Wonder Women! The Untold Story Of American Superheroines


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Wonder Women! The Untold Story Of American Superheroines
"A valuable piece of history."

How do you change your place in the world? How do you become more than you are? The first step is to imagine.

A few months ago I had a conversation about superheroines with Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar, who programmed this documentary for the 2013 Glasgow Film Festival. I asked him if there are any who are not routinely depicted as sex objects. He did come up with a few, but we were saddened to hear subsequently that one of those had a new, sexier incarnation. Of course, there's nothing innately wrong with sexy characters, but the uniformity of this approach to women in the genre too often precludes other possibilities - it's too often a substitute for personality and character arc.

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So where are all the female superhero role models? Where can girls look for inspiration when they're growing up? That's a question that was asked back in 1941, when it led to the creation of the iconic Wonder Woman. She may been seen now as rather camp, and she's certainly scantily clad, but her early impact was revolutionary. She gave form to a developing idea, helping a generation of girls to understand that women could be protectors, rescuers and all round savers of the day for themselves.

Many heroines - from superheroes to action movie stars - have followed on Wonder Woman's wake, but they are still pitifully few in comparison to their male counterparts. By putting the focus on just one character, this film is able to chart the ebb and flow of images of female empowerment over the past seven decades. That still leaves a lot to get through, and as such it isn't possible to go into great depth in a film of this length, but it's still a valuable piece of history. It's also accessible and easy to engage with, despite the presence of some notable feminist thinkers more often heard in academic contexts. Underlying it is the sense of joie de vivre that helped make Wonder Woman so popular in the first place - an invitation to women to take action not out of political duty but simply because it's fun.

It started when the girls grew up, Lynda Carter recalls. Then she started getting letters saying "I work at NASA now," or "I'm an engineer," thanking her for childhood inspiration, for her role in the television show. Now a new generation of girls wear versions of her famous outfit, talking here about how Wonder Woman has helped them to feel more confident at school. Another fan runs annual Wonder Woman Day events, raising money for a women's refuge. "It's the kind of thing she would do if she were real." There is dicussion of the different qualities - compassion and a strong sense of fairness - that the superheroine brought into a man's world. Refreshingly, this is as close as the film comes to attempting to define feminine qualities. When we glimpse Sarah Connor, the focus is not on her relationship with her son, but on her muscles.

Relatively lightweight as it is, this is not a film that represents a major challenge to the status quo in itself, but it will certainly get viewers thinking about the invisibility of heroic women and what might be done about it. Pehaps most importantly, it shows a class of young women working on their own creative projects. Wonder Woman was created by a man. Can a new generation of women working in the creative industries now start developing role models for themselves?

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2013
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Wonder Women! The Untold Story Of American Superheroines packshot
A documentary charting the hidden history of the superheroine.

Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan

Starring: Lynda Carter, Jane Espenson, Kathleen Hanna, LS Kim, Shelby Knox, Carmela Lane

Year: 2012

Runtime: 79 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2013

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