Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines Movie Poster Image
Inspiring docu explores female heroes in comics, real life.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 56 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Many pro-female messages in this film, including women are powerful, women care for each other and lift each other up, girls who see strong female role models become more confident and curious, and more. Additional themes include perseverance, courage, and teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The authors, professors, actors, Wonder Woman fans and pundits interviewed are unfailingly supportive of each other and of women who need to see themselves represented onscreen. TV's Bionic Woman, Lindsay Wagner, notes that she gets mail from women now in their 20s and 30s who used to watch her on TV and now work as engineers and scientists.

Violence

Comic book images are used that show Wonder Woman being bound and tied, fighting and pushing over villains. A few images are culled from horror comics and are more intense, such as a brief shot of a man holding a woman's severed head. Some excerpts of film scenes are violent, as when Thelma and Louise cause a truck to explode or Sigourney Weaver's Aliens characters shoots egg pods with a machine gun.

Sex

Many images of superheroines in very brief revealing costumes; this issue is subverted somewhat by discussion of what these costumes mean and why female superheroes are so frequently costumed this way.

Language

A few bleeped curses culled from films as when the heroines from Thelma and Louise tell a trucker he'd better say he's sorry or they'll "make you f--king sorry."

Consumerism

Many images of comic book characters and movies.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines is a documentary about female superheroes and female heroism that would make excellent whole-family viewing, particularly for families with daughters. There are some bleeped curses, often in excerpts from films like Thelma and Louise, and some violent images, such as in Aliens when Sigourney Weaver straps on a machine gun and fires it at a clutch of alien eggs. Many women and female superheroes are shown in brief, revealing costumes; the documentary makes a point of discussing why. Those who watch this documentary will learn much about recent American history and the role of women in it.

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What's the story?

In filmmaker Kristy Guevara-Flanagan's knockout punch of an independent documentary WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES, the female superhero reigns supreme, whether she's a comic book character, a TV heroine, or just a regular working mom or young girl who needs someone to look up to. The documentary places the origins of the most popular female superhero, Wonder Woman, in a historical context and explains how she's changed over the decades, yet how the need for girls and women to see powerful images of themselves really hasn't. Feminist icons like Lynda Carter, Gloria Steinem and Bikini Kill frontwoman/Riot Grrrl activist Kathleen Hanna share stories of female heroism in real life and explain what female heroes have meant to them.

Is it any good?

Viewers of this documentary come to understand why Wonder Woman was created and how her image and iconography has changed over time to suit the changing ideas of what womanhood should be. In the spangled, abbreviated costume that somehow offers incredible frontal support, Wonder Woman has become something of a camp icon in pop culture. However, she's anything but to the legions of women and girls who look to Wonder Woman and heroes like her to provide a strong role model that influences lives.

In perhaps the most powerful moments of Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, a fourth-grader explains why she idolizes Wonder Woman: "She shows girls can be daring and brave," she says, swishing the cape of her Wonder Woman costume. "Sometimes I get picked on at school but I tell myself, keep going, you're going to be more someday." In another stirring sequence, we see a young working mother get a Wonder Woman tattoo on her shoulder: "I have a daughter. I have two jobs. I study and take care of the house. I have to be a wonder woman to do it," she laughs. Then we see her 4-year-old daughter, already "a little Wonder Woman," who will be "strong" and will "never give up." That, plus the sequence when Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner explains that she gets fan mail from grown-up female viewers who went on to careers in science in math instead of just going to beauty school like their parents wanted, should have sensitive viewers almost in tears/ready to go out and take on the world.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about superheroes and how they're portrayed in Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines. How do you think the viewer is supposed to feel about Wonder Woman and other female superheroes? What kinds of music play when female heroines are shown on screen? Are the images of them meant to be inspiring or dispiriting?

  • Does the filmmaker think that female superheroes matter? After watching the film, did your views on female heroism change? Can an average person be a hero? Do you think the filmmaker agrees?

  • Watch a few of the 1970s shows spotlighted in Wonder Women: Charlie's Angels, The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman. How are these female heroes different from the heroes of today? Do they dress differently? Act differently? What is a modern-day counterpart to Wonder Woman or the Bionic Woman? Are there any?

  • How does Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines promote perseverance and curiosity? What about courage and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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