Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman script made me realise what’s wrong with Hollywood

Wonder Woman is a phenomenon. Time and again, I’m hearing stories of women crying uncontrollably while viewing the movie’s fight sequences; of their sheer joy at seeing a female superhero in a movie, but, as often, I’m hearing men sheepishly admit to not really getting why it matters so much.

I have to be honest, I was there too. I thought the movie was a passable superhero flick and nothing more. The effects were okay, there was some good humour, it was fun, but the villain was naff and the ending got out of control, while the framing sequences were a bit trite. The film was a vast improvement on the DC movies so far, but still just about matched up to the lower-tier Marvel movies.

There aren’t any more excuses, certainly not for scripts like Whedon’s misfire

I mean, of course it was about time that a female superhero was given a chance at fronting one of the new-era movies, but it’s also hardly the first time there’s been a female superhero on screen…

Supergirl, Elektra, Catwoman, Jessica Jones on Netflix, Buffy herself, the original Wonder Woman TV show; there have been a fair few female heroes in the spotlight on screen before this, and plenty in the background. Of course, until it’s 50/50, it’s still far from fair, so the more the merrier, but it’s not remotely the “first female superhero movie,” as some are claiming, so what’s the big deal?

I wasn’t really sure until this weekend, when @_sashayed on Twitter began a thread looking at the rejected Wonder Woman script Joss Whedon penned at the height of his fame, ten years ago. The analysis was not positive.

Whedon was temporarily run off Twitter a couple of years back following the release of the Avengers sequel. Many people took exception to Black Widow feeling she was a “monster” because she had been made infertile by her transformation into super assassin. This kicked off a Whedon backlash that began tearing apart all of his previous work and labelled the former feminist hero a misogynist of the highest order. All those claims started flying around again in response to this script, while an equal number of people began leaping to the defence of the iconic showrunner.

Reading @_sahayed’s incisive and funny analysis, I still wasn’t convinced that Whedon despises women. I did, however, have a eureka moment. The Twitter thread only showed a few lines from Whedon’s failed script, but as I read them, it dawned on me that those lines seemed to form a trailer for yet another generic, boring superhero movie, following the same tired template. Particularly, it displayed a trope that Whedon pioneered, but is still pretty prolific wherever women appear in action movies: humiliation.

For a female action hero to be allowed to take down the villain, she seems first to need to accept verbal and physical degradation as a trial by fire. As Whedon has Loki accuse Black Widow of being a “mewling quim”, the villain in the Wonder Woman script calls her a “whore”. This shows how evil he is and gives pathos for the heroine to strike back, of course; but Whedon’s Wonder Woman script goes even further, forcing Diana to give up all her powers and kneel to the villain to save the life of Steve Trevor.

Does this mean Joss Whedon hates women? I don’t think so, because I see what he’s doing and why. He’s trying to create conflict for the heroine to overcome. The story makes her suffer, then she bounces back, so the final triumph is all the sweeter.

It’s much the same situation that DC head honcho Zack Snyder created for his early film, Sucker Punch. It’s a movie that gets a lot of flack that I don’t think it deserves. It’s one of my favourite films; filled with steampunk, anime action, but also containing genuine pathos. I love the film as it’s all about an underdog heroine using imagination to fight back against oppression. I always considered it a feminist movie and was somewhat annoyed by people completely missing that message because they were too busy complaining about the costumes being too revealing.

You don’t need to show women suffering in your story in order to make them the underdog

What reading the extracts from Whedon’s Wonder Woman script made me realise, however, was that it was precisely the underdog story that frustrates women. You don’t need to show women suffering in your story in order to make them the underdog, women are already there just because of their gender.

The new Wonder Woman movie, on the other hand, is not an underdog story. Gal Gadot’s character is an immortal princess goddess who leaves her paradise home and enters our inferior, intolerant, war-torn world. In Whedon’s script, Steve Trevor constantly mansplains her naivety to her; but in Jenkins’ movie, she intelligently ridicules our society’s shortcomings, and triumphs over all obstacles, winning the hearts of everyone she meets. Her final victory is not in overcoming strong men, but in choosing to use her own strength on the side of love and peace rather than hate and destruction. She is witty, kind, determined, brave and strong throughout; never weak, never humiliated.

Echoing the success of Wonder Woman, Marvel’s trailer for Black Panther, a film about a black superhero who is the king of an African nation that has more-advanced technology than the rest of the world, has seen its trailer gather 89 million views within 24 hours of being released. Queue people who are absolutely “not racist” appearing to declare that the idea of a nation of black people being technologically superior was unrealistic.

Of course, the fact that these not-racists (honest) can’t get their heads around the idea that other races are not inferior does not make it in any way implausible, but it also wouldn’t matter if it was. Our cinema screens should be showing the future liberals want; the present and the past that liberals want. It should be showing a world without racism or sexism, without caring whether it’s realistic. Maybe, once people see a world without intolerance on screen, they might realise how much better a world that could be.

Hollywood has always been worried about the opinions of the Trump crowd who might boycott their movies if they were to deviate from white supremacy, but these idiots did boycott Force Awakens; they did rise up against Wonder Woman; they’re hugely unhappy about Black Panther; and it has done nothing to stop the success of any of those films. There aren’t any more excuses, certainly not for scripts like Whedon’s misfire.

The current political climate may feel like backsliding, but comparing what even a feminist icon wrote ten years ago to the film that was finally made this year should give us all hope that things are still getting better.

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