If you are a geek girl, a comic book devotee, or a compulsive consumer of popular culture, Kristy Guevara-Flangagan’s documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines
is a must-see. Part critique, part guide to feminist history and its prospects within popular culture, the film examines the evolution of super-powered female characters among a stable of comic book and action movie superheroes. With the narratives of iconic superheroes rooted deep in our psyches, Guevara-Flangagan exposes our cultural obsessions and shifting values through populist mediums and, in particular, the way women’s roles have been reflected over the decades.
With insightful and humourous commentary from feminists and media scholars, including Gloria Steinem and Jen Stuller; insights from comic book and zine artists, television writers and infatuated fans; and actors Lynda Carter and Lindsay Wagner (the stars of Seventies TV shows Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman respectively) the film explores the creation of Wonder Woman – by psychologist, feminist and polyamorous bondage enthusiast, William Moulton Marston – and the subsequent development and role of the super heroine in our culture.
Within the broader context of the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s, the backlash against feminism in the 90s and the subsequent birth of the Riot Grrrl movement, through to the geek girl culture of our current age, Wonder Women! is a punchy, fun overview of an enormous subject.
From Wonder Woman’s earliest days as the Amazonian princess fighting Nazis in the 1940s, to the subsequent deprivation of her superpowers at the height of the influence of the Comic Code Authority (essentially a censor for the US comic book industry) in the 50s and 60s, the doco also explores the development of heroines such as Alien’s Ripley and Sarah Connor of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, in the wake of the hyper-masculinity of the 1980s. It also looks at the resurgence of strong warrior characters such as Xena in the 90s, through to the post-Buffy heroine of this century. Tracing the cultural influence of these legendary figures, the film explores and celebrates the empowerment they have offered to generations of girls and women.
The personal stories woven into the film, examining the inspiration these super heroines have provided to some individuals, occasionally verges on Oprah-like confessional testimonials. However, one young girl, a victim of bullying, is endearing in her guileless discussions of how she draws strength from the image of Wonder Woman without tipping into sentimentality.
Throughout this celebration, the filmmakers and commentators remain aware of the ongoing issues concerning representations of heroines in popular culture. They acknowledge that widespread sexism and hyper-sexulization of female characters continues, with our most recent heroines seemingly driven by self-sacrifice for the sake of their male counterparts and a desire to surrender their powers. If this was a feature length film, these issues could have been explored in depth. Instead, with a running time of just over 60 minutes, the focus is on how modern feminism and its cultural reflections have progressed so far while observing its positive effects on women and girls in recent generations.
Anyone who thinks feminism is no longer relevant needs to see this film. With the appointment of Gail Simone as Wonder Woman’s first female writer ever in 2007, it is mindboggling how much progress still needs to take place. However, watching the explorations in filmmaking made by the geeky participants at Seattle’s Reel Grrrls summer video camp, gives the impression that these girls, and many like them, will significantly add to the number of female content creators in the future, bringing us the next wave of iconic pop-cultural figures, reflecting the ongoing transformation of our socio-cultural values, and populating our cultural mediums with strong representations of women.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines
Dir: Kristy Guevara-Flangagan
USA, 2011, 62 mins
Revelation Perth International Film Festival
July 5 – 15