It’s lonely being a lesbian-centered feminist full of self-righteous anger. Remembering what it was like before 2016, before a lot more women got a lot more mad. Hiding my fierceness when it came to demanding change. It’s sad now to be solo again on Themyscira. Wandering this lush Mediterranean paradise, surrounded by vine-covered statues of powerful warrior women, wondering where the rest of the ladies have gone.
They have gone to see Wonder Woman of course. They are hanging at the after-party feeling awesome and empowered. Yet here I remain. Glad for my sisters, though melancholy and wary of betraying myself or my allies. There’s a lot of pressure to love the less oppressive scraps you’re thrown. But let me try and sell you my alone-on-an-island travelogue about opting out of the Wonder Woman love-fest.
I WANT to adore this film. Who wouldn’t lose their mind over the very idea of Wonder Woman getting her very own story vehicle? Every white woman alive in the United States has an ‘I can fight evil’ star-spangled Underoos memory. We finally got our childhood heroine all to ourselves for a WHOLE ONE MOVIE. Plus, we got twenty minutes of Sapphic paradise at the beginning. It was like the lady-version of an ad for a Roman-themed circuit-party on Majorca. Those Amazonian real-athlete women of many ages and peoples were legit, and they were built.
My joyful bliss was bounded only by the fact that I knew how quickly it all had to end. Here’s a brief overview of the film (with spoilers!), if you haven’t seen it (hopefully at an all lady screening):
· Amazon women on horseback are in charge of everything on the all-woman Island of Themyscira, where Diana, Wonder Woman, lives.
· Around 1918, men and war arrive on the hidden island. Antiope, Diana’s beloved aunt and best Amazon ever, is killed in the ensuing cross fire while saving Diana’s life.
· Steve - if you look at it honestly, the protagonist whose actions instigate, then really drive the rest of the movie forward - crashes his plane during the fight and Diana pulls him out of the water.
· He relays the outside world news of the day. The Amazons acknowledge they need to use their goddess-ness to save the world from God of War Ares, who is ostensibly causing WWI.
· Diana and Steve take a tiny boat across the Atlantic. They stop in London to have Diana try on costumes for her Pretty Woman moment, bash suffragists for a minute, have Steve put together his man-team, and then it’s off to the WWI front to fight the Germans.
· Diana saves a village, bad guys (including Ares) are hunted down, Steve has the most emotionally compelling moment in the entire film when he sacrifices himself to save a million or so people, and Diana kills Ares via brute force and saves the world.
· The closing scene shows a solo Diana who lives in Paris, because she and we are so done with that whole Island of Empowered Ladies business.
Now for a closer look.
For twenty minutes we get women being fierce. Because I’m perpetually working on my racism and ally-ship, I just gasped (audibly, in the theater), then swallowed the harbinger of ‘this is a white feminist movie’ doom, the black nanny, when she appeared, because the rest all so seductively barely slid by the Bechdel test (there was that one conversation between the goddess sisters – Hippolyta and Antiope – having a super civil discussion about how to best parent a child. The rest of the girl-talk was all about Zeus, Ares and Steve, so, I’m giving it a C for completion).
Note to self or to you, there are only two other scenes in the rest of the film that pass the test. Diana telling her mom she’s cutting the apron strings, and Diana talking to Steve’s secretary about clothes. No. Seriously.
During the backstory, I also deployed some wicked cognitive dissonance to get behind the scene where Diana taps her true power in a fight, and subsequently all the other women back away and point at her like she just hurled up pizza-day lunch on the playground. So much raw power… eeeewwwww.
After the Amazon backstory plays out I get sad. Real sad, real quick. For just a few blissful minutes, I had forgotten that we live in a world where men must love all films and never feel threatened. So here they come in their airplanes with their war, piercing the veil of Themyscira like so many determined sperm. And in the very second scene after Steve arrives (his arrival is the inciting incident for the entire plot), we have Diana walk in on our naked hero, and we focus on his ‘equipment.’ His ‘above average’ equipment, he wants us to know.
