The Intersection of Film and Politics in Wonder Woman

I’ve never taken a strict side in the whole Marvel vs. DC fight, especially when it comes to the movies that both produce. This is mainly because I enjoy superhero movies regardless of the studio they’re from (even though I’ve started to get a bit sick of them) There’s no question that Marvel has produced some fantastic movies, even though most critics seem to be soft on their weak points. Most would contend that DC has not had a good track record with the iffy Man of Steel (2013) and contentious Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I actually didn’t mind the latter but I think part of that has to do with the fact that the first time I saw it I was watching the extended version. Sure, they did Suicide Squad too, but is it even worth mentioning?

That leads us to their latest release: Wonder Woman. I was excited for this movie, even with DC’s questionable past, since we were going to get a female-led superhero movie. Honestly, even if the movie had been bad I probably would’ve cherished it in some way because female representation is abysmal in this genre. I’ve been waiting for a Black Widow movie since the character appeared on screen, yet Marvel’s squeamish and misogynistic execs have not delivered. Literally every other superhero movie with a woman at the front has been a disaster, from the ridiculous Catwoman (2004) to the downright stupid Elektra (2005). I’ve read that Tank Girl (1995) is decent, but that’s adapted from a British comic about a post-apocalyptic world. Not really your traditional superhero movie. Honestly my friend and I were debating about watching it a while ago, just to see what it was like to watch a relatable movie in one of our favorite genres. It’s idiotic that since the start of the superhero movie boom with Spider-Man (2002) we’ve had to wait 15 years for a decent movie with a female lead.

catwoman

“Watch me eat a sickening amount of tuna and get turned on by catnip!”

I’m not a very emotional person, but watching Wonder Woman was probably one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in a theater and that stayed the same the second time I went to see it. One of my friends told me that she cried because we finally got to see ourselves represented. There are so many things about this movie that are positive for female viewers. There’s a noticeably diverse society of Amazons (from warriors to senators) a love interest who is charismatic and respectful of Diana, and displays of the overt sexism from the time period (from British soldiers casually catcalling Diana to the men in Parliament acting like someone was shot once she entered the room) that Diana does not let define her. Simply watching the scenes that convey her power are a marvel.  It’s a powerful thing to see Diana rise up out of the trench in order to cross no man’s land, to be standing firmly against the thing she’s abhors.

wonderwoman.0

It’s also great to see a female villain. Dr. Poison has a smaller role in this movie, but the fact that she’s respected and has a Phantom of the Opera-esque mask makes up for that. I can’t recall any female villains from past Marvel or DC movies (although we’re finally getting one in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok that’s played by Cate Blanchett) Obviously I could go on praising this movie, but there are a couple of flaws that should be addressed. The main villain, Ares, is not particularly threatening and the last third of the movie gets bogged down by the fight sequence. Others have also complained about the action sequences being subpar and the effects being out of focus, but I think this is being too picky. I thought the action was well done and there was nothing that stood out as glaringly bad effects-wise.

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One of the best sequences at the beginning features moving classical oil paintings to relay the history of the Amazons

I went to see this movie opening weekend and obviously was satisfied with the experience. I was sure that no one would have any large complaints, especially when so many women and young girls would get to be inspired by some positive representation. My fellow feminists and progressives would inevitably be as satisfied as I was. Surprisingly, this was not the case.

One of the first articles I read about the movie was from CNN and it angered me so much that I could probably write a whole separate piece on all its problems. Now, let me be clear, if the article had been about how the author merely didn’t enjoy the movie or had some criticism, then I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. Instead the author, Lewis Beale, took it upon himself to remind us all that Wonder Woman was not a feminist movie because “the worst kind of female objectification is being uploaded into the minds of another generation — boys AND girls — with few alternative film characterizations to act as an antidote.”  Yes, the movie that has a female director and a notable absence of the male gaze is the one you really want to restrain your kids from seeing. I can’t tell you the number of appreciative posts I’ve seen on social media that pertain to this: the fact that there are no shots that linger on Gal Gadot’s body in a suggestive way.

transformers

A real example of the male gaze in Transformers (2007)

