“Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines” wasn’t the original title of Vaquera Films’ new feature length documentary, but it will be the one they present at SXSW this year. Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, the film’s director, explained that they knew early on they might need to change the name to better reflect the film they were making. When they saw a rough cut of the film, they knew it was time:
It has been hard to represent the collage aspect of the film through title and images...there is no ONE perfect image to represent the film. I always intended to have Wonder Woman as a starting point and come back to her in the end, but to also think about her legacy and the characters that she has opened the door for.
Financed entirely through Kickstarter campaigns, "Wonder Women" documents the history of female superheros in America and how they have grown more complex and independent throughout the years. Guevara-Flanagan provided a handy introduction to this history in an interview with CNN’s Geek Out! Blog:
“…when the superwomen first emerged in the 50s and 60s, they were married to other supermen or were related to them. They didn’t even get to exist in their own right. With the women’s movement and other societal gains that came about in the 70s, they were finally able to be characters that weren’t birthed from Adam’s rib, so to speak. Today we have some female superheroes, but there still are not a ton. They are sexually liberated but they also tend to be incredibly sexualized in the way they are drawn and how they pose.”
While there are more superladies on the racks and the screens these days, artists and authors tend to draw them wearing tiny, revealing costumes to accentuate their bodies, something that isn’t done to their male counterparts.
Female superheros are routinely marketed for their sex appeal rather than their abilities or personalities, with artists drawing them in action poses no real person could replicate. Not only couldn’t a trained contortionist get her body to recreate the poses in question, even attempting them would make it impossible for superwomen to move or fight. To see this on the page look no further than the blog Eschergirls, which was created to draw attention to anatomically-impossible depictions of ladies in comics.
Much of the film’s festival trailer includes women talking about drawing inspiration from the superheroines of their childhood, highlighting the ways seeing powerful women embodied in media can allow the next generation to see themselves as powerful. To illustrate this point Guevara-Flanagan shared this story from the film:
There is a character in the film Katie who is nine-years-old and has been inspired by Wonder Woman and other superheroes. For her, these larger than life heroes represent the possibility to defeat her villains (those that tease her at school), to rise above them, and to even lend a helping hand to others. She also writes her own comics!
The film screens on March 10, but it is clear its most important viewers with be the girls and young woman see it afterward whose sense of self will be enlarged by the experience. Guevera-Flanagan, having just steered a film project from concept to festival, had this advice for up-and-coming filmmakers:
Make sure you really like the topic of your film because you will be working on it for a long time! Get people involved early on so they can feel like they are true collaborators to the film and really own it: composers, editors, photographers, animators, and producers. You can't make a film alone. Kickstarter is your friend! Make sure your film is unique and research anything out there even remotely related to the subject matter. Remember to have some fun! There is so much tedious work involved, but filmmaking is an art. Fall in love with your craft!