We Can Be Superheroines


Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines traces the history of those superheroines from Wonder Woman through Lynda Carter’s tv incarnation, the Bionic Woman Jamie Sommers, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor to Buffy Summers and ending with girls taking up the camera to make their own superheroine stories at Reel Girls film camp.

The film parallels Wonder Woman’s history with that of American women in general. Wonder Woman first appears in 1941, a deliberate effort by William Moulton Marston to empower girls.  Princess Diana leaves Paradise Island to fight fascism at the same time as millions of American women contributed to the war effort, working in munitions factories, and, like Wonder Woman, flying the planes they had built.

When the war was over, women were pressured to fulfill new white middle class domestic ideals in the home. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman was de-powered and opens a boutique.  The story intersects history in an anecdote recounted by feminist journalist and Wonder Woman fan, Gloria Steinem:  Shortly after its launch in the 1970s, Ms. Magazine  and feminist activists pressured DC to return Princess Diana’s powers, bracelets and magic lasso and to include more diverse characters in the Wonder Woman comic.  DC did. (Dennis O’Neal has subsequently agreed with the criticisms).

WW ms cover

My mom is from Gloria Steinem’s generation. She advocated for equality and the Equal Rights Amendment. She is concerned with the dignity of all people. And she worked hard to find my sister and me female heroes to inspire us. So it was bittersweet for me listening to Steinem, when both women’s right to control our own bodies and Wonder Woman have taken a hit so recently.

The film makers also interview comics creator and historian Trina Robbins; Lynda Carter and Lindsay Wagner; Jane Espenson; academics Jack Halberstam, L.S. Kim, Kathleen Noble and Jen Stuller; Jehmu Greene; Shelby Knox; Kathleen Hanna and Gail Simone, the first woman to write the Wonder Woman comics.  But ultimately the most moving interviews were with 4th grader Katie Pineda and working mother Carmela Lane, who talk about what Wonder Woman and superheros mean to them. (DC would do well to listen).


I’ve seen reviews suggesting this movie is a great one to show your daughter or niece, and it is.  But it’s not just about letting little girls know that they can be heroes, that they can be anything they want. It’s about knowing that as adults we have great power and great responsibility.  We can all be heroes. We can inspire them and help make a world where little girls can grow up to be Wonder Women.

(This post appeared in a slightly different form on the 2012 ActionFest Film Festival Blog on Apr. 13, 2012)


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