WONDER WOMAN: An Allegory for Our Times

By Linda Rodriguez

June 29th, 2017

Patty Jenkins has been vindicated, but her story follows a disturbingly familiar pattern. She wrote and directed Monster (2003) which won a slew of awards and an Oscar for Charlize Theron. In his contemporary review of MonsterRoger Ebert wrote: “Jenkins, the writer-director, has made the best film of the year.”  Yet, after that achievement, Jenkins did not direct another feature for over a decade. And now her Wonder Woman has proven that a female Super Hero can more than hold her own! But why should anyone be surprised?


Lynda Carter, who portrayed Wonder Woman in the 70’s show, is an adored icon. As part of Library of Awesome, Carter sat at the Library of Congress next to a super-woman in her own right, Dr. Carla Hayden, and gave an inspired talk about her experiences: Being told other women would not watch an hour-long TV show with a female lead, that many women would outright hate her, and that the show’s producers had hired a man, chest hair and all, to be her stunt double.


The Hollywood’s gender-gap changes very slowly (if at all), but one thing has never changed, girls and women all over the world love the idea of Wonder Woman and bond around it, as Alondra N. Abreu Carlo, a nursing student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, said to me, “Girls can do anything they set their mind to…Me and my sisters went to watch the movie together so it was a big deal at my house.”


After my own bonding experience with Carter and Hayden via YouTube, I wanted to know more about the Library of Congress‘ link to Super Heroes, so I dug in and discovered this institution is a mega-serious collector housing more than 100,000 comic books! Also the Library holds original artwork for the first American comic-book, Famous Funnies No. 1, which appeared in the 30’s during The Great Depression, and the first appearance of Spider-Man in 1962, the same year JFK gave his inspired Moon Speech.


Wonder Woman is a child of her times, first appearing in All-Star Comics at the end of 1941 and on the cover of Sensation Comics in January 1942. Her birth coincided with the agonies surrounding the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Wonder Woman represented a new heroic human being that would integrate and utilize the best qualities of both sexes, a true (wo)man. Her creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, was a bohemian psychologist who belonged to a “cult of female sexual power.”


Moreover, Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014) has said that the Wonder Woman character probably began to develop in Dr. Marston’s mind in 1911 when he was a student at Harvard, and this institution was so afraid of the suffragist Emmeline Pankhurstthat they banned her from speaking on campus.  Later in his life, and with the world immersed in the second nihilistic war of his lifetime, Dr. Marston stated, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.” 


So if our Super Heroes rise out of specific historical circumstances, I ask, “Why now a first stand alone, big budget-high-production-values Wonder Woman Super Hero movie?”


You might say, “Hey, it’s just “silly” entertainment!” And yes, Wonder Woman does follow some well-entrenched tropes in fantastical girl stories: On her journey, Diana travels with somewhat “broken” companions as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Sameer, Charlie, Chief = Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, making Steve Trevor akin to Toto), Etta Candy, Trevor’s secretary, functions as a Fairy Godmother helping her “protégé” find the perfect dress for the “ball” and Dr. Maru, a chemist and clearly the most formally educated person in the story, is relegated to play the jealous Witch in Disney’s Snow White (1937). (BTW: I do hope Dr. Maru’s character gets more developed in future installments). But in spite of some short-comings, Wonder Woman presents a heart-felt allegorical story that condemns the atrocities of war, criticizes violence as a means to solving problems, highlights the evils stemming from racism, and shows how even in London, England it wasn’t that long ago when women did not have full civil rights, could not vote, and were banned from male-dominated social and political arenas.


Finally, speaking about social and political arenas, Dr. Kyle William Bishop writes in his book, American Zombie Gothic, that Night of the Living Dead (1968) functions as “allegorical condemnation of the atrocities of Vietnam, violent racism, and the opposition to the civil rights movement.” (pg. 14). That “silly” piece of entertainment, directed and co-written by Cuban-American George Romero, was released nearly 50 years ago and has since then become a significant American cultural artifact chosen in 1999 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” and in 2016 fully restored by NYC’s MoMA. I don’t know what the next 50 years hold for Jenkin and Gadot‘s Wonder Woman, but for now, I highly recommend going to see the film and enjoy it as entertainment. But also think about the historical circumstances that have helped birth an updated version of a beloved feminist icon in the protest-wracked summer of 2017.