Kate has been working on this episode for a while. It’s personal, it’s deep and it’s insightful. These are the universal life lesson’s Kate found in Wonder Woman.
Transcript available below.
Last episode I did my top 5 films directed by women that have influenced my life. Wonder Woman, if you recall, was #2 and the only reason it wasn’t #1 was because I hadn’t lived with it, absorbed it, and honestly dealt with the emotional nerves it hit. Now I’m ready…. and as Wonder Woman says in the opening narration, “I will never be the same.”
As I always am with this show, I’m gonna be honest of what the film meant to me. Every film leaves different finger prints on a viewer, these are mine.
In this episode we’re going to look at the universal lessons in Wonder Woman there’s lots of them.
At the start Diana is the only child on the island. As the first born grandchild I do tap into this. My first cousin is ten years younger than me, so for a while at family gatherings my brother and I were the only little ones; I being the only girl. Family gatherings were sitting around a large table and watching the adults talk. For Diana, they talk about a war between the Amazon’s and Ares that might never come, yet they need to be prepared for.
I understand Hippolyta wanting to let her daughter be a child and not worry about war yet. I relate it to not worrying about talking about boys with my daughters only to find out that it would be a hurdle as early as kindergarten. I wish many times I had a sister like Antiope.
Antipoe trains Diana in secret so that she can be ready when Ares returns. It feels like a metaphor for preparing daughters against the extremely possible dangers of men.
The statistics of a sexual abuse for women in 1 in 3. Take a minute. I’m a mom with 2 daughters. I’m the one in 3. I want to have the blind hope that because I’m the one that has been sexually abused, that I statistically protect them. But in talking with many other women and see the #metoo, the gap is actually smaller.
Last summer, two of my close friends were date raped and a six-year-old child, who was my neighbor and my daughter playmate, was sexually abused. Three in the span of a months… and these are just the friends who told me. The world got scarier and if we could go to an island of women to be safe, we would. But even on this paradise, they fear and prepare for Ares, sure a God, but a male version of destruction.
Hippolyta fears the stronger Diana gets, the sooner Ares will find her. There is not a parent out there that doesn’t fear the time their daughter will be sexually attractive to boys and men. Generally speaking, fathers joke they will get shot guns to protect against suitors. Mothers start shrinking and succumb to an over-encompassing fear. “Please let the guy she dates be a good person with good intentions.” We parents put our focus on the boy and his intentions and not prepare our daughters for battle.
As Antipoe says when training Diana harder than any other Amazon, “Never let your guard down. You expect the battle to be fair, a battle will never be fair.”
That line can be motto for career, but it’s certainly true relationships. Books like the Art of War help ease the comparison of battle and business. I don’t like to think of relationships as a battle, but I’m starting to see the connection. I’ve been married for almost 20 years and those years we have a general peace treaty, we do have moments of battle. In those moments of battle there is no winner, both are hurt, just like war.
When Steve Trevor arrives on the island he brings the war to the island. He explains to a community of women, who have been preparing Ares who bring with him war, that beyond the barrier there is a War to End All Wars that has already kills so many and is on the brink of killing many more. Diana sees the connection that Ares must be behind it. Queen Mother forbids it. Steve even understands her decision, he wouldn’t want anyone he cares about getting anywhere near the war but he also tells his father’s advice, “If you see something wrong happening in the world you can do nothing or you can do something. And I already tried nothing.”
It’s a powerful line that is vague enough to mean whatever you need it to mean. For Diana is her call to action to betray her mother and get the God Killer Sword to go with Steve to stop Ares and the war.
Now when Diana goes to get the sword there is a small but wonderful moment that I caught. It is Diana’s self doubt. Antipoe even noticed this as a flaw in Diana when training her and told her, “You are stronger than you believe you have greater powers than you know.” Before leaping across the gorge to the resting place of the God Killer Sword she hesitates, she doubt her abilities, but she finds power in doing what’s right and tries anyway. In doing so, she almost falls but finds her untapped strength. It’s not until you do the thing, that you find your strength or weakness in it.
