Grossing more than $100 million in the first weekend, the new Warner Brothers film, “Wonder Woman,” was the first runaway hit for the DC comic universe since Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman.” While Marvel Comics rakes in the cash, DC has had a tough time getting Superman and his detective compatriots out of the starting gate.
But they seem to have a summer blockbuster on their hands this time as Gal Gadot lassos her way to the top of the box office. Critics and fans love the film, not just for its great story of heroism and humanity, but also for its message to women around the world.
Charles Moulton, Wonder Woman’s creator, was a Harvard-educated psychologist, inventor of the first lie-detector test (hence the lasso of truth), and advocate for women’s potentials. His premier character made her debut in All Star Comics and, apart from four months during the 2006 season, has been in print ever since.
Sadly, Moulton, whose real name was William Moulton Marston, died of cancer in May of 1947, just seven days before his 54th birthday and never lived to see his character fleshed out into the fierce, Amazonian warrior that we know today. Moulton was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.
Originally, Wonder Woman stories were more one-dimensional, focusing on themes of physical and mental submission. Over the years, writers built more depth into the character, finally making her the equal of her Justice League super friends, Batman and Superman, especially once she was given the power of flight.
Until now, however, Wonder Woman never had a big screen adaptation. But she’s appeared on the small screen many times in animated and live action versions, the best known of which featured Lynda Carter wearing the golden tiara for three years on the 1970s-television series.
Female super heroes in general, and the latest rendition of Wonder Woman in particular, present a problem for the radical right in America. It’s hard to believe that in the 21st Century, there are still those who subscribe to backward ideas of a woman’s place in society. They are constantly threatened by the fact that women and men are equal in intelligence, ability, potential, and virtually every other way.
A great deal of that ideology stems from age-old religious beliefs. From evangelical Protestants to Roman Catholics, women have long been subjugated. To Christian extremists and other militant religious groups as well, a woman, even a strong woman, is viewed through the lens of how helpful and supportive she is to the men in her life. In these circles, women are defined in relation to men, rather than as individuals and have little or no control of their own lives.
The hardest part for me to comprehend is that there are women out there who think this way too. I cannot comprehend what mother would want her daughter to grow up thinking she is merely accessory to men, staying barefoot and pregnant, and doing as she’s told. It’s just incomprehensible.
Although a fictional character, Wonder Woman is a threat to those radically ignorant concepts because she is portrayed as clever and strong, skillfully fights alongside men, albeit with superhuman powers, while retaining her femininity. But it is her bravery, determination and heart that make her just as vulnerable and human as everyone else.
Still, she runs into danger to help protect others, superpowers or no. That is a powerful symbol to young women struggling to find their place in the world.
All of this begs the question, is Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman film artistically deserving of so much praise, or is it just a feminist response to a movie with a female lead directed by a woman? I think it’s a little bit of both, and that’s OK.
Feminism is not a radical concept and by no means waning “femininity.” It is defined as the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Men and women are, and in my opinion should always be, different but should enjoy equal status in society.
If America is to be truly free, we must at last embrace those differences and set the best example for our daughters, and the world, that women are simultaneously feminine, strong, kind, and capable. I will never see that as a threat to men, but rather a compliment.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. More at deerinheadlines.com.