We Need More Wonder Women: Joss Whedon and the Future of Female Superheroes

In light of Patty Jenkins’ box office hit with Wonder Woman, and the news that she is penning the sequel, things are looking up in the superhero world when it comes to female representation. Of course, they have not confirmed yet if she will also be directing, which could mean they have any number of fanboys lined up ready to filter Jenkins’ written vision through their tired, male gaze. In light of this, like many people this week, I have been thinking about Joss Whedon. Though his infamous Wonder Woman script leaked last month, fans have taken to Twitter this past week to express their less than kind opinions. However, after seeing what a female comic book movie should look like with Jenkins’ film, it’s no surprise fans were overwhelmingly critical of Whedon’s script.

And their ire is not unwarranted. As a longtime fan of Joss, who is personally an ardent supporter of Planned Parenthood and an outspoken feminist, but especially his work, namely on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reading his script was not a pleasant experience. The script is damning, especially in the way Diana is introduced through Steve’s decidedly male POV, and cannot even compare to the joy I experienced while watching those opening scenes with the Amazons on Themyscria. However it is also an unproduced script written over a decade ago. And despite the fact the movie was never made, those sexist impulses are still prevalent in our society.

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Things are changing, albeit slowly. After all, Hollywood a decade ago wouldn’t even look at a script unless the lead was male, no matter whose name was in the title. Now we have moved past that, and into the world of female directed superhero movies. Although it is a lonely crowd on that list, and the film itself is far from perfect, it was a huge step in the right direction. Female representation, especially women of color, needs to play a center role in the next decade of superhero films. Even though Wonder Woman featured a fully realized Native American character in Chief, in terms of accurate and equal representation we still have plenty of work to do.

As Movie Pilot News Editor Alisha Grauso tweeted in light of the script:

“If the Joss Whedon Wonder Woman script reveals anything, it’s that even the most well-meaning of us have to actively work to evolve.”
Even up until recently, Whedon has had his issues with female representation in his work; Avengers: Age of Ultron was criticized for its Black Widow storyline involving infertility. This is one of many reasons fans and critics alike are anxious over Whedon’s helming of the Batgirl adaptation. If this script was so egregious, then how can he be trusted to write the next big female superhero film? And to that point, why isn’t a woman just doing it all anyway? There are plenty of competent female directors who could lend their vision, but the system is rigged against them and does not give them as many chances to make mistakes.
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While Joss inarguably needs to know he has large shoes to fill, he still has a chance to actively change his vision. But more importantly, Hollywood in general needs to evolve into the current century. There is a desperate need for more women involved in the film process. The business is still steeped in sexism and the only way to combat that is to include more women in front of and behind the camera, telling their own stories, which can be about anything, but don’t always need to be about a romance. Even the new Wonder Woman didn’t quite sideline enough of the romance with Steve Trevor, as expertly opined by Caroline Siede over at AV Club, so we too can’t just be happy this film was enough; we need to make sure the next one is better.
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And we all need to become better in order for that to happen. Not only do women need to be more involved, but men also need to evolve their portrayal of their female characters. After the success and joy we felt after Wonder Woman’s release, I can understand why people are anxious about Batgirl. I’m sympathetic, but I also don’t expect things to change overnight. It’s been 12 years since that script was written, and things are still progressing. Let’s see if this recent revelation will make a dent in the industry’s views on women. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m also not going to give up. We need to have more of these conversations, even if just to point out how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go.

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