Anne T. Donahue: Why Can't Wonder Woman Be a Movie, Not a Movement?

It sucks that male characters get to star in movies and women have to lead crusades

Anne T. Donahue discusses the issue with Wonder Woman feminism

As of this writing, Wonder Woman has received a score of 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it the highest-rated live-action superhero movie ever.

And that’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because the last year has seen a slew of action films that have been received as “decent at best,” and it’s a big deal because it’s an action film helmed by a female character whose purpose isn’t to support some dude trying to save the world. Wonder Woman is a film revolving around its title character (duh), but has come to represent a lot more.

Over the last few weeks especially, Wonder Woman has stopped being a movie. It’s morphed into the 2017 equivalent of Mad Max: Fury Road and Ghostbusters, inciting MRA backlash after all-female screenings were organized in celebration of its release and operating as a vessel through which to fight geek-culture sexism. Back in October, Wonder Woman (the character) even briefly served as a UN ambassador, while the state of her underarms made headlines in April. So ultimately, Wonder Woman is now the platform for political and social discourse and has come to serve as a source of inspiration for young girls who are vying for their own hero. It is an important touchstone featuring a strong female character, but it’s also just allowed to be a film.

While the existence of Wonder Woman is overdue and culturally crucial, the pressure we’ve put on it reiterates the message that female leads are not enough—that a story about a woman must be justified, scrutinized, and picked apart. Whether or not female-led reboots, action franchises, or even comedies will “pay off” have been debated since before Bridesmaids was meant to level the playing field for female comedians and filmmakers. We’ve watched as the merit of these movies are hotly contested by dudes who seem to feel threatened by fictional women carrying their own narrative currency, and we endure excessive eagle eyes kept on box office revenue. (As though bombs like King Arthur or Batman v. Superman never happened.) Movies like Wonder Woman don’t have the privilege of being simply a form of entertainment. Instead, they’ve come to act as warriors meant to strike back at the thousands rooting for them to fail.

Which sucks. It sucks that the act of going to the movies has to be anything more than a way to spend an afternoon, and it sucks that a freakish amount of pressure has been put on this film to prove that female-led action movies have merit. It also sucks that we’ve only ever seen this scrutiny happen with the likes of Fury Road and Ghostbusters, while male-led movies have failed spectacularly with hardly an eye-bat. It sucks that male characters get to star in movies and women have to lead crusades.

Wonder Woman is allowed to be a character. She is allowed to be a fictional being who stars in a movie that you should see if you want to, and not because if you don’t, no more female-led action movies will get made. Wonder Woman may send the message to young girls that women can do anything, but our reaction and discussions around it send an even stronger one: that being a woman is not enough, and that your mere existence must be argued over and debated and used as a marker for what women who follow in your footsteps must do. It says movies and characters aren’t an escape or an extension of imagination, but social and political acts, valid only when enough men—and the “right” men—decide they are.

So it’s time to reclaim movies like Wonder Woman. It’s time to remind naysayers that instead of focusing on whether Wonder Woman will succeed, they should start asking questions about why actors like Johnny Depp keeps getting cast in major action franchises. Maybe it’s time to urge diehard comic book fans to inquire about why Suicide Squad was allowed to be so badly written, or why Batman v. Superman failed its franchises so spectacularly. Maybe it’s time MRAs took a step back from anti-Wonder Woman sentiment by acknowledging this film will keep movies based on DC Comics relevant for at least another day.

Maybe it’s time for Wonder Woman to be just a fantastic movie. A movie that’s powerful and well-done and inspiring, yes, but, like male-led movies, not a loaded signifier of what one gender is capable of.

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