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'Wonder Woman': more than a box-office hit

Patty Jenkin's 'Wonder Woman' (2017), starring Gal Gadlot was refreshing, to say the least. More than a box-office hit, the success of the film not only encouraged the production of more female-led superhero movies, but also brought a heroine to life for millions of girls and women around the world

Origins of the Amazonian warrior

Comic books were first created in the 1930s by Maxwell Charles Gaines, a former school principal who founded All-American Comics, which created Superman and Batman. The comic industry thrived - by 1940 over ten million copies had been sold.

However, in 1939, the Second World War broke out in Europe, and comic books were filled with pages of torture, kidnappings and sadism. In 1940, the Chicago Daily News branded comics “a national disgrace” and encouraged parents and teachers to ban it over the fear that it would create a generation of “more atrocious” young people. Threatened by such criticisms, Gaines employed Dr. William Moulton Marston, an internationally renowned psychologist, as a consultant.

Marston was a Harvard alumni who had worked as a lawyer, scientist, and professor. He lived together with his wife, Elizabeth Holloway, and their lover, Olive Byrne. Byrne was the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the 20th century; and daughter of Ethel Byrne, who opened the USA’s first abortion clinic in 1916.

Dr. Marston’s background influenced the creation and characterisation of Wonder Woman, and he finished the draft for the first novel in 1941. He wanted the protagonist to be a woman mainly because he believed it would contrast the comic books' usual reputation for their “blood-curdling masculinity”, a response to criticisms from the media. However, according to Marston, his comic was also designed to illustrate “a great movement now underway — the growth in the power of women.” This was reflected by the comic's story line - Wonder Woman was an Amazonian warrior who lived in Themiscyra, an island populated only by women. According to the Greek mythology, the Amazonians originated from Ancient Greece, where they were kept in chains by men until they broke free and escaped.

After Marston’s death in 1947, Wonder Woman stories have been written by various authors. The character has been interpreted in different ways - some very distinct from the original version. Nevertheless, Diana Prince (Wonder Woman's alias) became one of the most well-known superheroes of all time, and was even adapted into a TV series in the 1970s. However, unlike Batman, Superman or Green Lantern, she was never the protagonist of a superhero film.

The film

Rumours and ideas for a Wonder Woman movie had been floating around Hollywood since the 1990s, but it never became a reality due to the belief amongst film studios that their audience preferred heroes over heroines. Marvel’s former CEO, Ike Perlmutter, discussed the unprofitability of female-led superhero movies in a 2014 leaked e-mail, citing examples such as of Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005).

However, films such as The Hunger Games and Kill Bill were not only box-office successes, but were also critically acclaimed. Although they weren't adapted from comics, this still nonetheless shows how films with a female lead can be a success.

Marvel’s lack of female-led movies has long been an issue. The company’s first one is set to debut in 2019 (Captain Marvel, starring Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson), and will be MCU’s (Marvel’s Cinematic Universe) twentieth-first movie. On the other hand, Wonder Woman is DCEU’s (DC Extended Universe) fourth movie, and has proved to be their most successful one so far. It is a box-office hit, grossing over $800 million worldwide; in fact, a sequel will be released in late 2019.

Diversity and increased representation

Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot at Comic-Con International

The success of the film was two-fold. It created a more favourable atmosphere for superheroine films. In fact, DC has two of such movies currently in production - Gotham City Sirens (directed by David Ayer), and Batgirl (directed by Joss Whedon).

More importantly, it diversified the representation of superheroes in Hollywood. As a comic book enthusiast, watching Wonder Woman was an experience. Seeing little kids dress up as Amazonian warriors at a carnival and all over social media, brought back memories from my childhood, as she was one of the few comic book heroines which I came across and related to. Diana Prince is far from the "perfect" feminist icon (if one even exists) - her story is nowhere near as inspiring as real-life women and feminists such as Malala, Joana d’Arc, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. But there is still value in the production of this film - the fact that it is one Hollywood is willing to produce represented a change in culture. Its wide circulation has reached millions of women, and Jenkin's understanding of Wonder Women's origin and purpose was reflected throughout the film - it did inspire little girls to feel strong and empowered.

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