Yesterday, after taking my family to watch Wonder Woman, I posted this to Facebook and Instagram: “Wonder Woman is by far the best DC superhero movie, and excluding the Guardians of the Galaxy films the best superhero movie since Bale’s Batman (yes, this out-Marvels Marvel).” A day later, I still stand by that post but I would add an asterisk at the end and note that my opinion is based out of a deeply personal and emotional reaction I had during the film.
I teared-up at several different points in the film. No, it’s not because I was overly moved by the plot. I was moved by the film’s impact on those sitting next to me. My five-year-old daughter was in the seat next to me, staring rapt at the screen. Afterwards, my wife casually mentioned, “Wow, she didn’t talk at all during that film. That’s a first.” I’m not sure even if my wife grasped the power of the moment.
On my other side were my two boys–one fifteen-years-old and the other thirteen. Over the years, I’ve watched the Man of Steel films, Batman, Captain America and more with them. We’ve watched numerous superhero movies that left them spellbound. Time and time again, they’ve been completely wrapped up in the story flickering on the screen before them.
Yesterday, In the theater, I realized that in this world of comic books and superheroes that I’ve enjoyed with them, my boys have had far, far more role models with which to both emulate and explore the growth of their own identity against.
Yes, there are women leads in so many speculative films, but in the genre of superhero films, they are nearly absent. I reviewed the slate of Marvel and DC movies over the last few years (going back to Iron Man). There are women but they are always in the sidekick role or love interest or a residual role. They are never the lead instigating force of the film. They are never the protagonist with the power of active choice. The women are always pulled along by the decisions of the males around them.
Sitting in the theater yesterday, I realized my daughter hasn’t had the opportunity to watch a noble lead woman superhero in a film. Wonder Woman was the first woman superhero that was the true active chooser that drove the plot along. Her decisions mattered. Her decisions and her own inner struggle to make the right choices pushed the plot along.
More than that, Wonder Woman was an amazing image of a role model for my daughter. In the film, she is first displayed as uniquely curious, brave, determined, intellectual, compassionate, and compelled to act. All of these qualities were highlighted far before any male in the film decided to comment on her beauty. Her beauty did not define her own personal sense of value and at the same time she wasn’t made to feel ashamed for being beautiful. DC portrayed her as physically attractive and yet never ventured towards oversexualizing her.
I’ve been very careful to give my daughter great images of girls and women that are independent, curious, and intelligent. Her bedroom is a walk-through of Alice in Wonderland. The quality of curiousity is one of the chief ones I wish to instill in my daughter. I was delighted yesterday to watch young Diana race to sneak a peek and imitate the Amazonian warriors as they trained. She was intellectually curious and determined to craft her own course in life. Over and over, in yesterday’s few hours in the theater, I saw the very qualities I’ve worked to instill in my children echoed in Gal Gadot’s performance.
As a child, I obsessed over Christopher Reeves’ Superman. To this day, Superman is my fictional north star–an ideal far beyond what I’ll achieve but something which provides a direction to aim at. In my office, I have an entire wall done as a mural of Superman soaring high over Metropolis. The back shelves are littered with comics and toys and books all emblazoned with the distinctive S shield. I’m aware in my own hero-adoration that these modern-day superheroes fulfill the roles that the great heroes and gods of latter days from Samson to Hercules have done: they’ve displayed the optimal condition of humanity–all that we could be both physically, morally, and more.
In the years since, as a family, we’ve always dressed up for Halloween and I’ve delighted to see my boys chose Captain America or Aquaman or other lead characters they’ve seen on the screen. This year, my daughter chose Wonder Woman in anticipation for the film we saw yesterday (to pair with her, I went as Batman). Yes, for over eight months, my daughter has been looking forward to this movie.
So, yes, I cried in the theater watching Wonder Woman. I cried because it was a moment I was completely surprised by. I hadn’t realized the large absence of noble role models for my daughter and it was only in Wonder Woman capturing my daughter’s attention did I recognize how needed it is.
In those two hours in the dark theater, her future expanded. She had discovered her north star and it was a stunning display of an unapologetic, confident, intelligent, curious, and powerful femininity.
We need more films like Wonder Woman because my five-year-old daughter needs to see the potential of who she could be displayed on the screen in front of her. She shouldn’t have to live vicariously through her brother’s heroes. She shouldn’t have to feel as if the optimal display of humanity can only be male. She shouldn’t ever have to question her own internal potential because there’s a lack of women superheroes explored in media.
For a very long time to come, maybe forever, Wonder Woman will be at the pinnacle of the superhero genre for me because I watched it through my daughter’s eyes and recognized my own delight, decades ago, at seeing Christoper Reeve blaze across the sky as Superman. She sat on her knees, leaning forward, watching Wonder Woman race into danger, rescuing those in need, and altering the world around her because her choices had power.
I can do nothing but stand and applaud director Patty Jenkins and lead Gal Gadot for their fearless and masterful rendition of a hero for my daughter. Simply marvelous. Beyond the Rotten Tomatoes score and the box-office take, this film was a success because today my daughter is a bit more brave, a bit more curious, and a bit more confident. She has found her fictional north star in Wonder Woman.