My Two Cents on Heroes, or: Bite Me, James Cameron

DC Comics

Long before Hollywood started letting Charlize Theron, Zoe Saldana, Emily Blunt, Gal Gadot et. al. play kick-ass roles, little girls dreamed of power. 

When I was growing up, comic book heroes were male. Heck, everyone of consequence in our world was male. Publishers tried to get us to buy Supergirl and Batgirl, but we weren’t stupid. We knew they were just bratty kid sisters.

We shrugged, accepted our sorry lot in life, and bought a Superman. Or an Archie. But those of us lucky enough to get our sticky little hands on Diana Prince and the Amazons found a hero of our own with awesome power, strength, and heart.

(Note for purists: although the original WW was introduced almost two decades before BG and SG, my introduction to her was the WW reboot around the same time the latter two appeared.)

Lynda Carter’s TV series portrayal doesn’t get enough credit. It was cool. But it took a really long time, and a director of the female persuasion, Patty Jenkins, for our hero to make it to the big screen.

So I got seriously pissed when Director James Cameron (Avatar, Terminator) disrespected the movie. This was personal.

If you missed this mini-tempest . . .

Last summer the Guardian interviewed Cameron (who was, by the way, promoting a re-release in his Terminator franchise). He said of the movie and Gal Gadot’s portrayal: “All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over ‘Wonder Woman’ has been so misguided . . . she’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing . . . I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards.”

He went on to hold up his creature, Sarah Connor of Terminator, as a more suitable role model for us girls because she was not “objectified”. And also, somehow, because she was “troubled”. Gee, thanks.

Many women responded with variations of essentially the same message: who the ____are you to tell us which characters we should love, admire, and emulate?

Jenkins said: “James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, to women all over the world is unsurprising as, though he is a great film-maker, he is not a woman . . . There is no right or wrong kind of powerful woman . . . and the female audience . . . can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress.”

WW Director Patty Jenkins (credit Steve Granitz/WireImage)

After the backlash, Cameron doubled down, seemingly obsessed (surprise) with Gadot’s “kind of bustier costume that was very form-fitting”: “She’s absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. To me, that’s not breaking ground. They had Raquel Welch doing stuff like that in the 60s.”

That’s what Wonder Woman looks like.

Dude, would you prefer her in a burka? Sweat pants? A bowling shirt? And how do you feel about Aquaman’s sexy tats? Oh. His appearance doesn’t matter.

I loved Sarah Connor. Who could forget the scene where she does chin-ups on her metal bed? But Connor was damaged, ultimately sexless, and sad. And she became strong for the one reason women have historically been allowed: to protect her offspring.

She was a great ass-kicker in a time when very few movies let women kick ass, so credit to Cameron where it’s due. But conceptually she wasn’t so different from a Victorian woman allowed to flaunt convention by pushing a horse cart off her child. Sarah derives her power and her motivation from the males, human and otherwise, in her life.

Wonder Woman wants to save the world.

I get that the WW movie isn’t perfect.

Cameron isn’t the only non-fan, of course, and not all the nay-sayers are men. That’s a good thing. I hate it when we all think alike. And the critics have their points. For example, how did a young Amazon whose only experience of romantic love was woman-to-woman fall so quickly for Hot Male Prom Date (and erstwhile mission commander) Steve Trevor?

And – yes, I’m talking to you purists again – other critics note that the film moves Diana’s origin story farther away from the purity of the Amazons and closer to Zeus’ creepy intervention.

But I viewed my personal choice as follows: bitter satisfaction that the movie is not a perfect feminist manifesto. Or a global fantasy about weaponizing truth and beauty in the fight against evil. Hmmm. Tough one.

“There is another.”

In 1977 we watched Carrie Fisher blast away phalanxes of Storm Troopers in Star Wars: A New Hope. And I had my second hero. I drove away from the theater so pumped that I was convinced my little red VW was a Jedi Starfighter and the Resistance was depending on me.

Lucasfilm Ltd.

I’m sad that Fisher is gone, and angry that she was body- and age-shamed after the 2015 release of The Force Awakens. That was just another side of the same ugly judgemental coin: Wonder Woman is too sexy, grown-up Leia not sexy enough.

But Fisher’s legacy lives on, and will — as long as little girls dream of power.

Note: I’m happy just to have a lot of women busting heads in movies. For a more nuanced argument, check out Christina “DZA” Marie’s LSQ post We Need to Destroy the “Strong Female Character”