Lynda Carter, statuesque, wasp-waisted, commanding, brought a signature style to the role of Wonder Woman.
Hollywood superhero films push the boundaries of special effects and the suspension of reality. Spidey swinging through Queens? No worries. Iron Man with his endless array of high-tech gadgetry? A cinch. Christian Bale’s Batman as an angry, maladjusted brat? Okay, so they relied on Christian’s innate talent for that one, but you get the idea.
But when it comes to making a movie about a feminist superhero, well, even Hollywood has its limits.
We’ve been promised a Wonder Woman movie for years now. In 2007 Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator, and director of the wildly successful Avengers film, Joss Whedon was down to do the film with Angelina Jolie playing the Amazonian warrior princess. There was even some speculation — at least among fans — that Miranda Kerr might be considered for the role after appearing on the cover of the January 2012 edition of Australian Grazia dressed in the big blue pants.
But so far nothing has come of it. Now DC Comics, which publishes Wonder Woman has put her and her alter ego Diana Prince into the category of ‘difficult women’.
As DC Entertainment's president Diane Nelson told The Hollywood Reporter recently, "She doesn’t have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognises. There are lots of facets to Wonder Woman, and I think the key is, how do you get the right facet for that right medium?"
Nelson went on: "She has been, since I started, one of the top three priorities for DC and for Warner Bros. We are still trying right now, but she’s tricky."
It sounds familiar doesn’t it? "We’d love to, but we can’t right now," is a universal fob off for women who try to exceed their station — even when it comes to comic book superheroes. Equal pay? Great idea, just not this year. Women on boards? Definitely a top priority, we’ll put it in our corporate strategy. Shared domestic work? Well it’s a no brainer, except you do have to be a little bit practical.
I’m not suggesting that a Wonder Woman film is as significant as the pay gap and female representation, but it is a symptom of the same sexist culture that denies women power and agency. We are allowed to play, just so long as we don’t show up the blokes.
Women add sex appeal to political parties, and make workplaces prettier and more colourful, but start to challenge male power structures? Well that becomes ‘tricky’.
Wonder Woman makes for great eye candy, but a woman dominating and triumphing over men on the big screen? Well that’s a bit…what’s the word again…oh yes…’tricky’. And an Amazonian matriarchy? Even trickier.
Sure there have been some films with female superheros — Catwoman and Elektra, for example — but neither is a major character. Most mainstream audiences (i.e. non-comic nerds) wouldn’t have a clue who Elektra is or how she fits into Marvel’s comic universe. And despite being featured in Batman titles for years, Catwoman only sometimes has a continuing comic book title. In any case, neither Elektra nor Catwoman are the feminist icon that Wonder Woman is.
The official reasons given for not going ahead with the Wonder Woman film are about as flimsy as Clark Kent’s ‘disguise’. (A pair of thick black-rimmed specs? Puh-leeze.)
The same reasons have never stood in the way of other (read: male) comic characters making it to cinema. A single, clear compelling storyline? Similar things might be said about bringing Batman to the big screen. In the 1940s and 50s Batman and Robin were a camp duo who were unambiguously on the side of the law, rather than a vigilante. But changing the entire moral code and personality of Batman wasn’t considered an obstacle.
Similarly, the most recent Spider Man film, The Amazing Spider Man took some liberties with the origin story of Spider Man. The most important part of the film — the events surrounding the death of Uncle Ben — which sets Peter Parker on his path to crime fighter, was altered.
It seems that Hollywood can work around almost any plot or character complications where superheroes are concerned — except when the superhero is a woman who out-fights men.
There will be those who say that none of this matters; that we should be talking about more pressing issues. But movies — particularly mainstream movies — are the closest thing we have to collective myths. They are one of the most powerful forms of ideology, providing images and role models that can inspire change and help to re-imagine our present. Or, alternatively, they can simply reinforce the status quo.
When movies are dominated by men, they simply reinforce the gender imbalance. Women and, more importantly, girls, internalise that it is men — and only men — who act. If we want to harness these ideological tools for women and for girls, then female superheros and strong female characters more generally, are significant.
If only DC Entertainment was as progressive and courageous as Wonder Woman and her Amazonian sisters.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com