"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and let's the future in." - Graham Greene
Can you believe that The Planets is turning 100 this year? Written between 1914 and 1916, The Planets is a memorable seven movement orchestral suite composed by Anglo-Swiss musician Gustav Holst describing the “personality types” of each planet known at the time (with the exception of Earth). The most popular of the symphony is the first movement: “Mars, The Bringer of War”. Written shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, “Mars” is a cacophony of horns and percussion not too different from the previous year’s “Rite of Spring”. It’s the first sound that enters anyone’s mind when they think of the fourth planet from the sun and holds the honor of influencing every film composer—especially when they are working on a sci-fi film.
She is comic’s #1 shero. She was the first character to bring feminism to pop culture. She’s as strong, smart, and courageous as her male colleagues. She is the standard by which every other super heroine is measured. She has a lasso of truth, an invisible airplane and bullet-deflecting silver bracelets. What doesn’t she have?
Her own movie.
Since the cinema adaptation of X-Men in 2000, American audiences have been exposed to a succession of superhero movies and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. As of now, the leader in marketing superhero movies is Marvel, one of the largest comic’s distributors in the country. Their success with the aforementioned X-Men, Spiderman, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies has topped box office records by leaps and bounds (no pun intended). DC, another one of the largest-and oldest- distributor of comics, has had some success with the “Dark Knight Trilogy” and the recently released Man of Steel.
If these films made lots of money, you can bet that more than half of that money came om a female audience partly because more and more comics are being purchased, read and discussed by women. Women are also a large presence at comics and sci-fi conventions with some attendees even appearing in costume as their favorite superhero. That brings us to our current problem.
Notice that the above film titles feature mostly male protagonists. There are female characters in their movies, but their roles are secondary. All throughout the internet, female comic book fans are constantly bemoaning the lack of matrifocal superhero films. Recently, Marvel has announced that a movie about Black Widow from The Avengers is being considered as well as a possible tv show about Captain America’s girlfriend, Peggy Carter. It remains to be seen whether these plans will go through but it’s a first step in the right direction. However, these characters lack one essential element: they have no superpowers. And they are not as iconic as Wonder Woman.
Everyone, even those who’ve never read a comic, knows who she is. She’s more than just a superhero, she’s a symbol of hope, endurance and empowerment to all kinds of people, male or female. So why has Hollywood, particularly Warner Bros. & DC been so reluctant to produce a contemporary film or tv show about her? Is it sexism or something more? I have seen article after article, tumblr post after tumblr post complaining about why this is the case, and, Wonder Woman fan that I am, can’t help but lend my two cents to the issue. So from MY perspective, with much research and speculation, I’m going to list the reasons why the Amazing Amazon is absent from the big screen.
1. There Aren’t Enough Women Behind the Camera
You know those flat screen tvs you see attached to individual pumps at the gas station? I was once pumping gas when I noticed on said tv, a little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it factoid at the bottom of the screen: only 5% of directors in Hollywood are women. It didn’t say how many male directors there are in comparison but I’m pretty sure we can guess that the percentage is higher. When it comes to making films, men outrank women. The superhero genre is no exception. I recently did some research on wikipedia and found that the majority of superhero films are written, produced and directed by men, even ones with a female protagonist. Out of the four movies with a female protagonist (Supergirl, Tank Girl, Catwoman, Elektra) only one had a women director and woman producer, respectively. These four films also happened to be critical failures, commercial flops and recipients for “worst films of all time”. I would hate for a Wonder movie to share the same fate.
I believe that part of the problem was that no one went to a woman for advice on how to make these characters and their stories compelling. True, most pop culture heroines were created by men, but it took a “woman’s touch” to further her development. It was William Marston’s wife, Elizabeth, who suggested that Wonder Woman should be a woman. When casting the for the role of Ripley, Ridley Scott invited several women from the production office to watch screen tests of a then unknown Sigourney Weaver. The response was so positive, she got the part.
So if we want to have more supershero movies and tv shows, we need to hire more women directors, screenwriters, producers, etc. There are lots of capable female filmmakers out there, let’s give them a job. If DC is going to make another Wonder Woman or Birds of Prey tv show, they should hire a variety of female writers to pen episodes. If they’re going to make a movie, hire a woman with a passion for the character to write the script. If a man is writing the script, make sure he asks the women in the studio or the company for their input. But Warner Bros. shouldn’t be the only ones with this responsibility- all of Hollywood should make this a tradition.
However, writers, male or female, may face another challenge when it comes to writing a story about the Amazon Princess.
