SXSW 2012: Wonder Women: The Untold Story of the American Superheroines

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Wonder Women: The Untold Story of the American Superheroines, directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan (Going on 13) provides a context for the hows and whys behind the portrayal of female action stars in the pop culture. By using the figure of Wonder Woman at its core, the film explores the relationship between how she and her fellow heroines have changed over the years in relation to concurrent trends in sexual politics.

When Wonder Woman first appeared in comic books in the 1940′s, women had left the confines of the home and, because husbands and brothers were fighting the war, they went into the workforce. Wonder Woman, a Greek goddess who came to America and fought crime, kept her own with other superheroes of the day, such as Batman and Superman. A few years later when soldiers came home and women were back to being moms and wives, in her comic book series Wonder Woman was almost entirely stripped of her powers.

Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines

Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines

It wasn’t until the Women’s Movement and a campaign led by Gloria Steinem — a talking head in this film — that Wonder Woman’s powers were restored and, ironically, a new wave of sexy independent women cropped up on TV in particular. Interviews with Lynda Carter and Lindsay Wagner (Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman respectively), the film reminds us of just how broad the term ‘role model’ really was a few decades ago. The film shows that those women seemed to have paved the way for the next generation of superheroines, including the Alien franchise’s Ripley and Terminator 2’s Sarah Connor. Guevara-Flanagan’s film weaves together interviews along with film clips and comic book panels, resulting in an informative and entertaining firlm. One last surprising morsel that I learned in the film was that as many times as the Wonder Woman character has been revamped, it was only recently that the book got its first female writer in Gail Simone.

So how are our superheroines doing these days? In this clip, Guevara-Flanagan gives her opinion with a dose of skepticism.

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Adam Schartoff
Adam Schartoff
Guest blogger Adam Schartoff is a freelance film journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. He's the founder and programmer of the Brooklyn-based film series Filmwax.
  • Ruthie

    Correction to a statement in the post.  Gail Simone was the longest-running female writer.  I think Mindy Newell has the distinction of being the first female to write Wonder Woman.  Trina Robbins and Jodi Picoult also preceded Simone.

  • Eringle

    I don’t see a mention of “Inequality for All” on your list.

  • Dana Mathews

    Hardest part about enjoying great documentary films is having access to them. The mainstream is too focused on car chases and most outlets only showcase a few documentaries. Is there one place where you can pay to view most if not all documentary films, for instance wanting to view all 10 from this list?

  • Madrid

    No love for “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” ??!!

    • Tom Roston

      I didn’t see it! Do you think it’s a top ten? I want to check it out, along with several of Auxerre’s faves.

  • Auxerre

    I’ve seen all but “First Cousin, Once Removed” and “Menstrual Man,” and the others are really good, although I rate “The Summit” somewhat lower. This is a better list than the Oscars’ semifinalists, although there’s a couple there I would have liked to have seen here.

    The 30 best docs I’ve seen this year:

    1. Stories We Tell
    2. The Gatekeepers (opened here this year, was an Oscar nominee last year)
    3. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
    4. The Act of Killing
    5. The Girls in the Band
    6. Springsteen & I
    7. How to Make Money Selling Drugs
    8. The Square
    9. Cutie and the Boxer
    10. Jodorowsky’s Dune
    11. These Birds Walk
    12. American Promise
    13. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
    14. At Berkeley
    15. The Institution
    16. Blackfish
    17. My Stolen Revolution
    18. Casting By
    19. Our Nixon
    20. More Than Honey
    21. Lenny Cooke
    22. The Trials of Muhammad Ali
    23. 12 O’Clock Boys
    24. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
    25. 5 Broken Cameras (same as “The Gatekeepers”)
    26. Let the Fire Burn
    27. I Am Breathing
    28. Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker
    29. I Am Divine
    30. Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?

  • jerome greenberg

    I’m stunned that Herman’s House did not make the list.