What’s Really at Stake with Wonder Woman

I was born in 1976, a bicentennial baby as my mother used to say. One of my first clear memories is of going to see Star Wars in the theatre. For television, we only had basic cable, so Sesame Street on PBS, Doctor Who, 3-2-1 Contact. And Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman. When I was little, I was such a fan of Wonder Woman that I wore my costume frequently, and empowered with a thick, yellow yarn lasso from my mother, proceeded to lasso everyone who came to the house, forcing them to answer my questions until I chose to let them go. I’m sure it was tiresome for the visitors. I loved it. I also often sat in the yard in my invisible jet, flying off to different adventures. For me, the image of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, a woman clearly smarter, braver, and more competent than those around her, was foundational to how I grew up thinking of women’s roles.

Over the years, I, like other fans, have come to balance nervousness with excitement over new announcements of female-led / oriented / directed films or television, especially featuring beloved characters. Because it can go so wrong so fast. For example, when publicizing her role as Hela in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok Cate Blanchett made the following comment during and EW interview:

INTERVIEWER: You’re Thor’s first female villain. Was that part of the appeal?

BLANCHETT: Can you believe it? Can you believe we’re having this conversation and it’s 2017 and we’re talking about the first female villain? It’s ridiculous. There’s so much untapped potential villainy in women. It’s really exciting. I think finally it’s beginning to be acknowledged that women and men want to see a diverse array of characters, and that’s race, gender across the sexual spectrum.

Her comment ignores literally decades of strong women playing villains, let alone ones that have just recently appeared such as Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, Psylocke, Talia Al Ghul, and Nebula. Not to mention the plethora of female villains that have appeared in a wide range of fantasy, sci-fi and action films over the last several decades. Now, some readers tried to defend her statement’s context by saying that she meant the first female villain in Marvel, but that doesn’t work either — Dark Phoenix, Mystique, Scarlet Witch, etc… And the problem is, these missteps from female actors get recycled and brought back out all the time. This quote not only makes her sound like an ignoramus, but it ignores the foundational characters who have paved the way for her character, and makes her come off as arrogant. This quote will be used as proof that women clearly don’t know what they’re doing in superhero movies. There’s an exponential formula for how many good, intelligent quotes it will now take from a woman in a superhero film to make up for this one.

Asking the question of “why did it take so long” for a Wonder Woman movie has almost become a trope in and of itself. Over the years I have been cautiously optimistic about news first of Joss Whedon’s movie, then the numerous TV show possibilities. Each time I’d see a headline, or a story pop up on a website, in a magazine, or in my social media feed, I’d want to be excited, but always knew it was a double-edged sword. I would argue that there’s always a lot at stake with a woman driven / centered movie and even more so with Wonder Woman. If the movie does well it would open the door to more women centered films, specifically action and superhero films. It would be another piece of evidence that female directors can head a blockbuster. It could lead to more marginalized characters finding their way onto small and large screens. But I have concerns. When Gal Gadot’s casting was announced, I was worried that a model-turned actress who barely spoke ten sentences in the Fast and the Furious films, could carry this major role. I also worried about casting based on looks, because Wonder Woman has always been about more than that. Her appearance in Batman V. Superman did not assuage my fears, although I admit the fight scenes were good. The problem is, Wonder Woman is not all about the fight scenes. If she can’t present herself and her alter-ego in a convincing manner, if she can’t hold her own in conversation and debate with the men in the movie, then the whole thing is dead on arrival. The released trailers aren’t helping my worries either — maybe it’s the cuts, but Gadot doesn’t seem to be doing much talking, and so it’s really hard to judge if she’s up to the task. Wonder Woman can’t just stand there and look good, she has to be more, both for who the character is and because of what is riding on this movie and how well it does. And here’s the thing: I am not the demographic that has to be sold on this movie. I want it to do well. I want it to succeed. I want to see Wonder Woman on my screens, big and large, as much as possible. I want this to lead to a Batwoman movie, and a Harley Quinn movie, and so much more. So if I’m not convinced, how do you think everyone else feels?

Especially as, so far, there’s been little to no promotion for the movie a fact that social media has noticed, but not apparently the studios. A month ago you could barely tell the film was coming. Despite it being a tentpole, summer, superhero movie, there is very little promotion for it. No extended trailer, no ads running on television, no character posters, or other forms of promotion. In fact, while the film had a fairly active presence on Instagram, it is notable absent from other platforms, and as the Tweet below (and the ensuing thread) illustrates, the absence of any Wonder Woman promotion had become a running joke on Twitter.

There’s even a Twitter account called Wonder Woman Promo? @TASKvsTheWorld which is a one person show trying to promote the movie, but not officially sanctioned, which is just insane that this is what our Wonder Woman hopes and dreams are pinned on.  It’s hard not to read the lack of information and promotional materials on Wonder Woman as anything but a sexist exclusion and a set up for the movie to fail. The fact that Wonder Woman tie-ins have not just missed the mark, but been completely tone-deaf, such as the Pinkberry campaign, and the Think-Thin marketing, do not inspire much confidence.

The simple fact is, the Wonder Woman movie is not being ignored because it’s not a priority, or because the studio has something else to do. They’re not having any problem jumping ahead to Justice League and promoting that. Justice League has a November release date, and is getting character posters, teasers and materials at this point more than Wonder Woman has. Yet, there is a history of each movie setting up the next — much as Wonder Woman was set up in B. V. S, and Justice League teased at the end of Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman’s only purpose is not to set up Justice League. But the lack of promotion seems to be hedging their bets in that way, hoping that Wonder Woman fulfills its purpose of jump starting Justice League, but planning for its irrelevance. I want character posters. I want more extended trailers. I want to see ads on television. I want the studio is put their promotional materials out there. I want a clear sign of support of this movie, the character, the actors, and the directors. Because as long as this current approach on the corporate level is the norm, we’re never going to get the Wonder Woman, or any female driven story, that we deserve.

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Dr. Karra Shimabukuro was always interested in where our idea of the presentation of the devil, death, fairies, angels, etc., seen in movies, television, and comics came from. So she went and got a doctorate to find out! Her interests include the medieval and early modern history of these figures, and how they are forwarded into popular culture. She regularly writes reviews for The Journal of Popular Culture and The Journal of Folklore Research Review, and she is also a regular presenter at the Popular Culture National Conference. She is a self-professed geek girl and can be found at scholarlymedievalmadness.blogspot.com.

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