Why Wonder Woman is Important

If I had to choose between DC and Marvel (and many geeks do), I would probably choose DC. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel, and one of my favourite superheroes comes from Marvel (Nightcrawler from the X-Men, if you were curious), but I’ve always seen DC as just a little bit edgier, a little bit more willing to take risks. And not to mention, Harley Quinn and, for that matter, everything to do with Batman would probably have to be my favourite things from any superhero comic. So when DC began their own cinematic universe, I was downright dying to see it all come together.

But truth be told, their first three movies left me feeling disappointed. I personally considered Man of Steel to be an awful movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Batman Vs. Superman was a bit cheesier, and I loved the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman and Jeremy Irons as Alfred, but it was not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. And although I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, I had some huge problems with the Suicide Squad movie, mostly because they romanticized the abusive relationship between Harley and the Joker.

I say all of this because, by the time that the release of the Wonder Woman movie became close enough to get excited about, I had begun to doubt that DC could put out a good movie. But nonetheless, I wanted to get excited. I really wanted this to be a good movie, because this was just such an important movie.

There have been superhero movies with female leads in the past. In 1984, the world saw the release of a Supergirl movie, in 2004 we had a Catwoman movie, and again in 2005, we had an Elektra film, but none of those films were critical successes, and more importantly, they were a vast minority, and both of those movies were released before Marvel’s great success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I write this, Marvel has released fifteen films, and not one of them have a female superhero as their lead. Their first superhero movie starring a female superhero, Captain Marvel, is set to be released in 2019, and it follows twenty films with male leads. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is DC’s fourth film, following two films with male leads and one film that divides its attention between one male lead and one female lead.

Not only that, but this film is Wonder Woman’s first live action cinematic appearance. She has had a television series of her own, but she has not had a mainstream movie of her own until now, which is miserable when you consider her male counterparts within DC. Batman has starred in seven live action films, whereas Superman has starred in nine.

So why is it that we have received so many films with male superheroes and so few with female? Well, because studios have doubted for years that the typical movie-going audience will be interested in a superhero film starring a woman! For years, movie studios (including Marvel) have cited the previously mentioned flops of female superhero movies as a reason to avoid making more of them. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal that DC was willing to release a mainstream Wonder Woman film, especially so early into the game. And not only that, it’s a pretty big deal that they chose a woman, Patty Jenkins, to direct, because of the top 250 films released in 2016, only 7% of those were directed by women.

So this movie needed to be good. It needed to be, because if it wasn’t, the future of female-led superhero movies was in jeopardy.

So how was it, really?

Well, I am proud to confess that, upon seeing it, not only is it the first legitimately good movie released in DC’s extended universe, but it gave no disappointments. Truly, it is the sort of movie that future superhero movies will try to emulate, and I couldn’t be happier.

In some ways, Wonder Woman captured a side of superhero story lines that I have always loved, and that is the idea that all people, good and bad alike, are worth saving. Wonder Woman explores the idea of empathy, who deserves it and who doesn’t, and a lot of the focus of the film relies on the strength of emotion and of love – two ideals that, interestingly enough, have been labelled feminine and, in a lot of ways, have been excluded from other superhero movies.

And I’m not saying that love is completely excluded from other superhero movies. Many of them feature love stories, and although it isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Amazing Spiderman 2 dealt with a superhero’s reaction to the loss of his love. But Wonder Woman deals with this differently. For Wonder Woman, love is her strength. She quite literally gains strength through her love for her significant other, her love for her friends, and, even more interestingly, her love for human kind en masse, including her own villains. In Wonder Woman, love and emotions are her asset, not a weakness. Not something that makes her silly and illogical. It makes her walk across a battle field and face fire from enemy troops, and it makes her win the battle in the end. And although I won’t say that this is an aspect that would not be represented in a superhero movie made by and starring men, I will say that this is an aspect that is unique to this film.

And it is so important that this aspect is available in Wonder Woman, because love and emotions have been labelled as ‘feminine’ for years, and more than that, they have been labelled as inferior. Emotions are seen as illogical, but Wonder Woman argues against that. Wonder Woman states that, yes, she is a woman, and yes, she is emotional and loving, but that is her strength. That is what helps her protect people, what helps her defeat her villains. That is what makes her amazing.

