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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 09.20.12] documentary



Women are under represented in popular media. That's not speculation but statement of fact. It's not simply a matter of women not appearing in media but also true that women are under-represented when it comes to creating said media and in roles of power that make the decisions on what projects are created. It most certainly doesn't help that terms like "feminism" have a negative connotation associated with them and that others, like "Girl Power," have lost their strength.

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan's documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines begins in the 40's with the introduction of the first super heroine: Wonder Woman. Hailing from a nation of women who didn't need men to take care of them, Wonder Woman travels to the real world where she saves the day time and time again. Here was a female character that impressionable girls could look up to; a woman who could take care of herself and the world, including men, pretty much on her own.


The image of Wonder Woman has eroded over the decades (and occasionally seen a return to her roots) but what's important isn't necessarily the character itself but what she represents and what she meant to the girls who read her adventures. She made it OK to dream about being more and doing more, of being scientists and police officers, of being real superheroes making a difference in the world.

Though comic books are still popular, the popular medium has, for some time, been television and more recently, movies and the super heroine continues to be as under-represented in this new media as it ever was in comic books. With a few notable exceptions over the decades, women in TV and movies are rarely the focus and when they are, they're largely adversaries, continuing the infuriating trend of matching power in women with villainy.

With interview subjects ranging from film studies professor L.S. Kim to Gloria Steinem, Flanagan makes many of these points, and a few more, and though none of them are new or controversial, they're important to note because they're not always addressed in public forums and starting a conversation and noting that there's a problem is the first stage towards change. Sadly that first step has been taken numerous times, each time moving forward slightly before stalling.

As with any documentary which succeeds in fulfilling what it set out to do, Wonder Women! opens the floor to much needed discussion. Flanagan has a surprisingly positive outlook on the state of affairs and though the women's movement is far from over, some steps have been taken in the right direction. What's disappointing is that some of the more important discussions are largely ignored. What of the fact that a number of the strong female characters of the last few decades (and even Wonder Woman before that) are created by men? Why are women not creating the characters they want young girls to look up to? Does that fact that men are still creating our super heroes, the women we look up to and aspire to be, really mean that we've moved forward or only that we appear to have progressed? It's sad that the number of heroines girls have to look up to are so few that we have no choice but to rely on characters created by men and yet, these are never even mentioned.

There aren't any easy answers and Wonder Women! never promises to hold the key but it is refreshing to see the discussion presented in a format and manner that is accessible to the girls who will, with any luck, grow up to be creators for future generations of girls.

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