We’re now establishing the leit motif of the rest of the film, Diana’s fascination with men and sex. As they sail away from woman-paradise to stop Ares, we get her asking Steve, nay, nagging him, about why he wouldn’t ‘sleep’ with her – wink wink - on the sailboat. Maybe you didn’t catch on but it was one of the really subtle ways they referenced sex every ten minutes in the film.
Because you know, Diana is SO into men. Don’t forget that, okay? It’s the reason we’re allowed to keep her at all.
Whoa. Let me reel my lesbian separatist self in. I mean, what in the world could a warrior woman be curious about while traveling to an unseen foreign shore for the first time other than sex? Would she want to know all about the history of the war she was about to jump in on, the politics of it, the geography, the plan? No! Of course not! She’s just seen a MAN for the first time.
There will be plenty of time to plan for saving the world later. We all desperately need to know that Diana is a virgin, completely untouched my any other man, ever, but she’s sexually empowered and oh boy does she want it. She’s memorized the kama sutra in all one hundred languages she speaks. And Steve’s like, “Okay, but lets have sex later, I’m an old-fashioned guy.” Sigh.
Now we are magically in London overnight (please don’t get me started on the actual screenplay. I can’t even with the summary voiceover ‘love is what we need to save the world’ at the end, spoken *immediately* after Diana uses violent, brute-force to save the world). Here we are in London. Does Diana demand that Steve tell her everything about the self-propelled horseless carriage that almost ran her down? No! There are a man and a woman holding hands to ask about!
Does she point upward and ask, what is that metal bird in the sky, and can she use it in her quest to save the world? No! Who cares about that! There is a BABY across the street she has to coo at!
But hold up. Let’s get back to the lady power in the scenes following. Like when Diana says ‘yes I can’ when Steve tells her not to go into the room of old white dudes talking about stopping the war and things that matter. She barges into the man-planning room, and now she’s out of place, and the men are uncomfortable.
Good thing Steve is a fast thinker and there to explain her presence. Who is Diana and why is she talking? Is she his sister, a foreign spy, or emissary, a soldier, an old friend from school, a code breaker, his brother’s weird wife? No! Of course not. Those would be silly answers. She is his secretary, of course. Did we all just have a good laugh in the last scene about how he treats his secretary like a slave? Yes we did. But that’s not important. #slaveryjoke
What’s important to advancing the plot is getting some back-up to defeat Ares.
Steve takes charge and puts together a world-saving hero team. Is this a chance to give women equal time throughout the whole film? Don’t be silly. This is WWI, and despite the fact that the entire film is about an Amazon princess on the loose and a Roman God of War, casting women in action roles on the battlefield at that time would just be too unbelievable.
So we get the man team. Made up of All-American Steve, a drunk Irishman (Scottsman?), a soft-spoken Native American named Chief (no for real), and a philosophical presumably of Arabian-descent guy wearing eyeliner. Seriously. That all-star list of offensive stereotypes is the team. And I’m still trying not to think about Diana’s black nanny.
Now here we are on the German battle front, and now Diana makes decisions that drive the film forward and has some solid ass-kicking time. Need a village saved? Need to be reminded of your morals? I know who to call.
But - oh no! After she saves the town and reminds us that she’s here for the women and children, Diana really does mess up Steve’s master plan (after they do some bad dancing, make-out, and ‘fade to black’, because, of course).
Still being defiant, Diana says ‘yes I will’ again when Steve says she can’t go to the evil German party where he is going to catch the bad guys. She has nothing on hand but her underwear costume, hardly appropriate for a ball, so she steals a dress from a deliberately-positioned-as-vapid woman (propelling the stereotype that powerful women / feminists step on and judge other women) and crashes the party.
And of course, sexy Diana distracts Steve as he tries to seduce the supporting lady-villain (by telling her she is smart and pretty even though she is scarred). He was going to bed her and steal the poison gas plans while she slept off the afterglow in contented bliss, using his above average equipment to save the world. But scarred villain sees through him because he can’t keep his eyes off of Diana! Damn her sexiness that no man can resist, because who can stay focused when there are bare shouldered women in the room!
