Waiting for a Wonder Woman of our own

It took Wonder Woman 76 years to get her own film. Why? And how long do we have to wait for a homegrown female superhero? Marilyn Gore wonders…

Wonder Woman has long since been the definitive female superhero for many people. If she’d been a mortal, she’d be pushing 90 by now. As it stands, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, in an interview with Collider, says Diana of Themyscira is “thousands of years old”. Pretty old to finally have a coming-of-age story. So, why did it take Hollywood this long to give Wonder Woman — who debuted in All Star Comics #8 way back in 1941 — a standalone feature film?

Rumours about a Wonder Woman movie have been doing the rounds since 2005 — the year Batman Begins released. Both Superman and the Caped Crusader — who, with Wonder Woman, make up the trinity of DC Comic’s biggest names — have each had at least three outings since then.

Tough nut to crack

Over the years, several theories have emerged for the lack of a Wonder Woman movie; the primary ones being Diana’s mythological origins and lack of a central narrative. In 2013, Graeme McMillan offered a third alternative in Time: “Perhaps Wonder Woman is too much of an icon for adaptation… (while there are other super heroines), only Wonder Woman has anywhere near the iconic status of a Superman, Batman or Spider-Man.”

A Wonder Woman movie, he added: “wouldn’t be seen as ‘just’ a movie about Wonder Woman, but a movie for all female superheroes… What if the difficulty in making a Wonder Woman movie … is all about coming to terms with the pressures that come from who Wonder Woman is in the metatextual sense?”

Breaking myths

For all its delays, Wonder Woman — the first solo superheroine-film since 1984’s Supergirl — has firmly trounced the idea that “women don’t sell”. After one month in theatres, it became one of the top 100 highest-grossing movies ever released, having earned more than $700 million globally. Wonder Woman’s success seems to imply that it is women-centric films made by men — the Hunger Games trilogy notwithstanding—that don’t sell.

It’s no secret that superhero films have been doing well in India. With Wonder Woman still in theatres five weeks after its release, Indian audiences seem ready for films with a homegrown superheroine. However, as Jatin Varma, Founder, Comic Con India, points out, “Over all, there haven’t been many Indian superhero movies. They have been Bollywood movies with a superhero plot; and most, if not all, have been terrible. I think we need a lot more female oriented superhero content before we can start thinking of films.”

Women before wonder women

Chennai-based independent film-maker and founder of Women Making Films, a community of female film-makers, Vaishnavi Sundar says: “Forget Wonder Woman, or female superheroes, we don’t even have movies with authentically strong female characters… We first need movies about the female experience — the everyday stuff — something that is completely relatable. We need to make movies about regular women before we graduate to making films about women with superpowers.”

Sundar is emphatic about the need for a larger female presence in the industry: “Men need to stop making films about women… The points of view are totally different. A man cannot think like a woman. No matter how intimate a man is with a woman, he cannot generalise.”

This might have underlined a problem in the past as comic books, alternative universes and superheroes have traditionally been seen as a boys’ club. So if women didn’t do geek, and men couldn’t/wouldn’t make films about women, how would we ever get a good female-superhero film? Luckily, female geeks — while still a minority — are on the rise, and account for about 40 per cent of Comic Con participants in India, according to Varma.

Long wait ahead

While Varma and Sundar do foresee women, and women super heroes, taking a stronger lead in Indian films, they do not see it happening overnight. Despite the wealth of seemingly strong female characters in Indian history and mythology, Sundar insists that “everything these women do is for, or because of, their fathers, brothers, or husbands.”  This means the onus of creating an Indian answer to Wonder Woman lies entirely with modern storytellers.

She says: “There is a paradigm shift occurring in the industry, but it will take a long time. We need more women film-makers, cinematographers, editors, actresses… everyone. So, will it happen? Yes, eventually.”

League of her own

Wonder Woman drew from utopian feminist fiction, and her mythology — as creator William Moulton Marston put it — was, “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world”.

A lack of tragic origins may have also contributed to Wonder Woman’s delayed solo debut on the big screen. Everyone knows that Batman and Spider-Man were shaped by death, Superman was sent to Earth when his planet was dying, and even Thor was sent to Earth as punishment. Diana, on the other hand, chose — despite knowing what mankind was capable of — to bring mankind back to honour and justice. Not only does she expect better of “Man”, she presumes that they are better than they appear.

Diana, Daughter of Hippolyta, first came to us as a love-struck teenager, who seemed to abuse her powers — gifts from various Greek goddesses — just to spend time with a boy. And look where she is today. So, maybe, all we need to do, as Wonder Woman said, is believe.

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