When the 75 years old, much praised and blamed feminist icon of Wonder Woman was given into the hands of Patty Jenkins, now the only female director of a female super hero movie, we expected so much from her, not only to liberate the character from objectification but also from sidelining. Therefore, it is important to the feminist pop culture discourse to investigate whether Wonder Woman (2017) and Wonder Woman 1984 (released in 2020), both directed by Patty Jenkins did any justice to the character.
The movie portrays Diana or Wonder Woman as made from sculpture, marking her imperfection (because she is neither a god nor a human). Though she rescues Steve Tremor from the crash and leads all the fighting scenes, she is often just treated like a doll in the hands of men (comparable to ‘power in the hands of a fool’). The movie begins with her saying, ”I always wanted to save the world”: she considered this to be her sacred duty. This equates her position to that of a sacrificing, all-giving mother: ‘To restore the love and peace of the world by killing Aries’. Together with her comical appearance, girly touch and liking for babies, the stereotypes around female characters are reinstated in the Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman ventures too.
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Several instances in the movie with Steve Trevor reinforces the idea that with or without power a woman needs the protection and love of a man: when Steve Trevor covers her with his coat (even when she refuses) and tells her, “Stay here! I’ll go ahead”, she seems to give in to him. And it is only in the climax that she does not give in to what he says (Steve Trevor- ”You can do nothing about it. You need to move on”). To Steve, she always becomes a distraction (“You are too distracting”) and often glances all over her with desire. The scene at the dressing shop ridicules the idea that women dress up not for themselves but for men.
Dr Maru in the Wonder Woman (2017) acts as a foil to Diana, catering to the angel/witch binary trope with her evil, but in both the cases the good or evil is only furthered by the presence of men. It also implies that women are incapable of independent actions, as witnessed from the life of Diana. It is the appearance of Steve Trevor that changes the course of her life completely.
But, who emerges ultimately as the protagonist in Wonder Woman (2017) is presented ambiguously. Irrespective of the fact that the movie is named after the character of Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor emerges as the hero of the movie and the only possible role for Diana, is reduced to that of a heroine. This idea remains partially concealed except for close scrutiny, nevertheless it is obvious. Steve Trevor, an English spy, takes the mission to save the world by sacrificing his life, whereas Diana appears numbed in the context when Steve Trevor says, “It has to be me. I can save the world today. You could the save the world”. In the end, her action of killing Aries becomes futile because it does not alter the course of events. And she falls deeply in love and her admiration increases for Steve Trevor. She remembers him faithfully and mourns for him like a faithful widow in Wonder Women 1984. Her love and admiration for him automatically replaces her position to that of a typical heroine that does make any difference in her new role of a superhero (Diana says, “Only love can truly save the world, so I stay, fight and give, for the world that can be, this my mission now.”). As a way of mild resistance, women are shown to be independent with sexual freedom and physical strength (in this case, the Amazonians). This is shown with nuance when Hippolyta says, ”Be careful in the world of me, Diana. They don’t deserve you.”
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Both the movies do not break away from the typical idea of the ‘damsel in distress’. But for Patty Jenkins who is now on her third directorial venture with Wonder Woman, it will be an important step if she were to breathe life into an independent and free Wonder Woman, without the usual taboos or male supervision for women across the world to draw inspiration from.
Vidhupriya is an independent researcher, currently pursuing Bachelor of Education. She is a Post Graduate in English Literature and Language from the Institute of English, Kerala University. She believes writing is a peaceful weapon to foster equality and change the fixed mindset of society. She is interested in research and writings especially related to Cultural Studies, Film Studies and Feminist Studies. More than this, she is a nature lover and a humanist. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.