No worries. All is forgiven, the plot has to move forward. Diana starts hard-core winning again. She has her false victory moment with the wrong bad guy, and now we’re ready to bring this movie home. Ares inexplicably decides to teleport in from hundreds of miles away in London for the final battle royale.
Now is the moment of truth. Diana gets knocked down of course, but she’s not out. She’s got to reach deep and synthesize. She’s got to put it all together and emerge more powerful than ever.
Does she take a quiet moment of self-reflection and fill with unstoppable power at the thought of her beloved near-immortal Aunt Antiope, greatest warrior of all Themyscira, senselessly gunned down by some rando in a red shirt because of the man-war? Does she remember this woman who helped to raise her for decades, loved her as well as her own mother, and taught her all the warrior ways? The woman who inspired her on her deathbed by insisting that she is the hero we all need? Does Diana pull out the memento given to her by Antiope, gently touch the star on her metal bandana, and flash back to that moment on the beach as she held her dying, self-sacrificing aunt in her arms, still telling her how fierce she was, and then totally hulk-out?
No! Of course not! She’d just lost her boyfriend of two whole weeks who blew himself up in a plane to save Eastern Europe! STEEEEEEEEEEVE!
Seriously? We’re swallowing this as her empowering moment of truth? Bruce Wayne has his parents, Superman his entire planet, and Wonder Woman has - not her martyr Aunt Antiope - but her boyfriend of two weeks - as her can of spinach? I guess dick really is that magical.
Anyway, Diana gets it done, and she gets it done for love. Woman saves the world. Check.
Did real-life badass Gal Gadot (Diana) kick butt and nail the lines she was given between Chris Pine’s (Steve’s) powerful moral-center of the film monologues? Damn right she did. Did Wonder Woman ever need men to bail her out during the action? NO. Was Wonder Woman a solid addition to the struggling DC comics canon? Yes. Am I glad little girls imagine themselves as powerful because they saw a lady beat up a bad guy? Yes.
Do I think that if Gal and Director Patricia Jenkins (who vehemently asserts that Wonder Woman is not a feminist film - it’s “universal” - and we all know what that means) and maybe even Lynda Carter had written the whole thing instead of two Hollywood establishment dudes it might have been less heterodirective and a totally different film? Yes. Might I have had reason to dream that the logistical, emotional, and moral center of the movie might not have mostly been Diana reacting to Steve’s or Ares’ actions, instead it would have been her driving them? Yes.
I think if the women in charge weren’t laboring under the yoke of establishment Hollywood and the DC canon, it could have been so very different.
I know women getting anything at all done in Hollywood is an Artemesian feat. If you think the Trump cabinet is hilariously white-man, you should check out L.A. studios, amirite? It’s cool some boys in charge let us have this film. It was cool to have twenty all-lady minutes. It was cool that a woman directed it, and a woman starred in it, and they did a super-hero job at it. Plus - shout out to you, almost-silent supporting lady-villain. You nailed your four lines.
So yes, yes, and yes to you, strong women who persisted to give us something to hold onto while the revolution foments. Keep on keeping on. Fist in the air. I went to see Wonder Woman, and I voted for you with my dollars. You deserve respect and support for getting it done.
On the flip, was this the intersectional feminist super-hero block-buster revelation I’ve been waiting for my whole life? No. Not by a long shot. Am I mad about that? Yes. I’m mad because I wanted more.
I’m mad because I’m sad. I’m so tired of mainstream action movies driven by men I could sleep for a hundred years waiting for Diana to kiss me and wake me up. I love explosions and fast cars and awesome CGI. I want that to be happening with quality production values and genuinely women-driven plots. What I don’t want is Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, following a guy named Steve around Europe like a sassy, sexy, fish-out-of-water in between slow-mo action scenes.
So I’ll keep on wanting. Because in the end, Wonder Woman 2017 was about whiteness - and men.
I will now take a deep cleansing breath, spend the next twenty minutes looping the trailer for A Wrinkle in Time, and move on.