Why I Thought Wonder Woman Was a Major Feminist Let Down

I’ve seen more movies this week than I’ve seen in the last several months. Last Saturday I saw Black Panther, I saw Wonder Woman on Thursday, and then went to see Annihilation on Friday. Because I’m me, I end up watching every movie through a feminist lens and I was surprised how these three movies stacked up in terms of strong female characters and feminist storytelling.

I was going to put my reviews of all them into one post, but, per usual, I had a lot of feelings about all of them so I’m splitting them up, so stay tuned for more English-major movie review action, people. I know Wonder Woman is pretty old at this point, but I’m starting here because it was definitely the one I was most disappointed in from a feminist perspective. Let me break it down:

(Warning, spoilers ahead obviously.)

Perhaps my expectations of Wonder Woman’s feminism were too high, but I was shocked at how little progress this movie made for female characters in film. There were definitely some strong moments: Did I cry when Diana stepped onto the battlefield and ricocheted bullets off of her like popcorn kernels? For sure. But did I feel empowered by this movie in general? Definitely not.

The idea of Wonder Woman is great: a female hero saving humanity in a world of violent men. But, for me, the story didn’t add up. Diana is naive about the way the world works, despite having access to presumably endless volumes of knowledge and incredible training as a warrior. At one point in the movie, Chris Pine literally spends three minutes mansplaining the nature of humanity to her while she looks wistful and lost. Diana’s ignorance is laughable for almost the entire movie and, even though she does eventually come to see (and forgive) the evil nature of humanity, it takes so long for her to get there that she comes off as a little dumb!

Even the other main woman in the movie, evil chemist Isabel Moru, came off as weak and full of self-doubt. In order to make a chemical gas that kills millions of people you need the validation and support of a man? Really, Isabel?! You’re an EVIL GENIUS – I believe in you, girl! Call me crazy, but I wanted her to be more evil, to be more crazed and hungry for power. Whenever we see male evil scientists, they’re always have a God-complex and go mad with power, but our female scientist needs some General to tell her she’s good enough to do her own fucking job? I don’t buy it.

Overall, there were fewer women in the movie than I had hoped and the women that did make an appearance fell into the same tropes we see female characters fall into over and over again: passive, emotional, and in need of male validation and help. Diana does indeed save the day and end the war, but it didn’t feel like the triumphant female-centric ending I was hoping for. It’s great to see a female hero defeat the evil male villain, but I guess I was expecting female solidarity to be a bigger part of the movie. I kept waiting for the Amazons to appear or for Moru to join Diana in her quest for peace, but came up empty. To be honest, I probably would have been happy to watch the first 20 minutes of the movie where the Amazons train and there are no men on loop for two hours, instead.

All of this doesn’t even go into the pretty awful racial politics of the movie, either: people of color playing peripheral characters who deceive others for profit, the tired “noble savage” role makes an appearance, and the continued “exoticism” and objectification of Gal Godot (who is Israeli) are all super problematic.

I’m not even going to bother going into the logistical and storytelling problems of the movie because I have so many questions… (Why is there an American in the British CIA? Why is no one speaking German? Why is there a Native American hanging out in the German forest?) I’ve been told this is pretty run of the mill for super hero movies, though, so I’m guessing my suspension of disbelief would have been stronger had I known more about the genre.

Anyway, although I had a lot of hope for this movie, I ultimately had a lot more unfortunate feelings about it. I mean, I’m glad that a movie with a female super hero still made a bunch of money and I’ll probably go see the sequel when it comes out next year, but here’s to hoping it’s success leads to more dimensional female characters in the future.

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