Now the sword is a maguffin. It’s a desired object that the hero thinks they need to win against the villain. The sword as we find out later is not the God Killer, she is. Diana was created to be able to defeat Ares. Her power to defeat him also makes her a target. The sword can symbolize this dual nature or to metaphoric use of the phrase “double edge sword.” You can also be brazen and say she taking something phallic to protect her into Man’s World.
Before we get to Man’s World I want to talk about the fog and the bubble protection of Themyscara. For the last few years I’ve been working with Gal’s Guide to the Galaxy and I can certainly say there is a fog over women’s lives. To some extent it is a protection. In other ways it is a barrier that people don’t brave to cross-over into. Also some simply can’t see it. I joke that Gal’s Guide is kryptonite to a lot of men. I see it in simple ways like men not even being able to get our name right: Girls Guide, Women’s Galaxy, Girls Group Thing. When I’ve personally invented men I know to our events I get, “I didn’t even pay attention figuring it was a women’s thing.” I also hear from women that they don’t want to be seen as a supporter of any kind of feminism or SJW because it might upset others and make them a target.
So when women focus on women’s issues, a fog is created and some can break through the barrier and some can’t. It does bug me because I’ve spent most of my life with no problems learning about men in my past field of filmmaking. It was a person to learn from. Gal’s Guide simply puts a spotlight on women’s voices, offering stories and opportunities to learn about women of history, a history that is many times hidden in that fog. I wish female role models could equally celebrated among all genders, but we’re not there yet.
When Diana see’s Man’s World for the first time in the shape of jolly ole London her responses is, “It’s hideous.” Diana’s naivete and curiousness is adorable, also Steve protecting her and trying to get her to fit in. Clothes are a big part of that. When Diana asks what these women wear into battle Steve says, “They don’t…” and then is cut off as Diana see’s a baby.
Women now-a-days do go into front line battle. Even back in history women dressed up as men to serve during war time. Taking the metaphor further, women are fighting a different kind of battle everyday and sometimes the clothes we wear is a reflection of that battle uniform. Wonder Woman has her battle uniform. Etta Candy has her secretary uniform. Steve Trevor has his spy uniform. Clothes in movies reflect our battles. This is reflected further when Sameer, Charlie and Chief join.
Now Etta Candy. She says, “I really like her” to Diana but I really like Etta Candy. I like her far more in this than in the comics. She’s that middle-of-the-road feminist that wants better for women however is trying to survive her place in the world which includes sucking it up best she can. What I love about her brief character is that she still comes off honest. She also represents us bigger girls when explaining that a corset keeps our tummies into. When Diana is confused by this she responds, “only a woman with no tummy would ask that question.”
When Diana is confused on how women fight in the period garb, Etta says, “Fight? We use our principals.” Yet her body language reads that even she struggles with that answer because she’s not opposed to fighting.
Fighting is around the corner as Diana and Steve are followed. Director Patty Jenkins describes the alley scene as an homage to the alley scene in Richard Donner’s Superman. However the roles are reversed. The gun is still pointed at the man in the scene but the act of rejection of by Steve instead of Lois. And the bullet is stopped by Wonder Woman instead of Superman. The big difference is Superman is hiding his powers from Lois, Wonder Woman is not.
The streets of London and a clothing boutique were the first steps into man’s world. The real entry point is behind a door full of men negotiating an Armistist to the war. Steve enters and tells Dianah, “Stay here.” I could go mythological and say it’s Pandora’s Box or that’s its Hero’s Journey and it’s a clear threshold to her journey to the unknown world. I could even say it’s showing character that Diana is a warrior won’t be told what to do. But no, those 2 words make me sink into myself.
Frankly, I’m sick of them. It’s all too common in movies and TV Shows. The hero is about to do some hero like shit and they tell the weaker character to, “Stay Here” and most times they do. The reason it bugs me is generally it’s a dude saying it to a woman. In X-men Apocalypse it’s beast saying it to Mystique, in Terminator it’s a cop saying it Linda Hamilton, in Return of the Jedi it’s Han saying it to Luke and Leia, and in Stranger Things I stopped counting at 4, the number of times Hopper or one of the kids tells Eleven to “stay here.”
