I consider myself lucky to never have felt slighted by superhero media. As a white male, I can physically superimpose myself on just about every mainstream hero, and as a denizen of the present day, enough conversations have occurred that even when someone who looks like me is not the focus of a narrative, I’m not cast aside. This will likely always be the case for me, and it hasn’t always been for audiences outside of my demographic. I get that I am absolutely blessed in that regard. I get that I will never understand what it’s like to have mainstream media blatantly refuse to take my experience into consideration. That said, I’d like to share a few words on how films like Wonder Woman are able to show people like me the light.
I’ve often said that one of the biggest indicators of social progress in media is when the “thing” that requires progressive focus is made out not to be a “thing” at all. A recent example of this is in Alien: Covenant, where a homosexual character is not regarded as THE homosexual character. In fact, if you’re not paying close attention, the sexuality of said character could be easily missed. Admittedly Lope is not the most fleshed out role (and really, none of them are), but that would speak to scripting issues which are entirely unrelated to the character’s sexuality. My point stands: the fact that Lope is homosexual is treated as normal. It is, in fact, not ‘treated’ as anything at all. This is wonderful, and to me this is evidence that progress has occurred. Heck, just a few years ago Brokeback Mountain was the “gay cowboy movie.” Here in 2017, Moonlight, a movie that speaks beautifully about urgent concepts carries no such novelty tag.
Please be advised that I am in no way saying that the battle is won regarding any of the issues I speak of in this column. I am just speaking on the ways I recognize positive forward motion in mass media, a trend which should continue forever. There will ALWAYS be room for improvement.
It is through this lens that I would like to commend and celebrate the feminism of Wonder Woman. First and foremost, a quick review of the movie: it’s fantastic! Exciting, emotionally stirring, and a hell of a lot of fun, Wonder Woman gave us one of the few origin stories which hasn’t been reheated and regurgitated every few years. In doing so, the film proves that a female superhero can fill just as many seats as her male counterparts, and that inclusivity/representation doesn’t have to be at the expense of broad appeal.
Seriously, that last part is huge. My niece can watch Wonder Woman and see herself in the character, and I can watch it and be inspired to live up to Diana Prince’s heroic standards. Neither one of us will walk out of the theater feeling slighted or left out and it’s just so damn beautiful.
What I love about this film is how it both preaches and practices the notion that vengeance-based progress, while cathartic, is ultimately fruitless. Furthermore, it creates an empowering female character without making her female-ness a “thing.” Yes, Wonder Woman is a bad-ass woman, and her femininity is a lot of what gives her such strength and power, but the filmmakers, in my estimation, appear to be interested primarily in creating a strong story, letting the feminist aspects shine through organically, free of lip-service . As such, I, a man who always benefits from having his mind regularly knocked back into shape by engaging a feminist perspective, was able to think deeply about what Wonder Woman represents both in film culture and in the world at large, ultimately reaching more nuanced and substantive conclusions than I would have had I felt I was being told what to think. In the theater I experienced an incredibly entertaining film. In the time since it ended, I have thought about it, grappled with it, and, most importantly, spoke with (and listened to) people to whom it had a more personal resonance. Within me, the American White Male, progress happened.
That’s really, really cool.
I speak as a man who, when faced with the concept of being an all-purpose villain, tends to push back against what is inarguably right. So many times, to my own shame, I find myself resisting progressive movements simply because the methods of progress feel derogatory or vengeful toward me. Yes, this is due mostly to my ego and partially to the fact that I am so rarely placed on a lower social level than, well, anyone, but I think it needs to be noted that the method of sending a message is often as important as the message itself. Some years ago I would have proudly considered myself to be anti-feminist. I was one of those people who, nowadays, would be regarded with contempt. I was one of those a-holes who would have been very outspoken and uptight about the all-female screenings of Wonder Woman (which I now find to be a great idea – and I hope more of these screenings pop up in more markets). I was one of those people who we so often refuse to even acknowledge, or outwardly mock, because they are just so below us.
Yet here I am, living proof that these people can be saved. That these people may even want to be saved. That these people are more than willing to reach the same conclusions as the rest of us, but must do so on their own terms. That the majority of these people are much more receptive to love and understanding than many champions of progress movements seem willing to believe. No, I’m not saying these backwards individuals need to be coddled, just that dismissing them as evil only strengthens their flawed perspective, which does nobody any favors. I’m also not saying that their flawed perspective is anyone’s fault but their own, but since we have the tools to change their minds (and we absolutely do), it would be a shameful thing not to use them.
It’s what Wonder Woman would do.
Wonder Woman showed me, in the way it was written, the way it was received (and through the content of the movie) that love and honesty can defeat almost any enemy – that changing a villain into an ally is infinitely better than destroying a villain outright.
I am no hero, but movies like Wonder Woman make me believe that it’s possible. I can only imagine what it inspires within people who have not been dulled like I have through decades of standardized representation. And since Wonder Woman isn’t concerned with making its feminist aspects a “thing,” it gives the film a very long life. Even if the next fifty years somehow bring us to a worldwide utopia, the themes will be just as relevant and just as enjoyable to watch.
Also, as an aside, I just want to say how awesome it is that Wonder Woman is the only modern movie superhero who has her own theme song. That hasn’t happened in literal decades.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.