It was only recently that I was walking into my local cinema, almost shaking with excitement, as I sat down to witness the feature film debut of one of the most iconic characters in modern history – something I had been anticipating for the better half of two years.
It was an event that had all the odds against it. Not only was Wonder Woman a female superhero film, which are almost a rarity in Hollywood; but it followed a critically disappointing run from the DC Extended Universe’s prior instalments, featured a relatively unknown (and politically controversial) lead star, and was set in World War I – not the most crowd-drawing setting for blockbuster material.
So, to say the least, it would have been easy for Wonder Woman to fail.
And then it didn’t.
Wonder Woman absolutely dominated at the box office; smashing its opening weekend predictions by a mile. It went on to gross over $800 million internationally, surpassed Batman vs. Superman to become the most successful DCEU film to date, and ending a run on top as the highest-grossing superhero origin story at the US box office – taking the mantle from the original Spider-Man film, as well as exceeding Iron Man and Deadpool.
But even more important than box office numbers or Rotten Tomatoes scores, is that they finally got it right.
Wonder Woman managed to do what was once considered the impossible. It presented us with a multi-dimensional, interesting character that was brave, vulnerable, flawed and imperfect, thanks to director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg.
Diana doesn’t exist for the purpose of a man. Although she has one in her story, her and Steve Trevor work together as a partnership. She can go against his will on her judgement, because she does what she thinks is the right thing to do. She is shown to be both fearless and scared, but still concerned for the lives that are at stake. She just wants to help.
But aside from Wonder Woman’s achievements, it’s James Cameron’s recent comments on the film that have caused controversy. In an interview with The Guardian, Cameron states Wonder Woman a “step backward” for women in film, and that she is an “objectified icon”.
He compared Wonder Woman to his own Terminator character Sarah Connor, who he states, “was not a beauty icon” and that “she was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.”
Jenkins responded to Cameron’s comments, writing in a Twitter post that Cameron’s “inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, is unsurprising, as although he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman.”
“…If women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren’t free to be multi-dimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come far, have we?”
— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) August 25, 2017
And she’s right. Although Gal Gadot checks all the boxes of modern Hollywood beauty standards, not making her appearance the focus of the film created such an unexpected and powerful impact. As mentioned by writer Ella Cerón in an article for Teen Vogue, women in film shouldn’t have to choose between being beautiful or being strong. It’s entirely possible to be both.
I didn’t realise how refreshing it was to watch a film that featured a female character, and not see it through the “male gaze” – to not be continuously flooded with up-skirt shots and sexualised poses. Seeing women who were allowed to age with battle scars, crow’s feet and neck lines. Seeing a thigh jiggle at the power of Diana’s superhero landing. Seeing the camera allow women to just be women. It was one of the most powerful things to witness.
Also, I very distinctly noticed the lack of male gaze in Wonder Woman. Some characters objectified her, but the camera never did.
— Mal (@Malcontent79) August 24, 2017
But even though the lack of the male gaze is an excellent step toward equality in film, it’s important to note that there is a lack of diversity within Hollywood – and it is a prevalent issue. According to a study by the San Diego State University Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, only 24 per cent of the top 100 films of 2016 featured women of colour. Without women of all races, faith, body types and sexuality able to be fully represented on screen, the success of Wonder Woman will come to mean nothing.
James Cameron’s comments regarding Wonder Woman as simply “the same old thing” do reflect what the problem is in Hollywood today. There is a repetitiveness, and there is a favouring of a particular type of female that only hits the big screen. But it is insulting to regard Wonder Woman as being fully part of that problem.
Yes, it’s undeniable Wonder Woman’s history and foundations are built from the male gaze. ‘Male Hollywood’ is still well and truly alive. We’ve seen the effects of it vehemently, and probably will for years to come.
But being able to take that gaze away and replace it with such a richness and respect for a female character, as Jenkins and Heinberg have displayed, is an incredible milestone for modern cinema.
Wonder Woman is far from a perfect film, and Wonder Woman is far from a perfect character – but it is a step in the right direction. She shouldn’t be the only one who represents women; yet neither should Sarah Connor, or Ellen Ripley, or Rey, or Katniss Everdeen, nor any other “strong female character” trope.
These characters should all belong to a continuously growing, inclusive, intersectional and diverse group of women, who are not only strong, but are everything in between.
As I walked out of the cinema after seeing Wonder Woman, I did have a few tears. Not only because of the death of a certain someone (I’m still not over it), but because I realised that I had just seen the film I needed as a young girl.
Seeing a woman so fierce, caring, intelligent and passionate struck such a nerve. To not feel objectified or sexualised, just to feel the pure warmth and power of a female character on screen, was something incredibly euphoric. And seeing the number of young girls and boys who now have this film only makes that feeling stronger.
Overall, Wonder Woman shouldn’t be the final destination for women in film. It’s only the beginning.
Wonder Woman is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on September 20th