And there is so much more that I can say about this film. As I said, this is very much a movie about empathy, and it shows empathy towards everyone – toward people of colour who have faced discrimination or historical genocide, toward people who were born in the wrong time and place and are just trying to do the right thing, toward people who have given up trying to do the right thing and have turned instead toward hurting others. Wonder Woman is a loving and wonderful film that I cannot recommend enough. And even though it took a long time for the DC extended universe to put out a great film, I am so glad that when they did, it was this one.

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Should LGBT+ Characters Be in Children’s Films?

In 2012, an animated children’s film called ParaNorman featured an openly gay character – a stereotypical jock character named Mitch Downe, who reveals his orientation at the end of the film when he says “You’re gonna love my boyfriend. He’s like a total chick-flick nut!” Also in 2012, an animated children’s television series called The Legend of Korra featured as its titular character and hero, Korra, a bisexual woman who shares a romance with another woman named Asami. And more recently, in 2017, the live action Disney film Beauty and the Beast featured an openly gay character in Lefou, the villain’s sidekick.

Slowly but surely, LGBT+ characters are making their appearance in children’s media, and people are fairly divided on the matter. On the one hand, we have those who support the idea, saying that children need to see LGBT+ people represented in media because LGBT+ people exist. Maybe the child in question will grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, and if they do, then the process of coming to terms with themselves will be that much smoother if they have grown up feeling like they are valid and like they are allowed to exist. As a bisexual woman myself, I grew up seeing bisexual people in the media, but they were always represented as morally inferior, dirty, and incapable of fully loving or being loved, and so these were the ideas of bisexuality that I grew up with, and the ideas that I applied to myself when I began to realize what I was. Perhaps the process would have been a little bit easier for me if I had grown up watching The Legend of Korra. And if a child does not grow up to belong to the LGBT+ community, this type of media continues to be of use to them, because chances are, they are going to meet an LGBT+ person at some point in their lives, and this media normalizes this community for them. A gay boy is not “weird” or “effeminate”; he’s just like Lefou.

But then again, on the other hand, we have the people who are opposed to LGBT+ people appearing in children’s media, and this is the perspective that I want to speak to. For the most part, the argument that I hear to support this perspective is that, if children are surrounded from a young age by LGBT+ people, then this will lead them to become LGBT+ when they grow up.

There are two things that I want to state toward this: first of all, being surrounded by a particular sexual orientation at a young age does not influence your future sexual orientation. Both of my parents identify as straight, most of the couples that I saw in movies and television  were straight, all of my friends’ parents growing up were straight, and I still wound up being bisexual, and I imagine that this is the case for most LGBT+ people. The majority of people identify as heterosexual, and more than that, the heterosexual narrative is the one that is most focused on in our society. So why would a child who would identify as straight have their orientation changed because there was a queer couple in their favourite movie growing up?

But even saying that, I’m going to continue on to make a somewhat contradictory statement here: maybe it will influence them a little bit, and maybe that’s okay. I’m not saying that a child who would have otherwise grown up to be a completely heterosexual, totally masculine cis-gendered manly man will now be a homosexual drag queen because he grew up watching ParaNorman (I mean, if he did, that would be awesome too), but maybe he’ll grow up to be a little bit more open, a bit more fluid with his identity. Maybe he’ll question gender roles a little bit. Maybe, if he does feel even the slightest crush on someone of his own gender, he won’t be ashamed to pursue it, even experiment if he wants to. Or at the very least, maybe he will support LGBT+ people, when he could have hurt and bullied them otherwise. And what’s wrong with any of that?

To say that you don’t want children watching media with LGBT+ characters in it because it might make them grow up to become LGBT+ implies that there is something wrong with that. It makes it sound like growing up to become LGBT+ is a) a choice that people make at some point in their development and b) a wrong choice. It is a mistake that must be avoided, and that just isn’t true. There is nothing wrong with growing up to enter into the LGBT+ community, and there is nothing wrong with learning more about the world around you, and there is nothing wrong with experimenting with and questioning your identity. And although I say this, I know that there are people who are going to disagree with me, and there are going to be people who continue to keep their children at home when the newest animated film comes to theatres featuring an LGBT+ character, but personally, I think that’s a shame, and specifically, it’s a shame for the children in question. Films that are willing to tell the stories of LGBT+ characters are offering children a gift: the gift of understanding and open-mindedness, the gift of questioning and learning about the world around them and the identity within them. This is a gift that should continue to be given, and it is a gift that I wish everyone could experience.

