By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
Since I saw the film in June, I knew I wanted to talk about “Wonder Woman”. In a particularly strong summer for filmmaking, there was only one film that had me in actual tears. I could make a 7 article series about every little nuance I love about Dianna Prince’s first film. How the film is perhaps the closest we’ve gotten to the recapturing the feeling of the original Superman film: seeing a beloved hero leap off the page fully formed, fighting for truth, justice and sincerity in a world almost completely numbed from cynicism. How Gal Gadot was a near perfect realization of the character, making her fresh while understanding the vision William Marston had for his hero. How the action is swift and brutal and graceful without being objectifying. How early Wonder Woman villain Dr. Poison is reimagined to be a delightfully sinister character. How surprisingly fun Chris Pine is. I can go on.
But hundreds of infinitely qualified critics have broken down Wonder Woman as a film, so I want to talk a small part of the discussion around Wonder Woman, and by extension a growing segment of our media. The discussion of #GirlPower. Now, a massive qualifier: I am no doubt not the best person to talk about these issues, but it is a topic that interests me and I want to try and capture my thoughts about as best I can.
When I use the word #GirlPower, I mean the sort of feminism you find in a corporate product and the debate as to whether or not that can be considered true feminism. For example, if “Ghostbusters” (2016) chooses to makes its four leads all female and prominently boasts its largely female crew, is that empowering or a cynical attempt to ‘sell’ inclusiveness? The key idea is that is simply having women in roles enough, especially in blockbuster scene where every decision is met with the specter of making money? And while “Wonder Woman” has not seen the same criticism as many other female driven works, questions of whether or not “Wonder Woman” can truly be feminist arise when a part of its mission statement is to fill Targets and Hot Topic with as many t-shirts as humanly possible.
Now, that is just the financial side of the debate. What is more prevalent to what I want to discuss is the idea that having a female lead or presence in your work is not automatically feminist, empowering or political. This idea fascinates me because it’s a sentiment that’s shared across the aisle. Alt-Right/4chan types will rail against the ‘political correctness’ of women led works, progressives will be skeptical and approach female centric works with a heavy critical lens (take for example the debate as to whether or not “Mad Max: Fury Road” was ‘feminist’ or not) while pushing back against the accusation that they will support something simply because it is female led.
The key question from over 500 words of awkwardly trying to capture nuanced gender subjects is this: Is the presence of women in media and pop culture important on its own?
You might have forgotten about this story, but on March 7th last year, the Fearless Girl statue was placed on Wall Street. The bronze figure of a young girl standing confidently and staring down the famous Wall Street Bull became a social media sensation in the wake of the Women’s Marches, an icon for the female led push back against the Trump Era. The statue was commissioned by the investment firm SSGA, to celebrate the anniversary of the SHE, an index that tracks diversity in companies. Many people argued that, being commissioned by a trillion dollar Wall Street entity, The Fearless Girl is at best a tacky advertisement and token nod to “#GirlPower” without any substance. Artist Alex Gardega had his own way of voicing his criticism.
Around May 30th, the New York artist put up a sculpture of a dog lifting its leg to pee on the Fearless Girl. While he argued that his position was frustration over the statue altering the artistic vision of the Bull, his argument that the statue was “invading the space that belongs to the Bull” was a telling choice of words. There is no getting around the optics of a grown man being so mad or offended by a statue of a female in the same space as a male coded figure, he took the time, energy and resources to make a bronze dog to pee on her.
The mere concept of representation is important because we have entered a cultural climate where the mere presence of females can create a hostile push back. People railing against the idea of female “Ghostbusters”, or spitting venom when people question the treatment of female characters in media, or pushes back against female creators and critics in ways they wouldn’t attack male figures continues to push a view that not only do the hold a lower view of women, they don’t believe that women belong in the public sphere. And this sentiment has permeated from media and pop culture to the highest rungs of American culture. Isn’t the outrage of Hillary Clinton’s efforts to stay in the public sphere while Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and John Kasich of all people are invited onto CNN Town Halls just a bit off?
By refusing to slip into the shadows, females are making a forceful political statement: “No, we belong here.” By just fighting for a place on the screen, the stage, or the artistic space, women are inspiring women and girls across the globe, reassuring them that they deserve their chance to shine as well, no matter of vicious or angry the naysayers may be. Regardless of a studio’s intent, corporate beneficiaries, or cynical motivations, that is one of the most important messages we can have in media right now.
And I think that, among all of the other praise you can give the film, is what makes that Woman a Wonder.