2. Wonder Woman is a Challenging Character for Writers
Here’s some examples straight from writers’ mouths:
“‘She has no city”, (Joss) Whedon says, ticking off a list of problems he had with the character when (film producer Joel) Silver hired him to write and direct a Wonder Woman film five years ago. ‘She has no great rogues gallery. And she’s distant from people in a way that makes it hard to create identification. Spiderman is a nerd. Batman is in pain. She’s above us and different from us. That makes it hard to make her emotionally relevant. I tried and some people think I succeeded, but none of them were the people I worked for.’
'I didn't make it about how we view women. I never got hard-feminist with it. I didn't need to. She's a goddess. She's stronger than Steve Trevor. We get it.'”
- From Entertainment Weekly November 26, 2010 “What About Wonder Woman?”
"Wonder Woman? Now she’s tough.
"It seemed a bit of a well-worn industry refrain, that Wonder Woman, most particularly of all the iconic characters in comics, was a difficult character to grab on to as a writer. Spiderman’s perpetual angst, the outsider metaphor for the X-Men, Batman’s haunted desire for revenge, and Superman’s Last-Son-of-Krypton status seemed to fit each new writer like a comfy recliner.
"…the character has been around for seventy years, nearly, and each writer has brought a diferent vision to her stories. Is she a diplomat? A mythological princess? The only daughter of a race of female warriors? Is she a super heroine? Does she have a secret identity? Does she have a consistent supporting cast?
One area where I agree with the head shakers and hand wringers, however, is Diana’s history. It is long, and wow, is it deep. Imagine writing a character who has been so many, many things, and closely involved with several pantheons of both the DC Universe and real-world mythologies, and you can see where a writer might be afraid to misstep when referring to her long backstory…particularly since Wonder Woman’s readers are among the brightest and most skeptical in the industry. You do not want to disappoint these people!”
- Gail Simone’s preface to The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia by Phil Jimenez and John Wells
Ms. Simone brings up another interesting point about the challenges that film makers will face when the time comes for a Wonder Woman movie.
3. Wonder Woman Has a Divided/Hard to Please Fanbase
Imagine if a Hollywood executive went under cover and decided to ask fans and comic book readers what they want to see in a Wonder Woman movie. The responses would be so diverse and conflicting, I wouldn’t be surprised if said executive went back to the boarding room, sweating and shivering and exclaiming to his or her co-workers: “Don’t make a Wonder Woman movie if your life depended on it!”
This fanbase can be so divided that I sometimes think we expect too much from Wonder Woman. Oh, where do I begin?
There’re fans who’re split between whether it was right for the Amazing Amazon to kill Maxwell Lord. There’re fans split over whether she should masquerade as Diana Prince or just enter Man’s World as a full-fledged superhero with no secret identity. Whether she should have a love interest or not and whether that love interest is Steve Trevor or, ahem, someone else. Whether she should fly on her own or use an invisible plane. And her costume, sigh, it’s gotten so many changes over the years that fans can’t decide which one is the best version (let me remind you that some people have always complained about Wondy’s outfit being too revealing). And the Amazons: liberated, enlightened, warrior women or violent, misandric isolationists who need to be taught a few lessons about true equality?
The New 52 has caused further divisions among comic book readers for it’s changes to the Wonder Woman mythos. She is no longer a person made from clay and blessed with gifts from the gods, she is the daughter of a fling between Hippolyta and Zeus. Some readers, even those who never cared for the character, are pleased with the changes, citing that “everyone has a mother and a father, why should WW be any different” (the series has even garnered some critical acclaim), while others are outraged that DC would do such a thing to one of its cornerstone characters. Another change that has split fans is the current romance between Wonder Woman and Superman, despite the fact that DC has often flirted (no pun intended) with the idea of a romance between the two for years- even making them the parents of a superchild in some stories (Kingdom Come, The Dark Knight Returns). A movie may add to these fandom wars. And when it comes to movies…
4. Movie’s Just Aren’t DC’s Forte
Compared to Marvel, DC has, surprisingly, been lacking in the cinema department. I mentioned previously the “Dark Knight Trilogy” and “Man of Steel” but those are the latest in a long line of Batman and Superman movies. In fact the heroes that DC relies on for box office success is only Batman and Superman. Not only does Wonder Woman not have a movie, neither does The Flash, Aquaman, Captain Marvel/Shazaam, Martian Manhunter or even minor characters like The Atom, Plastic Man or Black Canary. There was a Green Lantern movie but we all know how that turned out and I don’t think DC/Warner Bros. will be releasing another film about the Emerald Crusader anytime soon. When it comes to tv, the company has had better success critically and ratings-wise: Smallville and Arrow are two recent examples. Television is actually a better medium for comics adaptaions than movies because of its episodic nature. But DC had to stick to a certain formula to make these shows work for a 21st century audience: Avoid wandering into “camp” territory. Keep your heroes as realistic as possible when it comes to live action. What may work on the printed page may not convert so well on the screen.
