Subverting the female stereotype: Wonder Woman

I saw Wonder Woman with my best friend yesterday, and I cannot let another day pass without talking about how important a movie this is. Not only is this the character’s first solo feature film, it also represents a lot more, and had unfair questions to answer:

  • Can Patty Jenkins prove she’s director enough for this film?
  • Can female superhero movies succeed?
  • Can Wonder Woman fit with our modern interpretations of superheroes?


Wonder Woman’s origin is a mix of Ancient Greek mythology and magic. When Wonder Woman was rumored for the Batman V Superman film, naysayers thought she couldn’t fit in our modern world of superheroes. She’s too mystical, too out-there.

“But,” you say, “We’ve had Dr. Strange. We’ve got Thor. Constantine, even. Those succeeded with mythology and magic backgrounds.”

Yes but they weren’t girls, were they?

An unfortunate underlying element of the Hollywood system is how sexist it is, even in this modern day and age. It’s full of old white men who expect to see the same things all the time. Guys are the action heroes, women are the love interests.

Guys, we’re tired of being just the love interest.

It’s quite sad that it got this way because early Hollywood was so pro female in the beginning. Prolific directors like Alice Guy Blache and Lois Weber were women. Female film editors were thought to have a particular eye for the cut. At some point, these attitudes switched, and it’s why we still have an abysmally low ratio of female crew members, directors and big budget films. But hopefully, we’re seeing more evidence that this will change.

This list of American superhero movies, shows how there are nearly 20-30 male or ensemble films to one female-led film. It’s easy to list the ladies, in fact, because they are so few: Supergirl (1984), Tank Girl (1995), Barb Wire (1996), Witchblade (2000), Catwoman (2004), Elektra (2005) and Wonder Woman (2017).

I largely blame movies like Catwoman and Elektra for making it seem that female-led comic book films can’t pull their own weight.

I’ll say it once: They bombed not because they had a female lead, but because they were bad movies.

People with the supposed “know how” at the top see some female films tanked. “We won’t make that mistake again! Bring on another Spider-man or Hulk or Batman or Superman reboot.”

It has been 12 years since the last female led comic book film (Elektra) and Patty Jenkins is the first female director to head a superhero film with a female protagonist. Wonder Woman has a huge weight on her shoulders.

Even though she’s had unreasonable expectations — literally the future of female superhero movies thrown at her — Wonder Woman succeeded.

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Great Representation

Something you’re struck by during the introductory moments of the film is how Themyscira is completely populated by woman — already something odd to the movie goer’s eyes — but also that the Amazons are diverse with different skin tones and varied muscular bodies. If this movie had been made 10 years ago, you better believe they’d all be cookie cutters with American accents.


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The male characters were also well represented. Steve Trevor, the obvious love interest, plays an important role. The team Diana works with infiltrating the front is comprised of a cast of colorful, diverse characters.

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It doesn’t end there. Secretary Etta Candy gets some great lines. One of the villains is a sinister, complicated woman. The list goes on.

Great Dialogue

Screenwriter Allan Heinberg has credits from Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, so he already knows how to write women.

Although Diana is a stranger in a strange land, she never comes across as stupid when she’s experiencing life in London. She speaks her mind, is very matter-of-fact about how she sees the world and asks important questions about what she sees. She might not understand revolving doors, but she has great insight into bringing peace to a distraught world.

Both True and Something New

Some of the early complaints of long before filming had completed was changes were to the source material. Diana was not wearing the bathing-suit like outfit, it wasn’t as “American” as it could be, it was set during WWI instead of WWII.

But, the filmmakers retained the most important elements of each, and reinvented it into a faithful and new Wonder Woman. Her armor is appropriate for an Amazonian warrior and incorporates American elements: the color scheme, the stars on her tiara and the eagle symbol in her chest-plate.

The timeline was switched to the Great War because, frankly, we have too many films set during WWII and Captain America had claimed that war. It only made sense to shift the patriotic sensibilities of Diana’s fight for mankind to the War to End All Wars.

Diana’s mystical heritage is retained but altered. It’s worthy of note that in the comics, she’s had several different origins. The movie origin played on classic tropes while making it fit for this new story.

Respectful Shot Design

If a man had been the director, you can almost guarantee we’d have gratuitous shots of Diana’s “assets” and something silly thrown in there like showering nude with the other Amazons. How many times must we see a Transformer flipping around a camera angle owned by Megan Fox’s butt? How many times must female clothes be torn in suggestive places?

Instead, we subvert that stereotype. There’s a delightful scene early on when Diana speaks with Steve Trevor while he’s bathing in a mystical pool. He becomes self-conscious, but both Diana and the camera never shame him. In one moment, Diana looks down and asks “What’s that?” Being from a land of only women, we can only assume she’s curious about male biology. It’s actually his wristwatch she’s staring at, something that surprises both Steve and the audience.

This film found the balance between action, suspense and great heart. The entire team pulled all the stops to make this the best summer tentpole you’ll see all year. Skip Pirates 10: Dead Men Yet Again and Baywatch: The Unwanted Reboot. See this movie twice.