Reimaging female representation — “Wonder Woman” represents a turning point for female representation in film

In the two months since its release, “Wonder Woman” broke the record for most money made by a film with a female director, and made over $700 million worldwide. The film has a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

The movie tackles the backstory of Princess Diana of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, or, as she’s more commonly known, Wonder Woman.

The character, originally created by psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter, has served as a strong female superhero since her creation. Wonder Woman was largely influenced by early feminists, particularly birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Beyond that, the Wonder Woman title has been, for the most part, regularly published by DC Comics since its release in 1941. The character of Wonder Woman has transformed drastically over the last 75-odd years, and Gal Gadot’s portrayal combined with Patty Jenkins’ vision is arguably one of the strongest iterations of the character to date.

The film itself presents an entertaining plot in which Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her mythical birthplace of Themyscira with American Word War I pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to face the Greek God Aries, who she believes to be the source of the war.

The action is high-stakes and engaging, the acting is of high quality and the character development throughout the film is strong.

“Wonder Woman” isn’t a perfect film, but it is, without a doubt, powerful.

The film presents a strong female character who is commanding and self-assured, but who is also allowed to learn and grow. Diana encompasses all of the classic traits that make Wonder Woman an American icon — she has unwavering morals rooted in compassion and freedom, she is loyal and trusting and she firmly believes in the good that humans are capable of. Throughout the film, she is also allowed to be a flawed, complex character who works to reconcile these morals with the fact that humans inherently aren’t always good.

While “Wonder Woman” isn’t the first superhero film with a female lead (see Jennifer Garner’s “Elektra” and Halle Berry’s “Cat Woman), it does do something unlike any female-based superhero film before it — it presents an empowered, strong female who can be sensual and own her sexuality in a way that reinforces her strength, rather than undermines it. One common problem with cinematic and artistic portrayals of female superheroes is despite their power and strength, the sexuality they exhibit is less about female empowerment, and more about appeasing or attracting male audiences.

In “Wonder Woman,” this is not the case. While some might take issue with Diana’s outfit, the film does an excellent job of showcasing the functionality of what she wears. Once she leaves Themyscira and arrives in London, Diana tries on a variety of outfits to blend in. In each outfit, she is covered from head-to-toe, and her range of motion is limited. She ends up accidentally tearing skirts when she tries to attempt high kicks, and even asks, “How am I supposed to fight in this?”

The outfit she wears when she fights reflects her roots in Greek mythology, as it’s largely reminiscent of Ancient Greek and Roman battle armor. Her skirt allows for greater mobility, her breast and back plates are heavily armored and her armored boots are high enough to provide ample protection for her legs. Her suit allows for far greater mobility and provides much more protection than something like the black skin-tight leather suit Scarlett Johansson wears as the Black Widow. In addition to ensuring Diana’s outfit is functional, the film focuses on the strength behind the Amazonians’ bodies, rather than their legendary beauty.

Beyond allowing such a complex female character to exist on the screen, the film also uses Diana’s unfamiliarity with the world of humans to present humorous, but poignant social critiques of the beauty and social expectations applied to women within patriarchal societies.

In one scene, Diana sees a corset and asks Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), Steve Trevor’s secretary, if this is what humans use for armor. Etta chuckles and explains the corset is to hold women’s stomachs in. The exchange that follows is humorous, but the scene as a whole is among one of the many moments within the film where societal beauty standards applied to women are called into question.

“Wonder Woman” has all of the makings of an amazing film, but more importantly, the film’s ability to present a strong, relatable character and its success both nationally and internationally represents a positive turning point for female representation within the film industry.

Corrin Bond can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @ CorrBond


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