By Eashan Reddy Kotha
Although Patty Jenkins’s directorial venture “Wonder Woman” has been celebrated by critics and audiences alike, not everyone is a fan of the Amazon princess’s origin story. Acclaimed director James Cameron (“Titanic,” “Avatar,” “Terminator”) had a few choice words with regards to the film, calling the fawning praise “misguided.”
“She’s just an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing,” exclaimed Cameron. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Patty Jenkins herself, who responded by saying that women don’t have to be “hard, tough and troubled” in order to be strong. A few days later, Cameron defended his position, bringing up Linda Hamilton’s turn as Sarah Connor in his film “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” as an exemplary female lead. Sarah “was [a] strong…troubled…[and] terrible mother” who had to earn the respect of the audience. He further clarified his statements by stating his belief that “Wonder Woman” is a good film — just not groundbreaking. But maybe this belief misses a fundamental characteristic of the superhero.
While it is true that Sarah Connor has a strong character arc, Diana has an arc of her own that is unique. To state the film is taking a step backwards because Diana’s development doesn’t begin with her as a terrible being is flawed. There is no hard-set rule that claims female characters have to be “hard, tough, and troubled” to be strong. Diana isn’t troubled in the conventional sense of the archetypal female lead. She is a literal goddess — loving and caring but naïve. Throughout history, in her comic form, Wonder Woman has always been presented and seen this way.
The trouble really lies in the lack of depth found in Cameron’s statement and his defense. “Like all women – we are more than the sum of our parts,” claimed former Wonder Woman actress, Lynda Carter, in her critical tweet of James Cameron last week. Just because Diana is “drop-dead gorgeous” doesn’t mean the film is simply pandering to 14 to 18 year old males. While that may be the case in other commercial film franchises, Wonder Woman is a representation of a conventional beauty standard. Suddenly changing the physical appearance of Diana for film may be regarded as “groundbreaking,” but its relevance to the story is nonexistent.
A woman can be beautiful and strong. The two traits are not mutually exclusive. Throughout the film, the main focus of Diana’s arc hinges on her naïveté as a god trying to assimilate into an imperfect and flawed human world. Sure, she doesn’t start out a troubled or terrible person like Connor does in “Terminator,” but that is fundamental to her character. Wonder Woman is nearly perfect, but not quite. She sees the world as binary — good and evil, while dismissing the reality of things. People, in reality, are morally gray characters. No one is as purely good and innocent as she’d like to believe, yet she must continue to love them. The turning point of her character arrives when she matures — she understands that conflicts and flaws are inherent to being mortal and human.
Another point brought up by detractors, such as James Cameron, is that Diana’s outfit is representative of the pandering to the young, male crowd. Diana’s outfit for the film, however, was designed to be suitable for battle. A lot of thought went into ensuring that the costume was not only familiar to fans of the comic but also practical for tactical purposes. The reinforced armor serves both functions.
In sum, changing “Wonder Woman” to match a singular definition of a strong female lead is counterintuitive in that Diana’s strength lies in representing a singular character type in a broad spectrum of female characters. For many, Wonder Woman has been or has become a symbol of female empowerment. The success of this film suggests that differences between individuals should also be reflected in the role models they look up to, onscreen and off. To say the film is dismissible and a step backward is short-sighted as it ultimately struck a chord with a frequently underrepresented demographic in action films–women.