What I Want to See in the Labyrinth Reboot

So, confession time here: I spend an odd amount of time watching the 1986 film Labyrinth, considering I’m a twenty-two year old woman who didn’t technically grow up watching it or anything. I checked it out for the first time when I was around sixteen, and although I didn’t think it was a perfect movie or anything like that, I came away from it with three distinct impressions: 1) it was a perfect adaption of a standard fairy tale or fantasy storyline, 2) David Bowie was awesome, and 3) Jim Henson’s style and the film’s set designs were positively gorgeous, making it quite possibly the most beautiful movie I have seen to date. From that point on, I’d watch it fairly regularly, and it eventually got to a point where it’s just become a comforting movie for me. Nothing can be wrong so long as Labyrinth is on, so if I’m having a bad day, I can just pop the movie in and come away feeling a little happier and a little bit more inspired.

So when I heard that Labyrinth was going to be rebooted, of course I had an opinion on the matter. Personally, I found the idea a little bit odd, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. There are two huge reasons for why I like the original film, and these are Jim Henson and David Bowie. They made the movie what it was, because let’s face it, the story isn’t the main draw for the film. I’m not even sure the original film cared about the story. If they did, they wouldn’t have meandered off to random subplots about creatures whose heads pop off and bogs of eternal stench. No, the whole film was just an excuse for Jim Henson to show off what he could do to create a magical setting and memorable characters, and it turns out that he can do a lot. Without Jim Henson or David Bowie, what does the film really have? Besides some stock plot about a girl trying to get her baby brother back from goblins, I mean.

This was my opinion for a long while, until my most recent viewing of Labyrinth (and by that, I mean last night) when I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, there were ways that this reboot wouldn’t completely suck.

And before I begin, there has actually been some promising news as far as the development of this reboot, and by that I mean that Helmer Fede Alvarez has been signed on to direct the film. For those of you who don’t know, Alvarez is best known for horror films like Don’t Breathe – a very atmospheric film that does a great job of evoking emotion. Alvarez isn’t Jim Henson, of course, but I think that’s the point. If Alvarez has been cast on to direct, then I think that the intention is to take it in a similar but different direction altogether. And let’s face it: the original Labyrinth had an eerie feel to it that I think a horror director could really do something with.

But there is something else that has been hinted at that absolutely must happen if I am going to approve of this reboot: it cannot be a remake. There is no way to remake the original Labyrinth. The original Labyrinth was built on Jim Henson’s vision and David Bowie’s awesome, and now that both men are sadly gone, there is no way to recreate that. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel – something that has been suggested, but as far as I can tell, not quite confirmed.

And I don’t mean a sequel where we catch up on what Sarah has been up to since 1986. I don’t care what Sarah has been up to since 1986. In fact, the reboot can even steal the premise from the original movie for all I care: a young girl wishes for Jareth to kidnap her baby brother, Jareth obliges, and she’s forced to travel through the Labyrinth to recuse him. But everything that happens from then on, all the creatures that she encounters and all the lessons that she learns all need to be original. I don’t want to see Hoggle. I don’t want to see Ludo. The only character that I want to return from the original is Jareth.

And when I say that, I don’t want the reboot to try to replace David Bowie. They can’t. It’s impossible. I want to Jareth to return, but I don’t want him to be some cheap look-alike. After all, Jareth is the Goblin King, isn’t he? He’s a fairy creature, and because of that, I’d totally buy it if everything about his appearance and demeanour were changed.

In the reboot, I want Jareth to be recast as some other iconic celebrity. The original intention for the Jareth character, after all, was for him to represent the id – he was hedonistic and ideal, and Jim Henson wanted to cast a rock star specifically because he thought that a rock star could capture that best. After considering which modern celebrity would best fill the role, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to see Lady Gaga in the role. While she might not be quite as iconic as David Bowie, she does capture that same sense of bigness, that same love of style and fairy-like androgyny, and she would be my perfect choice. However, that being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to other suggestions – just so long as the reboot tries to take the character and the story in its own direction, while still capturing the magic and strangeness of the movie that I have come to love over the years.

