The “Wonder Woman” film release is upon us, and might seem to give detractors of The Federalist or me the opportunity to lambast an article I wrote a few years ago, titled “Here’s Why Wonder Woman Isn’t Getting A Movie Anytime Soon.” But the article’s claim is not as sure as the title’s. From the intro:
If we look at other movie offerings, the superhero reboots and the insatiable appetite Hollywood has for franchises with established fan bases, then the continually bumped dates for the “Wonder Woman” film project—from 2011 to (currently) 2017—lends a lot of credibility to those feminist fans who allege the project keeps getting postponed because of sexism. And it’s not just the movies. In 2011 David E. Kelly produced a much-hyped TV pilot that only NBC seriously considered and then passed on when they got a look at that pilot. At casual glance, it looks like Hollywood doesn’t want to do a female superhero project. I suspect, however, that Hollywood is simply having trouble figuring out how to write this female superhero.
Writing “Wonder Woman” is complicated. And she is complicated in a way that makes women, and everyone else, confused about womanhood and feminism and power.
I called the character Wonder Woman a “pop culture perfect storm.” Fans, feminist factionalism, suffocating pieties to politically correct thought, and trigger etiquette would mean that some group or groups would object to whatever movie resulted. (There were a couple of directions the writers could go.) The project could be delayed again and would likely face a difficult reception if it did make it to release.
Why Isn’t ‘Wonder Woman’ Getting Much Promotion?
Now, three weeks away from the big day and following a string of DC Universe disappointments, “Wonder Woman” isn’t getting the promotion one might expect for a long awaited potential blockbuster. Here’s GQ:
After a very rough start to the D.C. Extended Universe, Warner Bros. needs Wonder Woman to be good—which is why it’s so weird that this movie has received such a muted promotional campaign. Wonder Woman comes out on June 2. That’s less than a month from now! So why does it still feel like Warner Bros. is treating this movie like an afterthought?*
Why does it feel that way? Oh, so many reasons. But here’s The Mary Sue, one of the big women fandom sites, with the latest reason. (If you don’t know about the term Mary Sue, I explain that in this piece on Netflix’s Voltron remake.)
I want nothing but Wonder Woman commercials for weeks straight because I want this movie to be thought of as just as big and important as any DC or Marvel movie.
So when I heard that the film finally got a cross-promotional brand partnership, I was thrilled! That’s the kind of advertising that really puts the movie out there in the public eye and drives hype. Whether we like it or not, putting toys in happy meals or soundtracks on Doritos bags (really) is part of the movie-making process, and I want Wonder Woman to get its fair shake.
With whom did the Wonder Woman marketing folks partner? You won’t believe me, but I must tell you: a weight loss company, Think Thin. “Teen Vogue“—which since the election has aspired to be Vanity Fair for the younger set with its merger of commentary and posh lifestyle—counted among the unimpressed.
But the issue some have with the partnership is the idea that since Wonder Woman is a female character, she’s being funneled into societal ideals that tell women thin is the best thing to be. While other superheroes have gotten partnerships with brands like Doritos and Chrysler, some say pairing Wonder Woman with a bar encouraging people to be thin is sexist.
Wonder Woman Is A PR Disaster, No Matter What
Of course, everything these days is potentially sexist, which brings me back to my original argument: she is a perfect storm of PR disaster. Today there is no way to make a movie about any female superhero and not anger some faction. But Wonder Woman is special. She was created as a Siren fit for the male gaze, to seduce them into accepting female dominance. She cannot be written without triggering something that is completely and utterly unacceptable to trigger. And gone are the days when all PR was good PR. Now, triggers mean boycotts, which is not conducive to achieving a blockbuster. (Ask the producers of “A Dog’s Purpose.”)
There is plenty more wary discussion at popular sites like Refinery29, Huffington Post, and Vanity Fair. Google “Wonder Woman movie worries” for a wide range of sites. And that is all after the complaints after the teaser trailer in March: Would Diana really have time or care to shave her pits?
(Up to then, I thought that the aborted TV show pilot, in which Diana confessed her feelings to Major Trevor, found out he was already dating someone, and so went home alone to her cat, achieved peek tone-deafness to feminist troupes. But feminist fans complaining about Wonder Woman’s lack of pit hair now takes that prize. If there is ever an informative video or podcast about how stereotypes develop, Wonder Woman’s pit kerfuffle should be a featured illustration.)
Wonder Woman Only Gets Praise For Fighting Like A Man
About the only thing getting praise right now is the lonely trailer because Wonder Woman is “totally kicking ass.” But that leaves rogue feminists like me with plenty of fodder to complain about unrealistic heroines and girl power propaganda. As a matter of myth making, I do not object to women with super powers. But I do find it more than ironic that people who seek equality between men and women seem to only respect women who fight like men.
There is an entire strain of feminism that thinks if women will achieve equality with men, then they must become men. It is rarely so clearly stated but easy to see in all sorts of mythologies. The heroines who throw the punches just like the guys do are the ones that get the #girlpower Seal of Approval. Of course, given biological strength and stature differences between men and women, that’s a setup for failure. Men will always win a contest of being men, and the super powers writers give heroines to disguise that fact are just one of the many lies we tell young women under the guise of empowerment.
If you want to watch “Wonder Woman” as a hero who happens to be female and take away that females can be heroes, great. Myth stories are full of metaphor potential. But if you watch “Wonder Woman” for a story of how women can be heroes, that might not work out so well.
*Final fun note: the GQ writer theorized that the reason people weren’t getting as psyched about the movie might have something to do with rolling out her costume debut as a cameo in the “Superman v. Batman” movie. No, that observation isn’t fraught with peril. Not at all.