“Wonder Woman” Embraces History and Politics and That’s What Makes It Soar

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Wonder WomanWarner Bros. Pictures

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

November 8, 2016, changed a lot of things, including the way we consume and respond to media. Just look at the numerous think pieces on the relevancy — sometimes alarmingly so — of new TV series like The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods (which are definitely worth the read as, and this may be beating the dead horse, now more than ever, media and media criticism can help reflect and steer discourse and progress). The latest blockbuster from Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment to enter into the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), , is poised to join projects like these after its successful opening weekend.

Wonder Woman was always going to be relevant and revolutionary — it’s the first female-led film in the current wave of superhero films and it’s helmed by a female director, Patty Jenkins, with the largest budget ever for a female director at $150 million, after all (and now the biggest opening for a female director to boot). However, in the current global political climate, and specifically the , its relevance is singular and it shows. Though the film has been in for much longer than the last handful of months, it is difficult to watch this film and not notice its reactionary elements, intended or not.

One of the greatest things about Wonder Woman is that she’s always been political — as her creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, once put it: “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.” Her creation was inspired by figures like Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and a birth control activist, and Marston’s own support for women’s suffrage in the early half of the twentieth century. In fact, in many issues of her early comics, Wonder Woman wound up having to break free of chains, “in order to signify her emancipation from men,” as revealed in an NPR interview. Which is why, when Jenkins’ movie leans into its politics and doesn’t shy away from embracing who Wonder Woman really is — and always has been — the movie succeeds in far more complex and vital ways than simply being an entertaining blockbuster (although it is that too).

There is a repeated theme in the movie of a character warning Diana not to do something for whatever reason and, without fail, Diana does it anyway because it’s what she knows is right. It happens from the start of the film, and again numerous times throughout its 141-minute runtime, and is glorious and electrifying each and every time, from secretly training with her aunt, the general of Themyscira, Antiope, to the now standout No Man’s Land scene, which has been, gratefully, written about extensively already. Fans across the board have long loved Wonder Woman for her compassion, for what she stands for as a female public figure, for her bravery in defying oppression and dictatorial authority and all the bad guys DC has thrown at her over the years, and this shines in the film thanks to Jenkins’ strong direction, unwilling to shy away from the power Wonder Woman possesses — not just literally, but in broader, more culturally relevant contexts — and Gal Gadot’s performance.

This all means something different now than it would have even a couple of years ago. While the character of Wonder Woman has been an important icon in feminism and the fight for gender equality since her inception, context is everything, because no media is created or consumed in a vacuum. Watching this movie now — with the current landscape boasting women’s marches, Elizabeth Warren persisting on the Senate floor, a resistance movement, a female presidential candidate winning the popular vote — there are understandably very specific attitudes being brought into movie theaters across the nation, beyond the delight and thrill of seeing Wonder Woman finally brought to life on the big screen. And isn’t that part of the power of cinema and storytelling in general?

In the scenes on Themyscira at the start of the film, I found myself getting unmistakably emotional on my first viewing of the film — I was moved to my core seeing the powerful Amazons living in their world, fighting and governing, and demonstrating not only physical prowess but justice, righteousness, thoughtfulness, and passion, all while being acutely aware these scenes were directed by a women. I could not fight, even if I wanted to (and I did not), the sheer joy of what these scenes meant to me, and would forevermore, as well as what they must mean to people across the world, especially now. These overwhelming feelings in response to a piece of art, a particular story or character, are unparalleled.

“Maybe it’s not about what we deserve. Maybe it’s about believing,” Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor says near the end of the film, driving home the importance of hope, compassion, and love that is threaded throughout the film. Now, in 2017, the world is changing, just as it did in World War I, just as it did for Diana when she left Themyscira and was confronted with the complex, gray morality of a reality she had never known before. Believing is a powerful thing and now more than ever, Wonder Woman is here to reinforce that and lead us through our very own No Man’s Land.

 | Associate Editor
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