Superman’s popularity hit an all-time low in the 90s, so when Smallville was in development, the creators were at a dilema on how to make the Man of Steel relatable to contemporary audiences. So they decided to focus the show on Supes’ formative years, i.e. adolescence in the same style as other successful teen shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek. (Ironically 9/11 had reinvigorated America’s interest in Superman.) They also had a rule: no tights, no flights. Clark Kent would stay grounded until the final season—and even then there were changes to the iconic costume.
Arrow's only challenge was audience recognition of The Green Arrow, a superhero that's not as universally recognized as Batman or the Green Lantern. However, the creators of that show had to work on making the series more realistic, exploring the humanity of Oliver Queen and have him face-off against more realistic villains like drug lords and corrupt corporate executives instead of aliens and monsters. Even the costume has been toned down from a bright green, Robin Hood style, to a dark, dark green hooded jacket.
Now there’s news of an upcoming Flash spinoff. However the production crew of that show still wants to keep it “grounded in reality” with less reliance on superpowers. So we might not see Gorilla Grodd, the golden age “Mercury” costume, or a time-traveling treadmill any time soon.
If you’ve been following any geek news the CW (the network that produces and airs these shows) was considering a Wonder Woman tv show, but it’s been put on the back burner because they want a satisfactory script. Many fans were disappointed by this news, but patience is a virtue. And when, and if, the CW does give the green light for a tv show, we again will be faced with these questions:
What kind of Wonder tv show will audiences embrace? Will it’s tone and mood be closer to the Lynda Carter series, Xena: Warrior Princess or Smallville? Will it deal with feminist issues, a subject Hollywood is still reluctant to address (notice how there are no openly feminist characters in film and television and when there is, they’re of the negative kind)? Will Greek mythology play a large role? Will other DC characters make appearances? Who will be her supporting cast and how will they be different from their previous incarnations (think Etta Candy)? How will the Amazon’s be portrayed (once again there’s that “straw feminist” issue). As I’ve stressed many times the people at Warner Bros., DC, and the CW have a long tightrope to walk.
Of course I cannot discuss DC and television without mentioning the DC Animated Universe, popularly known as the DCAU. Since the release of the Emmy-Winning Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, DC has produced some very memorable animated series and direct-to-video movies starring their superheroes, to the delight of audiences. Even though Wonder Woman hasn’t had a show in the real world, she’s been a recurring character in the DCAU and has been voiced by a roster of talented actresses, the most famous being Susan Eisenberg, along with Kerri Russell, Michelle Monaghan, Lucy Lawless and Vanessa Marshall. In 2009, a standalone film was released on DVD to mixed results. We don’t know if there will be any further standalone WW films or tv shows in the near future, but I pray to Hera that at least in animation, DC will give the Amazon Princess another chance at success.
But In the End…
It’s all about the comics. I’m starting to worry that this neverending stream of superhero blockbusters is infecting American society with Pop Cultural Osmosis: people that aren’t familiar with comics think that superheroes started in the movies and the tv shows. But it’s the comics that are tantamount to the superhero mythos. Not movies, not television, not video games. Once I was watching a video on YouTube where celebrities were asked whether they preferred Batman or Superman and their answers were based on what movies and tv shows they grew up with or enjoyed. Not one person mentioned whether they read any of the comics. When I was at Walgreens making a purchase, the cashier saw my Justice League t-shirt and asked if I liked “cartoons”. I politely smiled, but inside I was cringing. Another incident had a cashier at Little Caesars asking if I was going to play the new “Arkham Assylum” game when she saw my Catwoman t-shirt. I don’t play video games, so I replied, “No. But I read the comics.”
So while I like the idea of a Wonder Woman tv show (even more than a movie), it really doesn’t matter to me whether they’ll do it or not because I’ll always have the comics as my main source of superhero entertainment. As regards to the recent casting of Gal Godot as Wonder Woman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, I have no opinions or expectations about the actress or the film because when one’s expectations are too high, they are more likely to face disappointment. I believe that as fans we should continue to show our support for the Amazing Amazon by buying her comics, be they classic or recent, and her products. If we keep on doing this, maybe DC will finally take notice and jump on the ball about that movie (or tv show).