I know it’s a protection thing but I also know that I’ve heard it too damn many times in my life. It’s a statement of power and it’s designed to be demobilizing. It comes off as “I’m more equipped than you for this situation.” It wrecks the team dynamic and it screams “I’m gonna go be a hero by myself now, because men don’t need to work together.”
I’m sick of it because I don’t want in those crucial moments when the fight or flight response kicks a woman decides to “stay here” because of movies and culture taught them that is their only option.
In the context of the Wonder Woman scene you have a trained warrior who believes that she is the only one that can stop the war and behind that door is a peaceful means to end that without bloodshed, yet she is asked to stay outside its doors. The audience wants and needs her to walk though that door but when she does we’re reminded not that she is an Amazon, but that she is a woman. The conversation stops, the eyes stare, the mouths gasp and someone utters, “There’a a woman here.” Followed by “Get her out”
Diana showed us it’s okay to walk through that door, she also showed us how fast we can be removed.
I’m sure you’re thinking well, this was a different time and cultural perceptions about women in power were different – is it? We’re talking WW1 and the 1910’s. Well, then why this year was Uber sued for gender discrimination? Why is it in the film industry and in Fortune 500’s only 5% of women are leaders? The gate keeps are still holding up these gender stereotypes and the idiotic double standard against 51% of the population and it’s worse, way worse for women of color.
Diana is allowed into a private meeting because Steve vouches for her and says they are working together. Now no one in the room can figure out the two languages Dr. Poison’s book is in, Diana can. When she does, the question doesn’t arise, “how does she know this?” but “Who is this woman?” She identified as Steve’s secretary which neither Diana nor I like. Then again, I’m not supposed to.
It’s these cringing moments like “stay here” and Diana being called “a very good secretary” that are brilliant because they are a combination of the movie sequence and time but also today’s culture. They are designed to imprint believing that Diana is the most qualified person in the room but only her gender is stopping her from being listened to.
This is subtle as hell, but the Coronal who told Steve to get Diana out of the room, then changes 180 to say to the men, “if this woman, can read it, we should hear what she has to say.” Cringing moments followed by teaching moments. When a person, regardless of gender, race or mythic background, is allowed to speak, new information is learned….But politics get in the way. Steve and Diana don’t want to see more people die. The Brass wants nothing to stop the signing of the armistice. Both are right from their point of view but politics is always about policy power first, not people. Diana calls them out and shames them but Steve escorts her out.
Even though Steve gets her out of the room, he sees there was no chance of changing their mind, so instead he’s just going to take Diana to the Front and stop the gas anyway. For that, they need reinforcements.
The team in Wonder Woman is something I did not expect to see but loved so much because they were diverse. You had Sameer who’s Arabic, Chief who’s Native American, Charlie who’s Scottish all along side the American Steve Trevor. As I said in the Directed By Women episode, it reminded me of one of my favorite feminist film, The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy follows the yellow brick road on a quest to ask the Wizard to send her home. Diana goes on a quest to find Ares to stop the war. Dorthy meets up with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion and by working together they defeat the Wicked Witch of the West and learn the truth about the Wizard of Oz. Diana teams up with Steve, Sameer, Chief, and Charlie work together to stop Dr Poison (who is called a witch at one point) and learn the truth about Ares.
Unlike The Wizard of Oz Diana has to prove her worth to first Sameer and Charlie as they are not willing to go to the front “for a wee lass” and no money. When Sir Patrick shows up knowing they are going to defy command, he says it’s honorable, but he also knows no one will do anything without money, so he supplies it.
Now why does he do this? Well major spoilers if you haven’t seen the film…Sir Patrick is Ares. He seemingly helps group of rebels stop the war because in doing so she can have Etta in his office and know where the group is and what they are up to. He can also keep an eye on Diana. Whether he knows she’s an Amazon or the God Killer, isn’t clear however, in knowing their plans he’ll be able know for sure what she is capable of.