The male author goes on to tell us that Wonder Woman is not a feminist and that boys should be told that, “these busty super-babes are not in any way what a real woman is (or wants to be) like, that they shouldn’t use them to measure other women and girls, and that the cartoonish portrayal on screen exists to send their young libidos into overdrive.” Not only does this insult teenage boys by reducing them to their sex drive, it also overlooks the fact that the movie features a strong female lead that everyone can admire. At this point I’m not even sure if this man watched the same movie that I did. All of Gadot’s costumes in the movie are functional and nothing comes close to making her look “busty”. In fact, some moronic people were initially angered at Gadot’s casting because they didn’t think her bra size was big enough. The author tries to tie in some “real female characters” that he approves of to contrast with wonder woman and wails that there aren’t more of these “real heroes” on screen. He obviously does not understand that women are often so underrepresented in film that we cannot be picky (especially about movies that are actually good like Wonder Woman)

I found it strange that an article like this would come from CNN because this sounded like something from Fox News. Instead, Fox focused on a much more trivial element of the film (most likely to take up airtime) They were supposedly angered at how Wonder Woman’s costume was not “American enough” and had omitted the color white (although red and blue are still present) This argument can hardly be taken seriously since Diana is a Greek Amazon and doesn’t really have a reason to wear the colors of the American flag anyway. The commentators went on to accuse movie studios of taking American iconography out of movies in order to sell them overseas. One even states that she thinks this is a good thing because it’s an example of America participating in the free market and “that’s what America is all about”. I thought I was going to vomit.

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While we’re at it, there should probably be an eagle in this scene. 

It seemed that if CNN and Fox weren’t going to talk about the movie in a way that praised its merits, then surely the feminist Ms. Magazine would! Unfortunately, yet again, I was wrong. One of their first articles criticized the movie for not making Wonder Woman a “fat femme woman of color”. Now, out of all of the articles I’ve mentioned, this one comes the closest to containing legitimate criticism. We certainly do need more racial, queer, and bodily representation in Hollywood, yet I’m not sure that Wonder Woman is the movie that we should be criticizing for those faults. Gadot herself is Israeli and the Amazons are racially diverse with varied body types. Diana is also canonically bisexual, so there’s really no issue with her love interest being male in the way the article implies. This movie broke records for a female director and a female-led superhero film, so it would be nice if that was recognized rather than its perceived faults.

Fortunately most of the articles and reviews I’ve read after this have been positive, but the ones previously mentioned do make me question how much we should let politics interfere with film. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t question a movie’s faults or its political implications, just that we should be aware that news stations are willing to make questionable arguments about film in exchange for publicity. I love to analyze film, so my point is not that we should solely care about if a movie is “good” or “entertaining” but that we don’t need to make every movie unnecessarily political in ways that don’t apply to it. I’d much rather focus on how inspiring Wonder Woman is rather than the fact that her armor doesn’t have the color white on it. Sometimes we can just let a movie be great. Where do you think politics and film should intersect? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “The Intersection of Film and Politics in Wonder Woman

  1. I am so glad you mentioned the male gaze perspective seen in the majority of films. Though i have not yet seen Wonder Woman, i agree with you that the fact the star of the film is a female superhero is an incredibly positive thing. To provide young girls and boys with this style of camerawork which doesnt focus as much on the female frame is so important. Boys and girls, men and women should all view the film and appreciate its fresh perspective. Your writing is fabulous, i can’t wait to read some more of your movie reviews in the future. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always find it strange the way people talk about a movie, book, etc. as being feminist or not feminist. It seems to me there is enough diversity in feminism that such a straight-up-or-down judgement would be nonsense. Can’t help thinking if the author you castigate here had any real feel for the issue, he would have painted his point with a finer brush.

    …also the whole mansplaining thing. It’s tricky, and I know I’ve crossed that line myself a time or two, but I can’t help thinking telling a huge feminist fan-base their favorite movie isn’t really feminist stomps right over it.

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    1. I agree with you that feminism is a diverse movement that incorporates many ideologies, so it is annoying when people say “x” is a feminist thing or not. Yeah that author in particular wasn’t too great at expressing his thoughts, I honestly wondered if he was just rushed to write anything to get it published.

      Like

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