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DCU Spotlight: Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines


Wonder Women! traces the birth, evolution, and legacy of Wonder Woman.  This documentary looks at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society’s anxieties about women’s liberation, from the birth of the first comic book superheroines in the 1940s to today’s blockbusters with female leads.


The best films, no matter the genre, are those that make you revisit your standing opinion (on a character, story, etc.) and change it, perhaps for the better.  I would not consider myself a Wonder Woman fan.  I have read some of her comics, but was never really taken with her.  That all changed when I took a chance and watched the animated Wonder Woman DTV movie from Warner Bros.  As I began viewing Wonder Women! I wondered if this would also have an impact on my perception of Wonder Woman.  It most certainly did!


The majority of this film is about the history of the character, which I certainly appreciate since I did not know much about Wonder Woman’s history.  Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Kelcey Edwards, the filmmakers on this project, do a smart thing by starting slightly before Wonder Woman’s appearance, looking briefly at the state of comics at that time, and even surprising me by showing that there were some female leads in comics prior to Wonder Woman’s appearance.  The beginning of the film also highlights the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, which adds insight into why Marston did certain things to the character (lasso of truth, bondage, etc.).  It gives a new lens to the character and forces you to revisit some of your opinions at the early days of Wonder Woman.


Wonder Women Documentary StillAlong with the general history of the character, including the obvious decline of the stories and character, her loss of powers, and her revitalization, we also are witness to a history of the United States from the pre-war era of the 1940s to modern day.  This is not your sour history course, however, but an enlightening ride through time.  What is perhaps the most praiseworthy is the fact that the filmmakers juxtapose Wonder Woman’s evolution with crucial moments in history that involved women and their social status.  It was interesting to see how, depending on what was going on at the time, Wonder Woman could have been a strong or weak character.  WWII-era Wonder Woman was at the height of her strength and power as a woman, but stands in stark contrast to the weak, crying hero of the post-war era with the men now home.  We also see that this was a thing that not only impacted Wonder Woman but other female heroes as well.  To guide our way through the history of women’s progression in history we have Gloria Steinem and Kathleen Hanna, along with others.  It was certainly empowering for me to watch how the female gender has been able to gain traction in a world dominated by men, but it was not over the top that it would turn off any female or male viewers.  It does not put down men in its storytelling either, but only looks at how women rose to the challenge presented to them.


Wonder Women Documentary StillAnother angle that this film uses is how Wonder Woman, and history, helped impact the rise of strong females in other media like TV and film.  From Charlie’s Angels to Bionic Woman to Buffy; from Ellen Ripley to Sarah Connor to Thelma and Louise, Guevara-Flanagan and Edwards take us on an interesting ride through the progress of female-led tv shows and movies.  It has been a tough road for women in that medium as well, usually given a short-stick, given particular and repeating character tropes, and killed off in sacrificial ways.  Luckily, Wonder Woman and other strong characters have come around to lead the genre in the right direction.  Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter, and the Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner help guide the journey of women on screen.


Finally, this film uses real people to fill in the gaps and explain, from a down to earth perspective, why Wonder Woman is an amazing character and woman for others to esteem.  A man who has an annual ‘Wonder Woman Day’ which raises money for shelters for abused and battered women, a fourth grader who is sometimes picked on at school, and a single mother who left Brazil and was the first member of her family to learn English and graduate college are just some of the faces and stories you hear.  Sometimes it is not the character that is able to make him/herself popular or poignant, but how others describe the character, and how those characters have impacted real lives.  I was quite taken with looking at Wonder Woman through the eyes of inspiring/inspired people, and I enjoyed hearing why they loved Wonder Woman.


Wonder Women Documentary Still Wonder Women Documentary Still


Overall, this was a worthwhile, fascinating, and fun film that helped me grow in respect and admiration for the character.  This film will air on PBS’s Independent Lens tonight,  April 15 at 10PM EST, and I certainly recommend it for any comic fan.  Unfortunately, I am still left with how and why the big-wigs are neglecting these strong female characters either in animation or on the silver screen, and I wonder whether we can expect another go at the female-led comic book movie in the future or not.  I certainly hope so!


Posted by Stella Bowman

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