Being a student of history as I am, I like this dynamic in the character because many companies fund both sides of wars. War is big business. It’s too lengthy to cover and it will be a major rabbit hole but look into Standard Oil, General Motors and Ford Motor Company during WW2 funding both sides and you’ll see how this quick scene in Wonder Woman is grounded in war history.
After wonderful ice cream snack, the team is on the way to the front. On the way Diana sees the horrors of war, the wounded soilders, the innocents trying to flee. It’s a build of emotion. But first a teachable moment once again.
The team arrives at the camp to meet Chief. As they shake hands Chief speaks in his native tongue and there are no subtitles. Even though we don’t know what is said in the moment Diana responds, “and I am Diana.” Now a couple of things that tug at my heart strings. #1 of the many languages she knows and indigenous American language. #2 not being translated puts the focus on the language and not the words.
The reason why? Representation matters. In an article by Indiana Country Today explains that the actor Eugene Brave Rock speaks Blackfoot. In character he introduces himself as Napi, the Blackfoot demi-god who is a trickster and storyteller. It goes beyond that, Brave Rock, with full support from director Patty Jenkins chose his wardrobe to reflect and honor his culture.
Just imagine for a second being of Native American decent and seeing yourself actually respected on screen in a big budget film. It’s not a small moment, it’s a teachable one and the teaching continues.
When Diana and Chief talk while the rest of the team is asleep, Chief calls the bombs in the distance “The Evening Hate,” which I might be the best description of war, I’ve ever heard. Diana asks why he’s there. He says he doesn’t fight, Diana assumes it’s for money. But as we see later, Chief turns down gifts from town’s people that he helps save. He talks about how the last war took everything from his people. Chief has seen war. He knows what is can do. He says, “at least here, I’m free.” I will ask the loaded question: what does that say about America when our native people need to go to another country’s war zone to feel free?
On the trek to the front, Diana is conflicted as she wants to help everyone she sees; the animals, the solider with his leg shot off, the crying children. It is a lot to take in. It is a lot stuff down.
The arrival at No Man’s Land.
This is a good time to talk about this film taking place in WW1 instead of how the comic books took place in WW2. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, screenwriter Allan Heinberg explains that in WW1, “It’s the first time we had automated war. The machine gun was a new invention. Gas was used for the first time. New horrors were unleashed everyday.”
It’s also the first time No Man’s Land was used in a war-time context.
Steven explains No Man’s Land as no man can cross it, they have tried for a year but have made up little ground. “This is not something you can cross, it’s not possible.” The team is actually making its way though the trenches to another crossing point that is about a day away. However, Diana has seen and ignored enough, to use Steve’s words, she’s tried doing nothing, now she’s going to do something.
I feel like the whole setting on Wonder Woman in WW1 was for this moment. I didn’t prepare myself for how powerful it could be. I joked episode #26 seeing her deflect bullets would like deflecting internet comments but it’s that and more; it’s entering a career field that’s dominated by men, it’s joining a mom’s only club and preparing to defending your parenting style, it’s dating in college or in your 40’s, it’s having an opinion, it’s existing in a world that doesn’t think you belong, it’s standing up for what’s right, it’s doing something to make the world better even if no one pays attention, it’s being a leader, it’s having kid, its teaching a class, it’s blazing a trail, it’s taking fire so that someone else has the chance to make up some ground.
To get a bit metaphoric, the path through No Man’s Land is metaphor for human life. You stand up for something or someone. The bullets start slow, you deflect them with ease. Some join to aid you. You pick up the pace. You make more ground. The bullets are more consistent until soon they we’ll be so many they stop you in your tracks. You work harder at defense than you do at moving forward. This is when more people come to your aid. They see you taking fire and they draw off their attack. Divide and conquer. Move the invisible line. Break the glass ceiling. No one does this alone. There is no “stay here”.
