The Trickiness of Wonder Woman

I am at this point fundamentally convinced that what the powers that be at Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment mean when they say Wonder Woman is “tricky” to make into a movie is that they don’t understand how to turn a character that is intrinsically and inherently feminist into a mainstream success when conservative and traditionalist moviegoers would be alienated by the character as she is, and more modern thinkers and people familiar with the character would be alienated should they dumb her down. What most confuses me about this is that Wonder Woman seems to be a critique not just of Man’s World but of her own culture of the Amazons: Diana leaves her home (in some versions over the objections of her mother, even going so far as to disguise herself to secure her chances) because her home isn’t providing her with everything she wants to know and experience about the world. As much as she brings to bear upon Man’s World certain values stemming from her Amazonian upbringing, desiring to leave Themiscyra means those values in and of themselves are not enough for her. She has a driving curiosity about what cultures might exist other than and beyond her own, and she pursues a life which will expose her to them. As much as Wonder Woman is a specifically feminist construction, she’s a more generally humanist one as well. Dissatisfied with the limitations of life among the Amazons, she ventures into Man’s World both to learn about, and from, what it has to offer and to exert the force of her Amazonian values upon it while also broadening and challenging those values. That is, I suppose, alienating to the hardest of the conservative and traditionalist among us, because it’s about growth and change, but it’s a pretty basic and fundamental human experience of life. Whatever the intentions of William Moulton Marston — and perhaps part of the problem Warner and DC are having is a perception that Wonder Woman somehow is about subjugating and impugning men — it seems to me that Wonder Woman’s own value system is one of synthesis, one of expansion and inclusion. There’s nothing threatening here, neither in a man-hating feminist sense nor any other. Wonder Woman is a threat only to those who would harm those she loves, and in some very essential way she loves everyone. She’s not a threat to Man’s World by virtue of being an Amazon any more than she’s a threat to the Amazons by virtue of demanding to see Man’s World. She’s a threat to neither, and to both, only in the sense that she’s a threat to any value system in which people don’t do right by one another, in which people don’t see each other as people. (Hell, a previous post here reblogged an early comic wherein she protects not only a victim of domestic abuse but also the abuser from death at the hand of his victim; you can’t get much more expansive and inclusive than that.) She’s a feminist character because she’s a response to an antipathy toward women, and to the exclusion of women from cultural, economic, political, and social equality. She’s a humanist character because most of us ourselves have suffered antipathy and exclusion of some kind, or have empathy for someone we know who has suffered antipathy and exclusion. (And also because women are, after all, people.) She’s only “tricky” as a character if you’re afraid of people who believe in antipathy, contraction, and exclusion, or if you are such a person yourself. I suspect that this isn’t about not knowing how to tell a Wonder Woman story. It’s simply, and needlessly, about being too scared to do so.

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