I’m not one for superhero movies or for action movies in general. I find them boring, shallow and so unnecessarily gendered that they never keep my attention. They cater to the male gaze, they’re full of hyper-masculinity, and the few female characters in them tend to be superficially developed. I never really expected to change my mind on the topic. But then the new Wonder Woman movie came out, and I heard so many great thing about it, that I actually found myself getting excited to see it. Over on The Attic, our Feminism Editor Amy wrote an article on her experience seeing the film, sharing all the great things about it, and I convinced myself that it was going to be great.
It was. Everything I’d heard (and everything Amy said) was true – Diana, Wonder Woman herself, was a nicely developed character: recognizable and relatable as a person; the film catered to the female gaze; the dialogue was mostly intelligent; it had funny moments and sad moments; it gave importance to feeling, etc. etc. Basically, it had everything that I should have liked. Yet, I found myself sitting there stone faced through most of the film. I objectively appreciated most of the things about the film, but emotionally, I wasn’t moved, and subconsciously, I found myself getting angry.
I’ve let myself stew for a couple of hours, and I’ve decided that I’m sad that this supposedly great, feminist, breakthrough film is still at the hands of the cultural trifecta of greatness that defines the West… and well, that the film wasn’t as flawlessly feminist as it could have been (even if that was always going to be the case).
On the obvious side of things: while Diana is the hero of the film, the man who crash lands onto her island and spurs her into action throughout the film is a blond, blue-eyed American soldier. Which fine, women are reduced to stereotypes all the time and this is a DC film so of course one of the most important characters has to be American. Likely, that’s an intentional thing? Eh. Okay. I’m American, and I’m not complaining that the film had American characters. I’m just a bit over the “Americans have to save the world!” imperialism, especially in this climate. But again, okay. Also, I can appreciate the pretty boy stereotype. (Though I also think that that also totally served to make the film marketable in the US market to make up for the fact that Wonder Woman herself wasn’t American because of course the traditional US market has a problem with that.)
Then all the rest of the important characters are British or under British influence. Again same logic + WWI setting + the good guys needing to win – obvious choice. Again, eh but okay.
But then add a disappointment that was there to me – as someone who associates Amazons to Charlotte Perkins Gilman and not Greek Mythology – but not to people who are already familiar with the DC-verse and the backstories of various superheroes: not only is Diana a superhero but she’s outright a Greek God. I did not know this up until an hour before seeing the film (I don’t follow this stuff!!), and it kind of ruined everything for me. I was expecting Wonder Woman to be this refreshing, Herland-esque film of an Amazonian human woman developing great power. But no, no human woman gets to be a superhero. Only a Greek Goddess. Which I find undermines the message of the film?
Maybe it all comes down to my being an #ignorant American who wasn’t taught to revere Greek mythology, but I’m also sick to death of Greek Gods and the way the entire West lusts after Greek mythology like knowing its ins and outs is a stamp of intellectual superiority that immediately lets everyone know that you’re educated. Greek Mythology is really very cool, but what is it that makes Greek mythology so much more important than all other mythologies? Do people have the same attitude towards Norse mythology? Or Native American mythology? Or any other kind of mythology? No. But Greek mythology? As far as Western intelligentsia is concerned, you’re stupid if you don’t know Greek mythology. I know people who won't hesitate to call anyone who doesn’t know their Greek mythology an idiot. You’re uncultured swine and there’s nothing to be done about it. If you do though, you’re Henry bloody Winter and totally sophisticated.
Still, I would have been okay with the whole “Diana is a Greek God” thing – though still vaguely disappointed by the message, mind you! – if a much bigger part of the film had focused on Themyscira and Diana associating with the other Amazon women who were actually kickass women and not given extraordinary power because they were gods. That, I would have loved. But no. The Themyscira bit of the film was just the opening, and the rest of the film had to go and take place in the good old West with a bunch of American and British men. (Like, this is a feminist film, right? So why were there only three female characters off of Themyscira?)
I’m also upset that not only did the woman who made a big difference in the film find her power FROM BEING A GREEK GOD, but that she was spurred into action, at the most crucial point of the film, by her feelings for a blond American man. She does what SHE wants to do through the whole film, but then at the very end, when everything depends on her, she seems ready to give up until she has a burst of feels thinking of a blond American man and then uses the lovey dovey things he said to her to make herself act. I kind of appreciate that the film played with the gross “a woman has to die for a man’s advancement” trope and made a man die for Diana to be able to advance, but I really wish films could get rid of the trope altogether and make characters act or win or whatever without anyone needing to die.
All in all, I’m disappointed. The film is not refreshed Herland for the 21st century, and I went in with expectations that were much too high. I’m glad I saw the film, and I do objectively appreciate what it does, but I’m disappointed, and I think it still has a long way to go.
This isn’t a well-thought-out or structured piece, but I wanted to get my thoughts out rather than repressing them, so thank you for bearing with me!
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.