Unqualified discourse. The obvious angle to approach Wonder Woman from is possibly the most interesting…but also one I don’t feel especially qualified to remark upon.
I’ve seen how that film effects the women I know who’ve seen it — I’ve witnessed the wonderfully explosive reaction to just a short video of the theme being performed solo — and I know, I see, I understand and I feel how important a film this is; at this point in time, but also generally.
It isn’t just the feminist angle. That’s the bit I don’t feel especially qualified to speak about in detail, except for one general point that I think Wonder Woman nails perfectly and really speaks to its success in what it sets out to do – it isn’t a feminist movie.
And it doesn’t need to be; arguably it certainly shouldn’t be. It has this in common with Mad Max: Fury Road and last year’s Ghostbusters – both work so brilliantly as expressions of feminism because they take the essential creed of feminism, which is that women are equal to men, and they normalise that concept onscreen, as though Hollywood’s been doing it for years.
You don’t break out with an agenda, because people are resistant to that kind of enforcement and you risk losing sight of telling a story and creating a character, in favour of articulating a statement.
Instead, you show the world as you see it – where women are equal to men, no better nor worse, where they are not defined by men, be that in relation to or opposition towards, or even by accepted attitude and perception. Where they are heroes and villains; where the submission of one is incomprehensible to another unfamiliar with their social dichotomy. That’s how the world should be and it’s seen by a lot of right-thinking humans…but that isn’t the world Hollywood has depicted for the majority of my lifetime.
But their identification was by necessity distanced from my own. You can be essentially gender blind, and I think that with children that’s especially true, but I can confirm hat despite my love for Diana Prince, my awe, respect and engagement with her character, I don’t identify with her. With her principles, her morality and her mission, yes…
But not with her. Not with her position as a woman with those principles, that morality, embarking upon that mission. Because that defines a shared experience I do not share; I can identify on that level with Jason Lee Scott in Power Rangers but I can’t access that feeling with Diana Prince. Because that isn’t my gender experience and identification.
The fact that some of my closest friends have not had that identification until recently. That they didn’t grow up with that in the same way that I did.
I’ve always had it. I’ve always grown up identifying with my heroes on that level – I don’t, of course, dispute that a little girl can identify strongly with Steve Rogers or Bruce Wayne or couldn’t be excited by imagining themselves as Captain America or Batman, but that direct gender identification would always be missing, no matter how they personally identify. They’ve been missing in action in those prime, movie-carrying lead roles, where their inclusion is not an “event” or a tick box or anything but normal and expected.
Wonder Woman feels like a movie that defines that moment for a very, very large audience. A cultural turning point, in a way that a movie like Fury Road or Ghostbusters, far younger and less embedded in the franchise and pop culture leagues than the seventy-plus year history of Wonder Woman, couldn’t have managed. It has brought to a $550 million (at the time of writing) and climbing international audience an unacceptably late, but altogether vital, new experience.
I’ve heard that from four different people.
That’s the importance of this film. When women say that in their twenties and their thirties, it’s sad for me to think that they missed out on the excitement and ambition of that kind of identification, but it’s also a thrill to think that an entire generation, growing up now, will start out with it. They will develop it as a child, like no other generation has before them, and they will grow up to make films in that normalised way. What they put on the screen as adults will be what they have been taking from it all their lives, not what they’ve been waiting or fighting to see.
I’ve always considered that — to deviate towards television for a moment — Russell T. Davies got this wrong in regard to homosexuality in the first few years of Doctor Who.
He took the opportunity to grandstand and effuse, with characters like Captain Jack, with guest characters — Alonso, Jake — who narratively were much larger than their sexuality but who became personally defined by it outside of their plot context. It never felt like the time or the place; it never felt organic. It felt like an agenda being pushed, like a point existing solely to be made, not to contribute to the fabric of the story. A shouted statement, not a relatable conversation.
But it’s also a phenomenon in its own right – it does so much well, but I think one of the most important things it utterly nails is to take the right tack on presenting the kind of story, the kind of characters and the kind of world it wanted to present. It was always going to be an important film — the first female-led superhero movie, a revolution even Marvel Studios haven’t dared to press on with, just place “later” on the slate while the testosterone oozes further through up to eighteen male-led movies from the MCU — but it’s achieved something even more important:
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