Director Patty Jenkins has spoken before about the impact 1978’s Superman had on her saying it “rocked her world.” She’s hoping her Wonder Woman will have the same effect and is using the Man of Steel as a jumping off point.
Time recently published a big Wonder Woman feature that’s mostly about the upcoming film starring Gal Gadot but delves into some interesting discussion around feminism, gender roles, and the importance of representation on screen. (Oddly enough, with all that talk, the feature forgot to mention the contribution William Moulton Marston’s companions, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne, had on the character’s creation.) The piece mentions Jenkins’ hope of making this big screen, live-action Wonder Woman someone young girls could look up to.
Jenkins drew inspiration from the 1978 Superman film starring Christopher Reeve. Like Marston, she wanted to make Wonder Woman a character to look up to. The heroes that studios put onscreen can determine whether a child sees herself as a protagonist or a sidekick—and there has not yet been a Superman-like figure for young girls. The fact that a woman could utter the same stoic dialogue Superman has for years, Jenkins believed, would make the character stand out. “We’ve spent years treating male heroes in certain ways,” she says. “I just applied those same tropes to her, and all these incredible radical moments suddenly appear to an audience.”
There’s a few things to note here. One is how long, for the general public, female superheroes have begun and ended with Wonder Woman. She even told Time, “We all fought at recess about who was going to be Wonder Woman, because she was the only female superhero we could even think of. So it was play Wonder Woman or be out of the game.” There are other notable female characters of course but as far as superheroes go, it’s only the last few years we’ve seen them break out in a major way (via the X-Men franchise, Black Widow, Gamora). Supergirl only just got her due on television last year (after a poorly-received solo film in 1984) and Batgirl has never had the opportunity for a solo outing, despite her popularity.
But the other interesting thing I took from this was Jenkins saying “radical” moments suddenly appeared when they gave Wonder Woman tropes a male superhero would normally fall into. She and Gadot have mentioned in the past the importance of keeping the “woman” part of Wonder Woman intact but are using the male hero model to break the mold female heroes have fallen into in the past. “When Patty and I had our creative conversations about the character, we realized that Diana can still be a normal woman, one with very high values, but still a woman,” Gadot has said previously. “She can be sensitive. She is smart and independent and emotional. She can be confused. She can lose her confidence. She can have confidence. She is everything. She has a human heart.” All of these things are identifiable features in anyone, not just women, it’s just that creators have often fallen into specific gender roles when creating or adapting superhero stories.
The point is, Wonder Woman really isn’t that different from any other superhero and perhaps thinking she was was what caused Hollywood to get tripped up in adapting her for so long. Jenkins has said in another interview, “Wonder Woman is the grand universal female hero who didn’t have to be lesser in any way. She wasn’t less powerful, she wasn’t less of a woman. She’s as beautiful as any woman and as strong as any man.” The moments Jenkins is talking about are considered “radical” because most stories haven’t allowed for women to be heroes on equal standing with men. They aren’t the norm and therefore stand out when they’re written. (What’s up, Lucasfilm!)
At Time, Gadot said part of getting a message of equality across includes talking to young boys:
Gadot has spent the last two years at Comic-Con emphasizing the importance of strong female figures in boys’ lives too—including an off-script moment in 2015 when she told a young boy who said he was bullied for wearing Wonder Woman gear that he was “more of a man” for loving and supporting women. “We need to educate boys, show boys strong women in powerful positions,” she says. “It’s all about expanding the possibilities of what women can be. I know I couldn’t do this without my husband,” Israeli real estate developer Yaron Varsano.
Gadot also mentioned feeling the need to clarify feminism for people. After all, Wonder Woman is a strong feminist icon but many take that to mean something very far from the definition. “I think people take it the wrong way when I say I’m a feminist,” Gadot explained. “Feminism is not about burning bras and hating men. It’s about gender equality. Whoever is not a feminist is a chauvinist.”