How to Write a Strong Female Character

I don’t think it’s any secret that I love women (for the purpose of this article, I mostly mean this in the feminist way, but I suppose it’s true in the bisexual way too). I love helping women, supporting women, learning more about the experiences of other women, and whenever I hear about a piece of media that is supposed to represent women well, my interest in it is immediately piqued. Because, let’s face it, there is also a lot of media out there that doesn’t represent women well; sometimes, they’re reduced to being plot devices for the sake of the male characters. Sometimes they’re represented as empty vessels, devoid of a brain or personality but there to provide the film with tits and ass. And let’s face it, people: these types of female characters are boring. I’m much more interested in seeing a woman with strength, a woman who can be explored and developed and who can really become something amazing.

But, as it turns out, writing strong female characters seems to be a much more complex art than it really should be. I mean, we as a society have been writing strong male characters for years, decades, centuries even. Writers know how to write them, so it shouldn’t be too hard to just transfer that ability over to the other gender, right? And some try, but audiences continue to pick these attempts apart and argue about what the ‘correct’ way to represent strong women is in the media.

Take the character of Rey from the newest Star Wars movies for instance. I’ve heard some people say that Rey is a terrible example of a strong female character, because she doesn’t have enough flaws, she isn’t willing to accept help from anyone, and she doesn’t come across as human enough, whereas Princess Leia from the original Star Wars series was a better strong female character because she was humble and cared more about helping others than herself. I’ve also heard that Rey is a wonderful example of a strong female character because she is emotionally complex, capable of taking care of herself, and doesn’t rely on anyone, whereas Princess Leia was a weaker female character because she was only allowed to be strong if the fans got at least one scene of her in a tiny, gold bikini and acting as a slave girl.

Arguments like these surround almost every female character that comes out in the media nowadays. Peggy Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t a good strong female character because she’s too aggressive, Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad movie can’t be strong because she wears tiny, sparkly shorts that may as well be underwear, and Black Widow was criticized by fans because she expressed regret at never being able to have a family in Age of Ultron. It seems like the smallest little detail can suddenly make a female character either not feminist enough or too feminist, too feminine to be strong or too masculine to be taken seriously as a woman. So, really, what is the answer? How can one properly write a strong female character?

Well, in my own humble opinion, there is no real answer. There is no one way to represent a woman that will immediately translate as ‘strong’, because there is no single way for a real human person to be strong. And at the end of the day, that’s all that I want a female character to be: real. She doesn’t have to be a gun-totting badass, she just needs to feel complex and human. She just needs to be a person. And real people find all sorts of different ways to be strong. Some women find strength in wearing tiny, sparkly shorts that may as well be underwear. Some women find strength dressing up in men’s clothing. Some women find strength through physical means, some through mental means, some through emotional means. Some women find strength by being hyper-feminine and revelling in clothes, make-up, and pretty nails. Some women find strength by behaving the way men stereotypically do – fixing cars, building houses, whatever it is those men-folk do, I don’t know. And some women find strength through creating families, attaching themselves to friends, and helping others, while some women find strength by being all on their own.

So how do we represent that? How do we create strong women in the media if the definition of a strong woman is so incredibly varied? Well, the answer to that is a bit simpler: we keep writing female characters, as many of them as possible, and we make them as varied, unique, and individual as possible. And at the same time, we need to stop comparing them to other female characters, expecting them to act one specific way to be strong. To return to the example of Rey and Princess Leia, I personally find both of them to be good examples of strong female characters. One is a bit more independent and the other is a bit more focused on helping others, but neither of them are wrong. They’re just different, because women are different. And that’s awesome. That’s something that should be celebrated, not shamed.

The purpose of a strong female character should not be to show women and girls that there is only one way to be strong. The purpose should be to show them that they can be strong. Men and boys have had centuries of seeing complex and varied male characters – men that think their way out of situations, men that punch their way out of situations, men that can work alone and men that need validation, so that every man, regardless of how he defines himself, can feel like he has the capability to be strong. And as much as those characters are awesome and should continue to be written, now it’s our turn. Now we should have the opportunity to see ourselves represented, regardless of how we define ourselves, and we should know that our way of finding strength is perfectly valid.

