One way to look at the yawning dearth of female heroes in comics is the genre’s self-imposed burden of retaining the same characters for decades upon decades. It has the consequence that a sexist starting point keeps reinforcing itself over and over again, because the starting point is never really moved away from. Imagine if science fiction literature kept retelling the same stories over and over again. Heinlein has maybe three realistic female characters scattered across all his books. Lensmen? That series is legendary but I haven’t managed to even dent it because the stereotyped female characters grind all other suspension of disbelief to a halt. Now consider if half our science fiction books were retelling stories originally constructed sixty years ago. Even if there were no other forces of sexism involved, it would be a wasteland.
So, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines is a documentary set to premier at SXSW in a few weeks, taking a look at the legacy of Wonder Woman in society. Here’s the summary:
WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES traces the fascinating evolution and legacy of Wonder Woman. From the birth of the comic book superheroine in the 1940s to the blockbusters of today, WONDER WOMEN! looks at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society’s anxieties about women’s liberation. WONDER WOMEN! goes behind the scenes with Lynda Carter, Lindsay Wagner, comic writers and artists, and real life superheroines such as Gloria Steinem, Shelby Knox and others who offer an enlightening and entertaining counterpoint to the male dominated superhero genre.
And here’s the trailer:
See, I like the core of the idea, but the trailer at least feels too scattered. It starts with the Wonder Woman angle but then rapidly unspools into disparate threads that seem to be geared towards a history of feminism over the last seventy years. Two hour documentaries that go that big inevitably also become vague, they lose their capacity to zero in on nuance by simple virtue of trying to tell too enormous of a story in too short of a time.