Last year I backed a Kickstarter for a documentary entitled Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines. Though it was shown at Geek Girl Con 2012, which I attended, I missed that screening and so upon receiving my backer’s copy in the mail, settled down for a night of the history of ladies kicking ass. Produced by Kelcey Edwards and directed by Kristy Guevara–Flanagan, Wonder Women begins with the Amazon as the original spark and traces both her own development and legacy up to the present. Including interviews from creators such as Trina Robbins, Jane Espenson, and Gail Simone, activists like Gloria Steinem, Andy Mangels, and Shelby Knox, writer Jen Stuller, and fans young and old, the documentary takes viewers from Diana’s beginnings in World War II through the women’s rights movements and the backlash against feminism to where she stands in the modern day as an icon still representative of her time.
As the title suggests, Wonder Women is about both the original superheroine and those who came after, in comic books, film, music, and television. Characters as varied as Buffy Summers, Lisbeth Salander, the Bionic Woman, Ripley, and Xena show up; the impact of such characters is emphasized as significant to how women create their own media, such as the Riot Grrrls and the Reel Girls summer camp for young filmmakers, and how women perceive themselves and their abilities (everyone’s familiar with the story of Mae Jemison and Lieutenant Uhura, right?). I particularly like that this film makes sure to place heroines in their historical context as the roles, occupations, and options available to women in US society changed from the 1940s to the present day, as it’s important to consider how intertwined our representation in popular media is with what’s going on in our everyday lives, our workplaces, and–just for instance–the legislative process.
If there’s one nitpick I have about the documentary, it’s that it could be more intersectional; heroines of color in comics, film, and TV have historically fared poorer than even white heroines. When non-white heroines do appear, they may play second fiddle or have their race downplayed– as an example, did you know Lynda Carter, arguably the most iconic incarnation of Wonder Woman, is Latina? However, within the time constraints of the film (it runs 55 minutes), a good overview of US women’s social history is given, and several interviewees of color are included. So if this doc sounds like your jam, see if there’s a screening event in your area or check out Wonder Women when it airs April 15th on PBS!