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Female Power that Took Flight with Wonder Woman
April 15, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment

She started off as a deep jungle Amazonian warrior in the 1940s, became a '70s television star, and was demoted to a vulnerable, metropolitian Clark Kent doppelganger in the '80s. And she's still around today, in her original comic book form, roping modern-day evildoers with her trademark golden lasso.

Wonder Woman had strength, courage and sex-appeal. She's also the embodiment of an American movement, and is the first of many superheroines profiled in the Independent Lens documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, which premieres Monday, April 15 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS (Check local listings).

Wonder Women! is a study of the evolution of media characters as powerful archetypes, and how they developed along with the women's rights movement. It's a smart look back at mid-century culture and media, and how these fictional female characters mirrored the changes women demanded and fought for, especially post-war and through the '60s and '70s.

Wonder Woman graced the first cover of Ms. in 1972 (along with many subsequent covers), and the magazine's founder and editor Gloria Steinem is extensively interviewed for the documentary. She looks back fondly on the character, and talks of how Wonder Woman has served as a symbol for the times.

"Wonder Woman is someone who doesn't kill her adversaries, she converts them," says Steinem. "She has a magic lasso that compels everyone to tell the truth. She bounces bullets off with two magic bracelets. It's been many years since I was a child, but I always buy two bracelets, never just one."

Filmmakers Kelcey Edwards and Kristy Guevara-Flanagan play out the legacy of the solitary Wonder Woman figure through succeeding comic book characters, and then move on to TV and film characters who blazed new territory while transforming the popular image of women from supporting roles to leading ones.

They present a compelling chain of media icons, first interviewing actress Linda Carter (left), star of the Wonder Woman television series (1975-79), and The Bionic Woman's Lindsey Wagner.

Segments on other action women follow, including one on Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from the Alien film francise, and the Sarah Conner character (Linda Hamilton) from Terminator. The film also looks at one of academia's most-studied heroines, Buffy, Sarah Michelle Geller's character from TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Wonder Women! omits one of my super-faves from the '90s, Æon Flux, the enigmatic and avant-garde graphic-novel title character (right) who appeared on the animated MTV series, Liquid Television. That character, wonderfully reprised in the 2005 film version starring Charlize Theron, ran around in tight-fitting dominatrix outfits, and is a prime example of an issue the film addresses: superheroines who win through wit and strength, but remain sexuaized by their fashion.

As it looks at why we need heroes and archetypes, Wonder Women! visits the "Reel Grrls" filmmaking summer camp for girls, held each year in Seattle, Washington. Young girls go there to learn about making films, but more importantly, are encouraged to develop story ideas that counter the assertion that looks and beauty equate winning and success. From what the girls write about and film, it gives hope that there might be a new wave of media and culture coming that might free women, and, yes, men too, from a constant bombardment of images of physical perfection.

As director Guevera-Flanagan writes, there should be more emphasis on deeds and accomplishments; "I loved the idea of looking at something as populist as comics to reveal our cultural obsessions, and in particular, how women’s roles have changed over time. For some it’s Lara Croft, for others it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but we all need those iconic heroes that tell us we have the power to slay our dragons and don’t have to wait around to be rescued.”

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Great shows for girls - one & all. And although it was Saturday morning fare, Isis was around that time, and was my young daughter's favorite heroine. The summer after Wonder Woman went on the air, every little girl at our lake had a "Wonder Woman" bathing suit. She was just beloved by little girls (& big boys!). This show looks great; I'll have to contact my "Little Girl" (now 41) to give her a heads-up.
Apr 15, 2013   |  Reply
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