Hello friends. If you’ve been reading my work for a minute, you know I love everything and anything comic related; however, it’s time we have the talk. No not the birds and the bees, but a much needed dialogue about Wonder Woman. If you were to ask the average comic book lover or even movie goer in your life, “who’s the first female superhero you think of right away?” I’d comfortably bet on all my DC and Marvel merchandise, they would say Wonder Woman.
Yes I’m fully aware other female superheroes do exist such as Mystique, Raven, Catwoman or Storm, just to name a few, and if you ask me they’re long overdue for their own spotlight. Onscreen female superheroes often are overshadowed by their love interests, their team-members/male protagonists or often times end up becoming eye candy and not nuanced characters; therefore Wonder Woman was supposed to begin a new era of representation within comics. Right?
Wonder Woman (2017) was undeniably a breath of fresh air…for a heavily male dominated genre. Seeing Diana flanked by her warrior sisters inspired millions of girls around the world, teaching that within all of them lies an amazing hero. Wonder Woman (2017) no doubt broke glass ceilings and was a great film (it even made me cry!). However, the film received deserving critiques with many WOC like myself noting the blatant lack of diversity amongst the Amazons living on Themyscira, the hidden island where Diana and her people live in peace without men.
On an island filled only women it’s safe to say people were looking forward to more than a handful of WOC Amazons. With Wonder Woman being hailed as a feminist film, many women felt it embraced a specific form of feminism–one which excluded women who look like me. So when it was time for the sequel, many fans (myself included) hoped that Wonder Woman 1984 would break new ground. Instead, it fell flat.
I could give an entire list about everything that went wrong with Wonder Woman 1984, but instead I’ll keep it short. The film utilizing Barbara Minerva a.k.a. Cheetah as a flat plot device, reducing her to the overplayed awkward girl/lonely single woman trope shortchanged not only the character, but the whole movie. Cheetah, whose not only one of the most powerful beings in the DCU, is sidelined as Maxwell Lord’s sidekick, a secondary villain at best. Barbara’s hunger to evolve from awkward coworker to sexy femme fatale, is just another attempt at the lonely single woman trope superhero movies love putting female villains through. I mean heaven forbid we actually let awkward girls live their best lives. A common flaw in some of these portrayals, though, is that the nerdy-to-sexy transformation is more concerned with aesthetics than character traits. These transformations ultimately leave the character’s intelligence, emotions, goals, and intimate life unexplored. Wonder Woman 1984 which seemed more focused on the usual heterosexual romance between Diana and Steve Trevor than improving the mistakes from it’s predecessor; in the sequel’s entire 151 minutes there’s an un-ignorable lack of any featured performers of color.
Yes the film’s co-villain Maxwell Lord is portrayed by Pedro Pascal, who is Latinx and that’s noticeable improvement from the first film. However, when the movie dives into Maxwell’s past we see the reason his character turns evil is due to the mistreatment he faced growing up Latino. But before you say “Stacey I thought you’re always asking for more diversity!!,” yes that’s always true, however a large part of healthy representation is responsibility; when creating characters from certain communities you have to be aware of the stereotypes that plague them so you don’t unknowingly add to them. Latinx representation is already saddled with xenophobic tropes, so creating a villain who’s whole backstory is “this country mistreated me, therefore everyone will pay,” just adds fuel to the fire about those communities.
Too often when it comes to mainstream feminism, race and other identities take a backseat for gender equality; the Wonder Woman adaptations are guilty of this. Ironically Wonder Woman 1984 regressed and did what superhero movies have been doing to female characters for years: Putting their romantic interests over character development, limiting their screen time and ultimately forsaking true inclusivity, by making them two-dimensional characters. So yes, we’ve returned pretty close to the starting line.
The franchise’s lack of intersectionality is a reflection of the feminism we see in today’s society. Barbara must forgo her pretty decent life in her crazed efforts to be likable, cool and more like Diana just so men will notice her more; is truly heartbreaking if nothing else. Meanwhile the film’s struggle to see black womanhood and constantly dropping the ball with Black Amazons on Themyscira despite their impact in the comics is disheartening at best; characters like Nubia Diana’s black sister or Philippus, the leader of the Amazon military, plays a significant role in raising Diana and eventually teaching her how to fight.
Wonder Woman’s longevity is ultimately tied to how well she includes inclusivity and intersectionality in her iconic brand.