Documentary shows staying power of Wonder Woman — but when does she get her own movie?

Wonder Woman was the original Princess Diana.

Daughter of the queen of the Amazons on Paradise Island, Diana was imbued with such superpowers as the Lasso of Truth (how many of us would like one of those), her invisible airplane and those amazing bullet-deflecting bracelets.

She is the female super hero, and its her story that forms the narrative thread in independent filmmaker Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.”

 

Although the film was released in 2012, Guevara-Flanagan is still doing showings and discussions, and I had the chance to meet her and see her work this week at the Kansas City Public Library.

Wonder Woman entered the world of comic books in December 1941, just as the United States was entering World War II. Psychologist William Moulton Marston, inventor of an early lie-detector test, created the female superhero after his wife suggested he make the character a woman.

That early Wonder Woman kicked butt. She was dressed in red, white and blue, of course, to show her patriotism as she fought the evil Axis powers.

Guevara-Flanagan’s film follows the history of Wonder Woman along with that of other female pop-culture icons through the years. 

Not surprisingly, the filmmaker interviewed a number of pop-culture authors and experts, along with Lynda Carter, star of the 1970s “Wonder Woman” television show, and Lindsay Wagner, star of “The Bionic Woman,” another ′70s TV show featuring the first female cyborg.

But I was surprised — at first — to see Gloria Steinem’s appearance. Then again, the first-ever issue of Ms. magazine, co-founded by Steinem, featured “Wonder Woman for President” on its cover, showing the superheroine stopping war with one hand while distributing food with the other, marrying the strength and compassion for which the comic icon was famous.

“You can’t have a democracy without women,” Steinem said.

That compassion and empathy that separates Wonder Woman from her male cohorts led author Andy Mangels to organize Women of Wonder Day  to raise money for domestic violence programs.

When asked what inspired her to make the film, Guevara-Flanagan said she was already interested in the subject of pop culture as it related to girls when she saw a New York Times article about Gail Simone, a former hairdresser, being the first woman to write Wonder Woman.

“It struck me as fascinating and puzzling”  that men had written Wonder Woman’s story for more than 70 years, Guevara-Flanagan said.

In the hour-long film, we see the changing roles of women through the years. After the war ended, Rosie the Riveter married “Father Knows Best” and became “Donna Reed,” happy and content to cook dinner, wax the kitchen floor and battle ring-around-the-collar.

Wonder Woman, although she’s never gone out of print, eventually hit hard times. She lost her superpowers, opened a clothing boutique and cried a lot. Steinem, a long-time fan of Wonder Woman, “badgered” DC Comics until the company relented and restored the superheroine’s powers.

As the feminist movement gained momentum in the 1970s, strong female characters in pop culture emerged, with the “Wonder Woman” television show and “The Bionic Woman.” Even “Charlie’s Angels” featured three women fighting crime.

Even more sparse than white superheroines have been superheroines of color, Guevera-Flanagan said during the discussion after the showing. She was disappointed schedules didn’t work out so she could interview Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on “Star Trek” and include her in the film.

The ’90s brought “GI Jane” and “Thelma and Louise.” But strong women face consequences. They literally go off a cliff.

“What does that say about our culture and how we think about strong women?” Guevara-Flanagan asked.  Thelma and Louise “were so empowered that they couldn’t even exist in this universe.”

She sees that same mitigation of power with women political leaders. “There’s this emphasis on their appearance … it’s a way of displacing the focus on their power.”

Many in the film reiterated the idea that we’ve come a long way but not as far as we think. There’s just a veneer of change. The question I found intriguing: Would Harriet Potter have become the blockbuster hit that Harry Potter did? (It’s fairly common knowledge that J.K. Rowling used her initials after being told boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman.)

We need strong women in this world, although I would say we have many whose strength is a quiet, behind-the-scenes power — like mothers. One of the most touching moments in the film was watching a young girl say that her mom was her superhero.

But girls still need those fantasy female superheroes — just as boys have Superman and Captain America — so they can see themselves as empowered and taking action and having “exciting adventures.”

Fourth-grader Katie Pineda, dressed in a miniature Wonder Woman costume in the film, said, “Girls can be daring and brave and stand up for themselves.”

So when will Wonder Woman get her own full-length live-action movie? Like Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Captain America, Thor, Ironman … . 

Actress Gal Gadot has reportedly been signed to play the iconic role in the “Man of Steel” sequel. But will she play a character as powerful as Superman or Batman? Or will she need to be rescued as a damsel in distress?

“Wonder Woman is a character with great potential,” Guevara-Flanagan said in an interview after the film, “that’s never been realized.”

Maybe she’ll get her chance in her own movie.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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Diana Reese · April 25