Barnard College's Monthly Magazine
In our April issue, we detailed the development of women’s history as told through the story of Wonder Woman, the sexy comic book character whose kick-ass style has changed with the times. Elyse Pitock sat down with Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, the director of the new movie, Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines to find out more!
Elyse Pitock: Do you think that male superheroes like Batman and Superman also mirrored certain cultural norms the way Wonder Woman did?
Kristy Guevara-Flanagan: Definitely. Though I am not the expert to write about that. Certainly if women superheroes mirrored cultural concerns for the era, the male heroes did as well. Sometimes in positive ways: it’s normal for a man to be heroic, brave, and strong, and thus those characters reflected that. But there were other interesting things going on as well. Superman, being created by Jewish immigrants, had a particularly relevant origin story as an immigrant himself. And the world needed a superhuman hero who could stand up to the Nazis. It might have meant something different to the creators than it did to the young boys reading it, but Superman was wildly successful. You can also look at Marvel’s characters from the 60s as reflective of a burgeoning youth culture: the characters were less black and white, wary of the government, prone to emotional outbreaks and very individualistic.
EP: Why is this documentary relevant to women today?
KGF: Besides looking at Wonder Woman, the film looks at heroic women in pop culture who are her direct descendants (I would argue). We bring the film all the way up to date and touch on how little representation women still have when it comes to creating media. We also look at the trends for female action heroes today where sexy is supposed to equal powerful. Hopefully the film will leave audiences motivated to demand better heroes, both female and male, that reflect who we really are as a culture.
EP: What did you learn from making this documentary?
KGF: Well, I always learn a lot on the business side. Making a documentary is hard; you have to wear a lot of different hats: grantwriter, promoter, entrepreneur, social media expert, and then just keep up with changing technologies. But I also did A LOT of research on child development on the film. And that was fascinating. Children do need, research shows, fantasy figures that are capable of mythic strength and courage in the face of intense danger. And even violence (in play and pop culture), can be a cathartic and important experience for children as they learn right from wrong and begin to feel safe from their own demons. And the research shows ALL kids need that, no matter the gender.
EP: Most of your films appear to be about women. Why is this a topic that interests you so much?
KGF: I don’t know! But it’s just what seems to grab me and speak to me the strongest. I don’t feel there are enough films about strong heroic women, and whether we are looking at pop cultural ones, or everyday heroes, I am compelled to ask for more. So I make what I want to watch!
EP: You addressed this briefly in your interview on the Huffington Post, but I’d like for you to elaborate on Wonder Woman’s outfit. Why does she have such a tiny waist and tiny shorts? Is this a manifestation of antifeminism in the character?
KGF: Yes. The idea is that men will stomach a strong, ass-kicking woman as long as she is also clearly defined as a sex object. To many authors and creators, this is a win-win situation. But really it is a way of mitigating her power. That was what was so cool about characters like Ripley from Aliens, and Sarah Conner from Terminator 2, even the Bride from Kill Bill. They weren’t purely sex objects. But women are so hungry for empowering characters, we take what we can get from them…even as a kid, growing up watching the Wonder Woman TV show, I didn’t really even seem to notice that she had an impossible small waist and was running around in a swimsuit! But the boys my age sure did! I think the sexuality of women on screen (and at even younger ages) has gotten pretty out of control today. Not only are they scantily clad, but they pose and strut in sexual postures. It’s particularly egregious in a lot of comics, too.