ENTERTAINMENT

'Wonder Woman' And The Power Of Watching A Woman Save The World

Reactions to the film show exactly why, yet again, representation matters.

06/06/2017 1:04 AM IST | Updated 13/06/2017 1:35 AM IST
Warner Brothers / Jessica Bennett Twitter
Yup, this tweet about sums it up.

I cried within the first five minutes of “Wonder Woman.” And then about 10 minutes later. And then another 15 minutes after that. In fact, I found myself choking up on and off throughout the entire 2+ hour film ― not because the movie was sad, but because I had never seen anything quite like it. Just the visual of seeing an army of ripped, powerful women charging down to protect each other and their world was enough to bring me to tears.

The movie begins with a short dip into present day, but really kicks off on Themyscira, the paradise-like island where the all-woman Amazons live and where Wonder Woman grew up with her warrior queen mother and military general aunt. The island scenes are some of the movie’s most stunning, as viewers are treated to a land where women raise, love and, most notably, fight for each other.

“I blacked out with joy,” Meredith Fineman, CEO of FinePoint told HuffPost about watching the film’s opening scenes. “It was only women ― fighting, being strong, putting themselves in danger, with muscles and beauty.”

The Amazons are warriors at their core, and we see a young Diana adorably emulate her elders, finally going into formal training herself with her aunt, General Antiope (played by an insanely ripped Robin Wright, who I wish was in the movie for longer). Diana is strong in an otherworldly way, and she becomes so not just because she is Zeus’ daughter, but because she is raised by the powerful women that surround her. Her strength ultimately comes from love and community, provided throughout most of her life by other women.

Warner Brothers
Robin Wright as General Antiope (top) and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman sprinting through No Man's Land (bottom). 

Toward the middle of the movie, we get to see Diana’s singular bravery and ability. On the Western front of WWI, Diana steps out into “No Man’s Land” ― a zone into which both the Brits and Germans have been unable to advance ― and deflects all of the German fire on her own. The scene plays out in slow motion, as we see a physically imposing woman taking gunshot after gunshot, expertly sending the bullets away with her wrist cuffs and shield. She is shot at over and over again ― and, nevertheless, she persists.

In an informal poll of my followers on Facebook and Twitter, it’s these two moments that evoked an initial burst of emotion for many women who saw the movie over the weekend.

“The scene that made me tear up the most was when [Wonder Woman] climbs up into No Man’s Land and fights the battle on her own,” said Maxi Cifarelli. “I was completely moved to see a woman refuse to accept things as they are and to fight by herself, winning a battle that men couldn’t win for years.”

Since “Wonder Woman” opened at the end of last week, my social media feeds have been filled with women talking about how meaningful ― sometimes shockingly so ― watching the movie was for them.

A post shared by Constance Wu (@wonstancecoo) on

When it comes to pop culture, we speak often about representation; the simple yet often unfulfilled idea that it matters to see someone like you fill a variety of imagined roles on screen. After awhile, these conversations almost begin to feel obvious. We know that it’s good to see women and people of color and disabled people and trans people and queer people in the same numbers and variety of roles that white, cisgender, straight men have long been afforded. But what these discussions often lose is the emotional impact of finally seeing something you may have never even realized you were missing. For many women viewers, “Wonder Woman” filled a hole they didn’t know they had.

“I reacted emotionally because I immediately knew how potentially life-changing it would have been to see such depictions of blatant, unapologetic female strength as a kid,” Julie Zeilinger, Founding Editor of the FBomb, told me. “In this time of complete turmoil and attacks on women, it was just so uplifting to see something go *right* for women ― for us to have a powerful example of reclaiming not only our humanity but strength.”

There wasn’t much about “Wonder Woman” that felt fundamentally different from any other entertaining and well-made superhero film, except the gender of the lead. (Although it’s worth noting that “Wonder Woman” is less shy about being grounded in heart and earnestness, something that is fundamentally built into the history of the character. “I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing,” director Patty Jenkins told the New York Times. “I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it.”) This lack of massive gap between the emotional pull and delight of, say, 2002’s “Spider-Man,” and the new “Wonder Woman,” is exactly what made the experience of watching the movie so remarkable. It was fundamentally a splashy superhero movie, just one that centered a woman. It didn’t have to usher in the feminist revolution to make an impact.

Movies and TV shows help expand (and reinforce) what we see as “normal” and what we believe to be possible. It should feel both normal and possible to see a woman help save the world, even if she’s not an immortal Amazonian daughter of Zeus. 

Just before my Sunday evening screening of “Wonder Woman” began, I left the theater to grab my friend from the lobby and make sure we had our snack game in order. On my way out, I saw a woman about 10 years older than me trying to take a selfie with the photo-op-ready Wonder Woman cut-out that was standing in the hallway. I offered to help her out and take the photo for her, and she gamely agreed. (The sisterhood of random Instagram assistance is strong.)

After she posed in a power stance, mimicking Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman’s crossed arms, and I had finished taking her picture, she laughed and thanked me. 

“I’m 42 years old,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this movie for my whole life.” 

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