On Friday, June 2, the long-anticipated Wonder Woman movie premiered, boasting the biggest-ever opening weekend for a film directed by a woman. Led by director Patty Jenkins and Israeli actress Gal Gadot, the movie instantly became a critical and fan success, raking in $100.5 million domestically and $122.5 million internationally.
As thrilled as I am to see female-led superhero movies hitting the big screen, I was not planning to see Wonder Woman. I’ve never really been into comic books, and I don’t care for action or superhero movies. I usually find them to be overly violent and lacking strong storytelling. But when reviews started surfacing calling Wonder Woman a superhero movie with heart, I was intrigued. Friends raved, and messages of girl power dominated social media, causing my FOMO to go into overdrive.
I decided I had to be a part of this momentous release, if for no other reason than to support female filmmaking. As a female producer myself, I know firsthand how underrepresented women are behind the camera. Each year, San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film releases its Celluloid Ceiling report, which tracks women’s employment in the top 250 grossing films in America. The report found that in 2016, women accounted for just 7% of directors (down 2 percentage points from 9% in 2015), 13% of writers, 17% of executive producers, 24% of producers, 17% of editors, 5% of cinematographers, and 3% of composers.
In light of this dismal representation in the industry, female-led projects are often judged as though they represent the entirety of female filmmaking. When the all-women Ghostbusters reboot debuted last summer, a firestorm of controversy surrounded its release. It was seen as an ultimate test of female hero worthiness: Could women carry the beloved franchise? And if they couldn’t, would that be seen as an indictment on female-led films, causing studios to reject such projects in the future?
The questions swirled in my head as I took my seat for Wonder Woman. As the opening scenes rolled, I was thrown into the fictional world of Themyscira, an idyllic women-only island where Amazonian warriors train. Here, we are introduced to Diana, the queen’s daughter, and the only child on the island.
Diana badly wants to be a warrior like her predecessors, but her protective mother refuses to let her learn to fight. She watches the female fighters train and mimics their movements enthusiastically from the outskirts of the arena. Immediately, I recognized myself in this little girl: I remember being a child on the sidelines of my brothers’ soccer practices, imitating their drills and picking up skills for my own game.
About five minutes into the movie, I noticed something else: no male characters had been introduced yet. Women were at the helm in Themyscira; they were governing, making the decisions, and fighting. It struck me how revolutionary this felt, to see only women running the show. If a movie opened with only male characters in fighting and governing roles, I wouldn’t bat an eye. I probably wouldn’t even notice, because male-dominated movies are the norm. With this realization, my eyes began to well up. I was electrified, and I stayed that way through the entirety of Wonder Woman.
The film follows Diana (AKA Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot) through her origin story and coming-of-age. Unaware that she is actually a demigod, Diana is told that she is Amazonian Queen Hippolyta’s (Connie Nielsen) only child; formed by a lump of clay. An exceptionally talented warrior, Diana has a strong moral compass and deep passion for making the world a better place.
When German World War I soldiers land on Themyscira and clash with Diana and the Amazons, worlds collide. Diana teams up with good guy spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and decides to leave her homeland to help stop the war. When she lands in London, she is aghast at what the real world looks like. Diana doesn’t understand why only men govern and is perplexed by the complicated nature of human beings. Taking in everything around her, she ponders the big questions: what is our purpose on this earth? Why do good people do bad things? Can evil be eliminated by taking out its most powerful proponents, or does it exist in all of us?
Presenting these deep questions puts Wonder Woman leagues ahead of most action movies. Rather than drowning the audience in explosions and CGI effects (which the film still had plenty of), director Jenkins presents the viewer with something much more nuanced. The storytelling is multi-layered, and the audience is called to grapple with the complexities of power and those who wield it. Diana, like most women, has been conditioned to fear her power. As the story progresses, she becomes stronger and more confident, both in her abilities and in her belief that love conquers all. She leads boldly and sensitively with her femininity, refusing to fall in line in a man’s world.
Despite its depressing backdrop of World War I, Wonder Woman was fun, upbeat and hopeful. I left feeling dizzy with elation; like a kid who just discovered her favorite hero. Maybe if this movie had been around when I was younger, I’d have gotten into comics. Maybe I would have dressed up like Wonder Woman for Halloween, year after year. Maybe I wouldn’t have feared my own strength, and wasted so much of my life trying to conform.
I can’t say for sure that any of that would have happened, but I do know one thing: these stories, told by women, are desperately needed in today’s world.