Searching for Wonder Woman: Why Can’t the First Female Superhero Catch a Break in Hollywood?

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Calling all Amazons: Variety is reporting that the a “tall, brunette, athletic and exotic” actress is being sought for the role of “‘Bruce Wayne’s love interest” in the upcoming, as-yet-untitled “Batman-Superman” movie in pre-production at Warner Brothers. You don’t have to be as wise as Hera to see that there’s a strong possibility this is a sneaky way of casting the net for the first ever big screen Wonder Woman. After all, remember when Anne Hathaway was cast as “Bruce Wayne’s love interest” a few years back in The Dark Knight Rises? To no one’s surprise, Hathaway’s role was revealed to actually be that of Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, a.k.a. “thank you, Anne for erasing the taint of Halle Berry’s ‘Catwoman’ (in name only) from the collective consciousness of comic book fans everywhere.”

As happy a possibility as it is to finally see Diana Prince and her superheroine incarnation in theaters, it does beg the question: “Why hasn’t the world’s first female superhero already starred in her own movie?” We’re on our 8th live-action Batman with Ben Affleck (I’m reserving judgement… remember how terrible people thought Michael Keaton would be and how perfect for the role George Clooney was on paper?) and our 6th (depending on how you count it) Superman but so far Wonder Woman’s only successful live-action appearance was the 1975-79 television show starring Linda Carter. David E. Kelly made an attempt at a new take on the heroine for television in 2011 (the pilot was so disappointing it went un-aired) and rumors swirled of a solo film project to the point where media front runner Megan Fox went on record as calling the character “lame.” You want to talk lame, Megan? I was one of the six people who saw your performance in Passion Play and we’ll just leave it at that.

As a self-professed superhero nerd let me go on record with the following: Wonder Woman is NOT lame. Any character with a mythological back-story as carefully articulated as WW’s (she’s the daughter of the Queen of the Amazons blessed with gifts from Mercury, Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, depending on the comic incarnation) a set of accessories  that also double as weaponry (tiara boomerang, bullet deflecting bracelets, Lasso of Truth and a belt from which her Amazonian power emanates) and a pre-second-wave feminism refusal to subjugate herself to male authority, is a more than worthy subject for the screen. Another cool fact about Wonder Woman and that Golden Lasso of Truth (fashioned from the Golden Fleece): Wonder Woman’s creator was William Moulton Marston, a feminist theorist, psychologist and one of the inventors of the modern polygraph test.  See where I’m going with this? Wonder Woman’s appeal isn’t restricted to women either: three generations of men have been counted among her fans, including this blogger who continues to hold onto his mother’s vintage Wonder Woman cake pan for birthdays, gluten allergy or no.

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Women in superhero franchises have had mixed luck. In the ’80s Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Supergirl both bombed at the box office. In the ’90s Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns was a complicated enough anti-heroine to offer hope of more female comic book characters getting their moment in the spotlight. Come the 2000s Jennifer Garner’s Elektra didn’t fare quite so well (brave attempt, Jenn). Halle Berry’s Storm in the original X-Men trilogy had her moments but the women in the films (including a fundamentally disempowered Rogue portrayed by Anna Paquin, a barely seen Ellen Page as Kitty Pride and an extremely good Rebecca Romijn as Mystique) took a backseat to the male stars. Let’s hope some of that continues to be corrected with the First Class-Original Trilogy hybrid Days of Future Past due out this spring. I won’t even mention Scarlet Johansson as the token female Avenger, Black Widow: we get it, you can fit into a leather onesie but what did she actually do in the film?

For all Wonder Woman’s fashion forward bustiers, thigh high boots and short-shorts, the character has never been just about sex appeal. What greater defender could the character ask for than a real-life fighter for woman-kind, feminist icon Gloria Steinem? Steinem choose an image of Wonder Woman for the first cover of Ms. Magazine in 1972 and famously criticized a character reboot in the ’70s that saw a de-costumed and de-powered Wonder Woman using karate to fight foes. Her argument: why take away the powers and iconography of one of the few female heroes available to young girls and grown women? Please keep that in mind, Hollywood: for those of us, male and female alike, that grew up looking up to the character, a redesign, reboot or reinvention is not necessary. I’ll give Ms. Steinem the last word on the subject.

“Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women, sisterhood and mutual support among women, peacefulness and esteem for human life: a diminishing both of ‘masculine’ aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts.”

By Athena’s sword, no one could say it any better.

Related

  • https://plus.google.com/104416249503115298326/about Treathyl FOX

    I think Wonder Woman, the Movie is a great idea. I was hoping for a TV series and suggested Beyoncé as the New Wonder Woman. But Katy Perry would be cool too. Also Megan Fox. I hadn’t even thought of her. But she would be a good choice too! http://cmoneyspinner.tumblr.com/post/33035603599/cast-beyonce-as-the-new-wonder-woman

  • Sasha Hnatkovich

    This is great Tony – thank you! Princess Diana’s getting her first play (I’m guessing first play…) this winter, and it’s premiering in the Bay Area at the Marin Theatre Company: http://marintheatre.org/productions/lasso/. The play follows an unnamed contemporary young woman as she explores and is challenged by the knotty history behind her favorite comic character.

    PS: Please give Eisner some credit for introducing the first female comic superhero (four years before the appearance of Wonder Woman): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheena,_Queen_of_the_Jungle

Author

Tony Bravo

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco freelancer covering fashion, menswear, lifestyle and entertainment stories. He is a regular contributor to The Bold Italic and the San Francisco Chronicle's Style section.

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