Bi Erasure in Disney’s Live Action Mulan

Growing up, I watched the 1998 Disney classic Mulan a lot. Mostly because it was my sister’s favourite Disney movie, but over time, I began to gain appreciation for it as well. The animation is truly stunning, the songs are incredibly fun, the subject matter is impressively brave, and come on guys, for a cartoon character, Li Shang is pretty hot.

So when I heard that Disney was going to make a live action adaption of Mulan, I was really excited. I felt that the Chinese setting would lend itself to some truly stunning visuals and Disney always takes advantage of that, and the story is a very important one that should be told again. Along the way, a few things sprung up to try and deter my excitement: there was speculation that the film would be whitewashed, but I had faith in Disney to prove that speculation wrong, and fortunately enough, they did. There was the announcement that the amazing songs, the songs that I grew up with and loved, would not be in the film, but you know what, I understood that choice. It was a different adaption, and it does need to be taken in a different direction to be a successful film.

But the third time’s the charm, because it only just now came to my attention that Li Shang will not be included in the live action adaption. Instead, he will be replaced by another character named Chen Honghui.

Now why would this bother me so much? After all, from everything we can tell so far, Chen Honghui will play a very similar role to Shang, being Mulan’s love interest, and it’s not really like Shang was all that integral to the plot of the original that he absolutely needs to be repeated. And, yes, I have fond memories of singing along to I’ll Make a Man Out of You and realizing that Shang is actually kind of hot, but since there’s not going to be any songs in the film, I already know that that experience won’t be repeated anyway. So why get upset? Why does it matter?

Well, it matters because of the speculated reason that Disney has for replacing Shang.

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: Disney has not officially released an explanation for replacing Shang, but there has been speculation, and from where I am, it does look bad. Because, you see, since the original movie’s release in 1998, Shang has somewhat gained a reputation (especially amongst the LGBT+ crowd) for being Disney’s first bisexual character, mostly because he may or may not have started developing feelings for Mulan when he thought she was a man. Whether or not Shang is intended to be interpreted as bisexual by the writers is difficult to say, as no actual statement has been made by Disney at any point, but does that really matter? So long as the audience keeps believing that it’s true, and there is evidence in the film to support it, then for all intents and purposes, Shang is Disney’s first bisexual character. Which is awesome.

And I know what you’re thinking: that’s an awfully big leap to make, implying that Shang is being replaced because he was interpreted as bisexual. There could have been a million reasons for the choice, because his character was much more than just a speculated sexual orientation. Except Disney has said very little about this Chen Honghui fellow besides the fact that he will serve as Mulan’s adversary up until the point where he realizes that she’s a woman.

Okay, first off, correct me if I’m wrong (I don’t understand you weird people attracted to a single gender), but isn’t disliking someone up until you realize you can fuck them kind of skeezy? And secondly, that makes the replacement of Shang look really bad. Because as far as we know at this point, Chen Honghui will be the exact same character as Shang, with two alterations: his name (unimportant) and the question of whether or not he developed feelings for Mulan when he thought that she was a man (hugely important). It takes away the possible interpretation that Shang could be bisexual. It reassures the biphobic audience that, don’t worry, there’s no gay stuff going on here. Just heterosexual dude-bros doing their heterosexual dude-bro thing right up until, oh look, a woman! Better drop all that aggressive testosterone and turn it into lady-pleasing testosterone.

And as I have implied earlier in this article, I want to have the most faith in Disney possible. Their most recent film, the live action adaption of Beauty and the Beast, featured their first openly gay character, and I was all gung-ho about supporting them for it. But Shang is a bigger and more important character than Lefou. It is more significant for little boys growing up bisexual to watch a film where there is a man who is represented as masculine and desirable, and yet he is still bisexual, and that doesn’t take away from his ability to find love and help save China. Lefou was a tiny step forward for Disney, but replacing Shang with a character who we are assured is 100%, totally heterosexual is a giant leap back.

And maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. At this point, production for the live action adaption of Mulan is still in its early stages, and most of what I’m going off of here is speculation. But let’s just hope that Disney proves me wrong and gives me a film with both a badass female warrior and her openly bisexual boyfriend.