This strategy has been used for good and for evil thought out history but it starts the same, one person stands up and a movement is activated. The unfortunate part is hate is an element. Hence the duality of good and evil. Being a justice for peace but also a God of War, is the complex dynamic in Wonder Woman.
After the battle for No Man’s Land has been won and a town is saved. We get to know the team a little better.
We get to know that Sameer wanted to be an actor, but he says he was the wrong color. It’s pretty fricken deep and sad right there. But Sameer teaches Diana another layer of empathy. We know she has it when seeing people suffering. However, she does take people as their labels. Generals should be with the soldiers in battle. A marksman should be able to shoot. But Sameer explains, “Not everyone gets to be what they want to be all the time.” And explains, “Everyone is fighting their own battles, just as you are fighting yours.” It’s a wonderful lesson.
The boys talk about Diana’s belief that Ludendorf is Ares. A conclusion Dianah came to when Steve was on the phone with Sir Patrick, so you know, he heard all of that. Sameer & Chief think believe Diana that Ludendorf is Ares. Charlie doesn’t. Steve isn’t sure. Shows that believing in a woman even if she’s Wonder Woman is still a hurdle.
By the way, when Diana wants to go into the gala, Steve tells her to “Stay Put.” Again she doesn’t. She puts those swaying skills to use that Steve taught her and dances with Ludendorf to hear him spout that, “War gives man purpose.” Diana hears what she needs and is about to strike but Steve stops her asks “What if you’re wrong?” As they still need to find where the rest of the gas is. The gas is released onto a village, Diana is too late. She blames Steve for not believing in her.
Wonder Woman battles Ludendorf who is high on what I’m gonna call crack, but she kills him with the God Killer Sword and the war doesn’t stop. Steve sums up it up pretty well, “Maybe people aren’t always good.” Diana wants to believe in the good in people and that everything terrible in them is caused by Ares.
After telling Diana to stay twice, she asks her come with her to stop the gas. She doesn’t. Girl’s consistent. Sameer, Chief, Charlie and Steve make a plan to follow the gas.
Meanwhile, Sir Patrick shows up and reveal’s himself to be Ares. He does a little Emperor Palpatine speech and tells her that the sword is not the god killer, she is. He wants them to combine their powers and destroy mankind for what they’ve done. Like Luke Skywalker, she doesn’t join the dark side and battles the dude with electricity.
While they battle, Steve makes the sacrifice play to detonate the plane loaded with gas in the air. Now I knew Steve was probably going to die, but also I don’t think he’ll be gone for good, just because he died or was near death a lot in the comics. It was still sad though because it’s the conflict between two really bad decisions and choosing the one that saves more people.
Diana now understands human’s complexity. She chooses to believe in love and kills her brother, the god of war. For a while there is a peace.
I wish a comic book movie was right and that all the evil in the world were the work of one god or force. But the reality is, it’s many forces and it’s overwhelming the ways in humanity does terrible things to its own people. We’re selfish and we’re proud, we’re naive, and we keep our heads down. We’re cogs in the wheel or lost in the matrix.
I wish it was one guy to take out of Hollywood who sexually harasses women, but it’s not.
I wish it was one mass shooter to remove, but it’s not.
I wish it was one racist cop to fire, but it’s not.
I wish it was one ignorant person in political office, but it’s not.
As Steve says, “we’re all to blame.” Diana learns that humanity has the light and the darkness and each has to make the choice which to follow. A superhero can’t make us choose to be good or evil they can only live by example.
That’s why Wonder Woman is the superhero we’ve all been waiting for. It only took 75 years to get it right on the big screen.
ABOUT KATE’S TAKE
Each month filmmaker & author, Kate Chaplin dissects a movie that has inspires her life for good, bad or ugly and shows you the universal messages hidden within. Like on Facebook. Follow on Twitter. Subscribe on iTunes, YouTube, Podbean and Google Play. Kate’s Take is brought to you by Gal’s Guide to the Galaxy.
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