine a little boy feels when he watches a superhero movie and sees himself in the protagonist. Thirty minutes in I had already decided that this had to be one of the best films OF ALL TIME. So here is why Wonder Woman kicks ass:
1. Not only is the lead character Wonder Woman (Diana Prince) played by the incredible Gal Gadot, but it’s directed by a woman too - Patty Jenkins. Without a doubt this film also passes The Bechdel Test, which if you’ve never heard of it is a three part rule which stipulates that a film: 1 must have at least two female characters with names, 2 who talk to one another, 3 about something other than men. In the opening scenes we see Diana growing up on an idyllic island inhabited only by women who spend their time training in combat and talking about the necessity of preventing war. Awesome.
2. Wonder Woman’s strength lies as much in her “traditionally feminine” qualities as in her fighting ability. Yes, the fight scenes are epic and Diana’s super powers are amazing but there is no endless stream of pointless gratuitous violence. She believes in the goodness of people, shows compassion towards enemies, and seeks peace (rather than revenge for the death of her wife/father/child… insert other action movie trope here). Of course there is violence in this film, it is essential to the genre, but unnecessary conflict is avoided where possible. Diana acts in self-defence and to protect others, forever mindful of civilian casualties.
3. Diana experiences a “benevolent” form of everyday sexism coming from men with “good intentions”. The best part is that she totally brushes it off and speaks her mind un-apologetically. At one point her romantic interest Steve tries to stop her from causing a scene by interrupting her constantly and attempting to hold her back. She carries on in spite of this, calling a room full of old white men cowards before storming out dramatically. And when Steve’s Secretary Etta explains what her job is (“I go where he tells me to go”), Diana points out that her culture would consider this slavery. Wonder Woman is underestimated, undermined, and doubted throughout but she never loses sight of her mission (even when she doubts her own power), leaving everyone around her in awe.
4. There is a refreshing lack of sexualised female suffering and glamourised sexual violence. Female characters die from battle wounds and their deaths are not merely a device that propels a man into action by avenging her. In fact everyone’s suffering (faceless enemies played by extras included) is humanised. And yes it is totally messed up that one of the reasons I love this film is because women aren’t abused as disposable objects, that should be the norm.
5. The inevitable romantic subplot is not a mere distraction from the main event or an excuse to see more of the sexy female love interest. Rather, the sexual tension between Diana and Steve subverts typical gender dynamics in ways that are both humorous and touching. Interestingly the only nudity is of the male variety as Steve experiences what can only be described as the “female gaze”. In another scene, when things appear to be heating up, Diana explains that she has read a lot about pleasure and concludes that men are not essential to this. Centre female sexuality and pleasure in the conversation? Check.
6. The film’s characters teach us a valuable lesson about Bystander Intervention: everyone can do something to intervene when they see something wrong in the world. As Steve says, “You can do something or you can do nothing”. Wonder Woman’s story is an important reminder that even if it seems like it’s not your war to fight, you can be an ally to others. We all have a part to play in standing up to sexism, racism, or any other form of injustice regardless of whether we feel directly affected.
7. Men are allowed to be vulnerable and express emotions. A major theme of the film is depicting a more multi-dimensional representation of masculinity. One character suffers from PTSD of which the rest of his team is very supportive and understanding. Rather than receive a dose of tough love and encouraged to toughen up and keep fighting he is reassured that he still has a vital role in their mission. Men are allowed to experience fear. Even the German soldiers who ordinarily would be automatically vilified and picked off un-sentimentally are shown to be the scared young boys they are. The male characters aren’t expected to be tough all of the time, in fact they respect Diana’s superior strength and look to her for leadership and guidance. And when it really matters, they support her and enable her to save the day.
8. The atrocities of war are not glossed over. This film is entirely about how awful war is and why it should be avoided. Diana’s childhood naivete and complete disgust in the barbarity of WW1 is a splash of cold water in the face for all of us who have become numbed to child casualties in conflict. When she is told “ we can’t save everyone” and is encouraged to walk past women and children suffering she ignores the others and takes action to protect them. The film carries an important message about peace throughout; reminding us that it is never a case of defeating the ultimate bad guy to restore harmony, but recognising that we are all capable of darkness so we need to love and support each other to overcome that.
I felt incredibly emotional throughout the film. Maybe it was from relief that I could finally enjoy a superhero movie guilt free. Maybe it was simply joy at seeing women depicted as THREE DIMENSIONAL HUMANS BEINGS WITH AGENCY. It is wonderful that a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster that will reach a huge audience (it’s already smashing box office records) contains such positive messages. As we walked out of the cinema my friend told me that this is the kind of film she wishes she could have seen as a child; but I am happy in the knowledge that lots of little girls will see this film and know that they can grow up to be Wonder Women.
- Written by Rebecca Fletcher, RASASH Volunteer and former intern
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