SXSW Review: Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

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SXSW Review: Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (Dir. Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, Prod. Kelcey  Edwards)
By Joelle Pearson

“Superheroines” is not a word that my spellcheck recognizes. After seeing this film, I wasn’t surprised.

If you’re like me, or one of the other 400 women mouthing “Yes! Yes!” during the screening, then Wonder Women will be candy for your inner feminist. The compact, 60-minute documentary is a retelling of both women’s roles as heriones (or lack thereof) in pop culture, straight from the mouths of Gloria Steinem, Shelby Knox, and other WMST 101 favorites. They move through periods, from Wonder Woman to Beatrix Kiddo, and all seem to agree: women superheroines are few, flawed, and have a nasty habit of disappearing for decades.

Wonder Women is so technically developed that its arguments stand out, bold and clear. Foremost, when young women don’t have superherione role models, we don’t feel that we can be the ones saving others. Instead of becoming Ellen Ripleys, strapping flame throwers to our chest and torching the Alien queen, we’ll become Bella Swans, passively awaiting rescue from the vampires of our dreams (and rather die than get an abortion). Analogously, if women aren’t involved more in the creation of media, then strong-and plausible-women leads are less likely to be written or featured at all. If we continue letting men write women’s roles, chances are they’ll end up a hyper-sexualized boob bomb mess (Tomb Raider) or cleverly disguised proto-feminism (think Trinity in the Matrix, who in the end sacrificed herself so the real hero, Neo, could go on).

Of course, the story was so hyper-feminist that it  alienated some of the male audience members. Like most feminist criticism, Wonder Women doesn’t overtly chastise men for the disparity-but it’s read by many as a subtext. But the filmmakers don’t actually blame anyone specific for the void of female protagonists. Like anything labeled sexist, its roots lie in a mix of cultural, political, economic, and gender-specific expectations and demands. The only thing Wonder Women promotes for sure is that women can (and should, and must) use their freedom in a “post feminist” society to reclaim popular culture.

So if women are concerned that our sex isn’t being represented accurately or proportionately, it’s up to us to fix the problem. Edwards, the film’s producer, noted that the film ideally would be shown for educational purposes at places like  Girls Make Media or Reel Girls (non-profits that encourage girls to get involved with media).

What did I glean from this? Quentin Tarantino still stands as the finest director of our generation. That, and the women over at Chicken and Egg Pictures are doing some amazing work.


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