Wonder Woman was one of the highest-grossing films of 2017, and for good reason – the film is badass and lovely, features many explosions, and the role reversal (with the disposable male love interest) was spectacularly done. It raised questions of class, of courage, what makes a hero and of which voices we listen to when the world needs saving. And, honestly, Wonder Woman was just a really bright, hopeful, quintessential superhero story with an incredible feminist slant. It was so good to see a superhero who is a woman and looks like me; Gal Gadot played the role, even with its occasional awkward lines and cliche moments, perfectly. (Also, I have to ask — where is the island with all the warrior women, and how I join it right now, at this very minute?)
That said, this film, like many, also had its issues — issues that hold the film back from being as revolutionary as I’d hoped, and issues that must be addressed if we’re to hold up Wonder Woman as an example of a truly feminist film.
To start, why is Diana’s beauty constantly commented on, over and over again, enough that it’s essentially equated to her strength and power, as if one can’t exist without the other? Considering Diana very much fits into stereotypical Western beauty norms, that’s disappointing and fucked up on so many levels. On a smaller, yet still horrible note, there’s a scene in which one of the side characters brings up Diana’s thinness and then, about ten seconds later, makes a comment about how strikingly beautiful she is, as if those observations are the same thing. The fatphobia is real, y’all.
I think perhaps my main issue with this film, which stems from the above, is that the main villain’s face is scarred and deformed beneath the Phantom of the Opera-esque mask that she wears for the majority of the film, and that this is her biggest flaw. We finally see her full face during an unnecessarily long, drawn-out and dramatic reveal, during which another villain attempts to bait our main character into turning against humanity on the strength of the observation that all humans are as “ugly” as the scarred woman.
I hope I don’t need to point out how ableist and upsetting that moment is. Why is beauty synonymous with goodness — and, more importantly, why can’t a woman with a scar be just as beautiful as one without?
Also, I realize this is far too much to ask, but I would have killed for Diana to be a lesbian. The heterosexual romance was weird and forced and unnatural.
I adored Wonder Woman overall and saw it three times in the cinema just so I could throw more money at it. The film is intelligent and furious and at times even heartbreaking, and there are huge problems with it that we as fans must dissect and demand to be remedied in future Wonder Woman films. I found those very difficult to overlook, and I’m quite surprised and disappointed that I didn’t hear more about them from all of the individuals who raved about the film to me.
Ultimately, the most glaring issues in Wonder Woman raise questions about Western beauty standards and how best to bring feminism to the silver screen in a way that does not conform to the very pitfalls the film tries to denounce. I believe there are ways to make future sequels of the film better — what if Diana fell in love with a woman? What if she was involved in an accident that scarred her body, and that accident did not affect the ways in which we discuss her beauty? We must be open to these possibilities in our fannish discourse, but also — and perhaps even more importantly — we must pressure writers and directors to address them on the screen, so that future generations of girls are able to find the heroine they deserve in Diana’s story. •
Topaz Winters is a poet, editor, actress, & entrepreneur. Her work has been published in Cosmonauts Avenue & Rust+Moth, profiled in The Straits Times & Cicada Magazine, & commended by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards & the National YoungArts Foundation, among others. She is the youngest Singaporean ever to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She serves as the editor-in-chief & creative director at Half Mystic Press; her latest book, which debuted at the Singapore Writers’ Festival, is poems for the sound of the sky before thunder (Math Paper Press, 2017); her latest film is the award-winning & critically-acclaimed SUPERNOVA (dir. Ishan Modi, 2017). She was born in 1999 & resides at topazwinters.com. She enjoys tea, films, wildflowers, & the colour of the sky when nothing is dreaming of it.