WONDERWOMEN! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

By Moira Sullivan
We seldom hear about heroic women in film who are superheroes, even though there are countless examples, such as Lucy Lawless as Xena Warrior Princess, Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, Milla Jovovich as Alice in Resident Evil and what comes to mind most often --- Wonder Woman.

 Kristy Guevara-Flanagan looks at this phenomena in WONDERWOMEN! The Untold Story of American Superheroines and wonders why there are not more. To answer this question she traces the origin of the comic book in the late 30’s and the great depression when people needed heroes.

Feminist Gloria Steinem, who is interviewed in the documentary, declares that Wonder Woman was the only game in town. And she is the first , and has survived 70 years. In 1941 William Moulton Marston created an Amazon princess goddess for a comic book company and Wonder Woman became an overnight success. In fact she became so natural that it was not unusual to envision that within a 100 years, a matriarchy would evolve who didn’t need men warriors.

After World War II when men came home,  the image of Wonder Woman , turned more to romance with pictures of Wonder Woman being saved by men. In 1954 a book was published by Fredric Wertham  - "The Seduction of the Innocent" –and the author claimed that comics were the cause of juvenile delinquency.  Comics became regarded as bad influences and Wonder Woman was one of them.

In the 1950's, some comic books were subject to a "comic code" and powerful women were subdued, such as Lois lane whose ambitions were cooled in Superman.  Wonder Woman was declared a lesbian which in itself was not negative, but the concerted effort of ultra conservatives to make lesbians negative was damaging. Wonder Woman was even transformed without magical powers and not as an Amazon princess in the  "New"Wonder Woman.

With this in mind, it is little wonder that we don’t have many women superheroes even today, and as one of the women Kristy Guavara Flanagan interviews states, they are often self sacrificing and need men.  Regardless of the backlash women associate Wonder Woman with feminism and as a symbol of female power.

Lynda Carter played Wonder Woman on TV in the 70s broadcast during the second wave of feminism. Interviewed on the documentary, Carter spoke of her character helping a community of women and revealed that the producers didn’t think a woman could carry the show. But other shows were to follow such as "Charlie's Angels" and "The Bionic Woman" with actress Lindsay Wagner who said "the feminist principle" was the unifying theme of the program.

According to another women interviewed in the documentary,  today heroines need to be "sexy, good looking, women who don’t run the story line and serve men.

Its not strange therefore that there are few super heroines today since 3% of the decisions to cast them in films are made by women. That amazing statistic comes from Kristy Guavara Flanagan's brilliant documentary.

"Wonder Women! The Untold Story of Superheroines" will be shown Saturday, December 1 at Fort Mason in San Francisco at 7pm as part of the "Celebration of Women & Film". The "LunaFest", a collection of short films by women will also be screened on December 1. The high quality films depict various kinds of women such as young gymnasts, women artists, a woman going through chemotherapy, the founder of Terry Bikes who fashioned bicycles for women’s bodies and women who work and dream of a better life. The show times for this program 12noon & 2:15pm
These two parallel programs are part of the "Celebration of Craftswomen 2012", which will be held for the final weekend on December 1-2 from 10am-5pm at Fort Mason.
"Wonder Women" together with the Luna Fest,  will pay tribute to women's creativity and help to support the Women's Building of San Francisco.

© 2012 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/28/12
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