Review: Birds Eye View Film Festival Launch Film: Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, USA, 2014)

USA 2012
Directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan.
With Lynda Carter, Jane Espenson, Kathleen Hanna.
Running time 79 min

Reviewed by Owen Van Spall

From BFI.

From BFI.

Kicking off this year's Birds Eye View Film Festival (which will run 8-13 April across various London venues) Wonder Women is a short but  thought-provoking look at representations of women in comics and wider popular culture today and throughout the last century. Given the dominance of the comic book movie genre today (in ironic contrast to the still-ghettoised comic books themselves) it is certainly timely. The documentary pivots on the history of the DC Comics character Wonder Woman, created in 1941 and still today one of the most easily recognisable female superheroes, though as the documentary makes clear, that is partly due to the competition for that title still being so thin on the ground.

The birth, evolution and legacy of the Wonder Woman comics (and later television) figure is certainly very interesting and well illustrated with comics panels, clips and talking heads from the industry. The character was actually the creation of a man- American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston - who also was significant in the development of the lie detector (mirrored somewhat in Wonder Woman's weapon of choice, the 'lasso of truth'). The doc spends a lot of time with fans of the character, but the filmmakers deserve praise for also exploring how problematic the character of Wonder Woman actually is as a feminist icon. Throughout the character's history she swung constantly from sex object to independent amazon, from popular top selling icon to marginalised minor character, and was usually written and drawn by men. Did she also promote the creation of a cohort of female superheroes, in comics and beyond, to help balance out the male dominated genre? The jury still seems to be out on that one, sadly, judging from what we are shown of female figures in comics and beyond today. For in many ways, Wonder Woman and other representations of powerful women in pop culture too often reflected society's anxieties about women and women's liberation rather than simply breaking down barriers.

The filmmakers have secured a fine roster of talking heads, including original Wonder Woman TV actress Lynda Carter, Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner, a bevy of comic writers and artists, and even Gloria Steinem. It is too short to dig too deep, so don't expect an academic analysis, but it is a useful corrective shot to the arm nonetheless and would be a great film to show in schools. Oddly the documentary doesn't mention the casting of Gal Gadot as the big-budget (and undoubtedly long overdue) movie Wonder Woman, who will appear in 2016's Man of Steel 2.

Rating: 3/5


Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.