Wonder Woman: an open letter to Marvel and DC

Dear Marvel and DC Executives,

We grew up watching your movies. Even now, we religiously wait for each of them to be released, typically watching them in the first week of their premiers. Starting at the ripe age of seven, we watched characters like Tony Stark, Thor, Batman, Steve Rogers, Superman, and more. Unfortunately, as a woman we were represented as the obligatory, sexuaized, love interest that needed to be saved — we never got to do the saving. Still, we loved your movies. They were big-budget, high-stake, action-packed adventures.

graphic by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Laura/" title="View all of this person's work">"Laura</a></span>

graphic by Laura Bussemaker

Don’t get me wrong — superhero movies have improved immensely since 1978’s Superman, where Lois Lane’s main contribution was an inner monologue about how much she loved Superman. Recently, Thor featured a brilliant female scientist as his love interest, Tony Stark’s love interest became the CEO of his company, and Catwoman was featured in The Dark Knight Rises as Batman’s teammate and love interest. That’s just it though: no matter how cool and progressive you make the women in your movies, their ultimate purpose is always to be love interests — never to be the heroes themselves. You can try to satisfy the 21st-century push for inclusion in movies by making the women you do hire capable, but until they’re in the script for reasons other than to move the superhero’s arc along or to fill a quota, we won’t be happy.

When Wonder Woman was announced, we were excited; finally there would be a major superhero film with a woman at the helm! Progress! With this excitement for new opportunities for representation and the possibility of a catalyst for more female superheroes also came worry. We had already watched our previous favorite female badass superhero, Black Widow, become domesticated and turned into a love interest in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when she was awkwardly forced into the ever-inescapable cult of domesticity, simultaneously becoming the caretaker and lover of the Hulk. Wonder Woman promised a female superhero, but would it merely be a film about a scantily clad, attractive woman with the ability to fight and two hours of her co-star Chris Pine telling her what to do?

Thankfully, we were pleasantly surprised. From start to finish, Wonder Woman turned every stereotype we had come to expect on its head. It opened with an island full of strong, powerful warriors, aggressively training for any threat, and it finished with Wonder Woman being powerful enough to take on a god. The greater strength of the movie, though, was it’s ability to simultaneously highlight sexism and banish the stereotypes that women constantly face. For instance, when Wonder Woman, known as Diana, and Steve (Chris Pine’s character) are in an alley at gunpoint, Steve initially tells Diana, “Get behind me.” The classic man saving the day trope that highlights just how fragile women are thought to be. But when the enemy shoots, it is Diana who stops the bullet. Diana is the one who takes down the majority of the men they are confronted by — with the exception of two others — one of which Steve’s female secretary stops. In just this one scene, the movie was able to break down the preferred fragile female façade, a recurring instance spread throughout much of the movie.  

There were other great scenes, too — like when Diana singularly pushes through the frontlines of the war and defeats an entire squadron, or when she shows up an entire room of British generals by translating a text written in multiple languages, and even smaller victories like when she defies Steve and goes to a German war camp. One of the main reasons to account for this is a female director — the first for any superhero movie. The fact that the movie is headed by a woman both on and off screen is what has been causing headlines, but in actuality, the fact that it is a great movie is what should be the big news.

Children are going to be influenced by what they see around them, specifically what they see in the movies and mainstream media. Your movies do have influence. If women are only represented as secretaries and love interests, little girls are either going to see themselves as just that, or they’re going to grow up to realize that they can be more, causing them to only resent your movies. Sure, you can try to argue that people won’t come to see a female superhero movie, but Wonder Woman’s  $103 million opening weekend proves quite the contrary.

Thus, my request is simply this: more movies with leading female superheroes including those of color. Wonder Woman was a success, but that does not lessen the fact that no other movie of yours has represented women the way that this one does, and none of the upcoming movies for Marvel or DC feature a women as the lead. So, DC, great job on this movie; we want to see more where this came from. And, Marvel, where’s my Black Widow movie?

With Love,

Women wanting better representation

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