Wonder Woman and empowerment
Ok, I’m going to put a possibly controversial opinion out there: Wonder Woman is not the empowering, representative film that is being lauded for.
< Mind me, you’ll get some spoilers here, so read on at your own peril. Better watch the film before, if you haven't />
My problem with Wonder Woman is similar with the one I had with Disney’s Princess and the Frog a few years ago. Princess Tiana was the first (and as far as I’m concerned, the only) black Disney princess. And, oh my, was I excited for it. There was a great deal of publicity on the fact. And then I watched film. And I was so disappointed. The thing is there are only a handful of black characters in that film. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the good black people are turned into frogs, and spend the whole time trying to go back to human form, because the bad black people are well villains, and well, want to ruin things. So we’ve got two worlds: the animal, with their diversity of species, and the human, where the good white people are being misled by the bad black guys.
Do you get it?
For the majority of the film, humans with dark skin are doing bad things. Whilst it is known that the two frogs are actually black people, and while there are many scenes featuring black people in good, positive moments, the actual screen time and most of the storyline show something else and for the most time, black people are portrayed as the bad guys. Of course, you might argue that storytelling isn’t just about the screen time, or the visuals. And damn, the film got a nice black music vibe from New Orleans through and through, especially in the animals scenes. But is that enough, really? Isn’t the film portraying something other than what it claims? Yes, there is a happy ending. Yes, she turns back to human form and becomes a beautiful black princess. But isn’t the journey just - or even more so - important than the happy ending? Yes, it has made a tiny dent in representativeness, as Disney’s got a black doll to sell now, and god knows how that’s important. But the film itself falls really short as a landmark for representation.
And that’s my problem with Wonder Woman.
The film starts beautifully. There is an island full of women who are strong, passionate warriors. They exude a vibe of intelligence, power and strength. And then, a blue-eyed guy comes falling through the sky. And that changes the whole thing.
The main warrior dies to save Wonder Woman. It’s an act of love and self-sacrifice.
The soldier, spy, captain - whatever you want to call him - announces there is war, and Wonder Woman leaves the island with him to fulfill her destiny.
From that moment on, the only strong woman you will see will be Diana Prince, and there will be only two other women with lines for the rest of the film. One is a comical sidekick secretary that adds little to the storyline. The other one is a chemist who is determined, but evil and seemingly doing her work out of platonic love for her boss. She, too, acts a bit like a sidekick.
So you see? It’s not necessarily the same problem, but it’s a similar shortcoming.
The film is supposed to be about female empowerment. Their actions promoting the film make you believe that. A screening for women only. A race for women only. A woman director for a superhero film, for heaven’s sake! But then, you pretty much get one strong woman. Yes, obviously, the film is about Diana Prince. It’s not Wonder Women, after all. But for a great deal of the time, she is surrounded by men. Maybe they wanted to show that she is strong enough to lead a bunch of men that turn out to follow and respect her. I get it. But I believe it could have been done differently. It annoys me greatly that she finds her extra boost of power when she remembers the love and self-sacrifice of her companion. In no moment it seems important that someone else has died for her before. A woman, her aunt, her mentor. A strong character by all means (if you forego the weird accent).
Look, the film is great. It really is. It’s a good film for itself, and it does put a strong woman in the front light, and men in the background, for once. But the film kind of implies that it’s lonely out there for a successful woman. That if you do it, you’ll be only one. You’ll be alone, or maybe accompanied by men.
My point here is that, for too long, women have been told - and not entirely untruthfully - that we fight each other too much. And the best thing about feminism for me is seeing women getting together and fighting for something together and moving towards a goal together. Not against each other, but for each other. And that’s what I miss in Wonder Woman. This sense that you do not have to be the only woman up there, or on the way there. Its narrative as a journey lacks the empowerment of other women, the sense of community that it was so strong in the beginning.
Wonder Woman is a feminist film for sure. It shows a woman with an option to choose her path doing so. But representativity is not just about one person. It’s about all of us. And all films that claim to be landmarks of such should really do it. As an instrument of empowerment, it could use a fantastic narrative canvas to encourage change, to show a sense of community throughout. Not just in the beginning or the end, but during the journey. Because, heck, hopefully, life will be a long journey, and the whole thing matters. It’s on the way to wherever you want to get that you should enjoy, and fight, and help, and learn, and empower, and use all of that make you and other people great. Isn't it?