New documentary and game about Wonder Women in American pop culture

This is part two of our series covering the recipients of the Tribeca Film Institute’s “Games for Change Fellowship“. This unique program affords select documentary filmmakers the opportunity to create a game project to compliment the impact of their films. In this post, we explore our brand new relationship with the film, “Wonder Women! The Untold Tale of American Superheroines“.

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Wonder Woman, arguably the most well known female comic book character ever
There is one woman who stands atop the pantheon of the world’s great comic book characters.

While she has gone through a few changes, her name and impact remain the same. For over 70 years, Wonder Woman has been one of the few positive examples of feminine strength in the comic book industry. An industry that is typically inundated with images of strong, straight, white men. Her inclusion in this domain has made a visible impact on both comics and American popular culture as a whole.

In the documentary, “Wonder Women! The Untold Tale of American Superheroines“, filmmakers Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Kelcey Edwards explore the character’s impact on popular media and how her rise (and fall) reflects the general status of women in society.

Recently, Games for Change picked “Wonder Women!” as the second recipient of the annual Tribeca All Access Games for Change Fellowship. Through this program, we will be working closely with Kristy and Kelcy to help their film’s message translate into a gaming project. I recently spoke with the filmmakers and independent game designer Naomi Clark to learn more about the role of women throughout American history and how “Wonder Women!” will be adding itself to the storybooks.


Trailer for the “Wonder Women!” documentary
 

WHY WE NEED “WONDER WOMEN” IN THE FIRST PLACE

Studies suggest that superheroes are actually helpful in childhood development.

Indulging in these fantasies can lead to positive outcomes in children building their moral compass. For boys, there are plenty of wonderful examples, whether it’s finding the power in the everyman qualities of Spiderman, or the one-man-can-do-it-all strength of Superman. Both tackle difficult moral decisions while balancing rather mundane, yet important personal lives as their secret identities.

However, women in these stories are often relegated to supporting characters that are deeply entrenched in “traditional” gender roles. It’s uncommon to see any of them saving the day or living outside the “damsel in distress” archetype. But, in the 1940s, one character was created, that in the creator’s words was made to be a “distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring… ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men”.

Ever since her introduction in 1941, Wonder Woman holds the crown as one of the most recognizable fictional characters in pop culture (of either gender) and one of the only female comic book characters to take a top spot in popular “best comic book character” lists.

It’s no question that fantasy, whether through comics or books, is mainstream and highly valuable. However, if you look at the highest-grossing films of all time, many of them are fiction works featuring strong male leads. So, when girls don’t have a character that is powerful and has the agency to do great things, what does that really mean for their development?

THE ROLE OF “WONDER WOMEN” IN THE US AND MEDIA

During World War II, the power of women stabilized the US as most of the men in the country were off fighting the War. This was one of the first times in American history where women played a defining role across the landscape, stepping outside the home and working in many of the industries that kept our country running.

However, as the War ended and the men came home, gender roles reverted back to pre-War standards. While not explicit, women were slowly encouraged to embrace domesticity once again. Long time readers of the Wonder Woman series saw the once fierce, but fair warrior focus on less fantastic challenges, shifting her priorities to courtship, marriage, and other hyperbolized feminine activities.

For a few decades, her character settled into a lull, however she came back in full force (and full color) in the 1970s.

Television’s golden age was nothing, if not bold, and the Wonder Woman TV show staring Lynda Carter was just that.


The iconic “spinning transformation” of Diana Prince into Wonder Woman
 

As producers peppered the landscape with exciting action shows, dramas, and sports, the Wonder Woman television show was one of the defining programs that left an indelible mark on many women to this day. Lynda Carter’s performance of Wonder Woman was a sight unseen by comic book fans and general audiences alike. Her earnest portrayal over the show’s 4-year run set the tone for women in media for years to come.

Her influence cut across women both young and old, as the third wave of feminism kicked off in the early 90s in parallel to the young, punk rock-fueled “riot grrrl” movement. Whether Lynda Carter was in the mind of older feminist in the scene, or glued across the pages of handmade magazines from the younger crowd, Wonder Woman’s influence was still alive. The connection to punk rock’s DIY (do it yourself) outlook and distaste for established norms connected directly with many women looking to come into their own, in a bold and powerful way.

Now, in today’s media rich world, inexpensive tools are creating even more DIY opportunities for women and girls. Access to affordable technology and training has allowed anyone to advance their knowledge and create wonderful media like never before.

“WONDER WOMEN” IN VIDEO GAMES 

But, there’s no argument that video games are one of the few places where girls have yet to find their “Wonder Woman”.

When I asked the filmmakers how they feel about the role of women in games, Kristy quickly replied, “It’s pretty bad… I can’t be more eloquent than that”. Even when gaming journalists struggle to name positive female role models, even then they can’t get away from certain negative tropes (Bayonetta anyone?).


Bayonetta, a powerful yet problematic lead video game character
 

That’s not to say there is no market for games women can enjoy. However, many would argue that those games are created with distinct stereotypes in mind. Less subtle than the domestic changes to Wonder Woman’s character in the 1950s, most “games for girls” revolve around shopping, getting boyfriends, shallow relationships, the color pink, and other “girly things”. It isn’t to say that these games don’t have their merit, but creating robust options for women and girls won’t happen in a silo.

As their film opens the dialogue and discusses how the norm can be broadened, the “Wonder Women!” game hopes to do the same.

To help make the “Wonder Women” game a reality, we’ve put the filmmaking duo in touch with one of New York City’s most established game designers. From Facebook games, mobile, digital design tools for the folks at LEGO, workshops and more, Naomi Clark was one of our top candidates for this project. Her impressive backlog of game projects as well as her continued work in the fields of gender and social issues made her a prime choice to flesh out what a “Wonder Women” game could be. Naomi and I also spoke to discuss the finer details of how to bring the passion and theme of the documentary into a fun and empowering gaming experience.

Naomi envisions a narrative and decision-based adventure game, where players embody the role of young woman in a metropolis where superpowers seem to be granted to a host of its inhabitants. While players struggle with the tasks befitting of a superheroine, they must also handle the unique challenges that also make their character human, and thus, relatable. The game’s flexible and branching storyline will support players of all types, whether they choose to give it all up and become a full time heroine, neglect their powers and live life as usual, or fight for a perfect balance.

The goal is to show that heroism isn’t just in the realm of those who have super powers. Being there for others, taking care of those who need you, or having an amazing career is just as heroic as fighting villains and saving the day.

As we grow older, we understand that “doing good” is often outside the limits of one person’s career. In the proposed “Wonder Women!” game, players are also granted unique mentorship opportunities. There are numerous resources that state the value of mentorships, and this game will feature two unique takes. At the start, an older and wiser character guides the player through some of the tough challenges she faces early on. As your character progresses, you’ll find yourself mentoring a younger heroine in need your guidance and experience.

Allowing players to explore both sides of mentorship will give them the capacity to understand the full value of these relationships.

UP, UP, AND AWAY 

Right now, Kristy and Kelcy are on the film festival circuit, promoting and showing the film in various cities across the US, while Games for Change and Naomi Clark help devise a game project that will capture the impact and charm of the film.

Just recently, the filmmakers were announced as part of BAVC’s Producers Institute, “a week-long social impact laboratory that connects the world’s best social issue documentary filmmakers and partner nonprofit organizations with leading technologists and mentors to develop transmedia tools and story assets to advance shared social change agendas.”
Just like the Tribeca All Access Program, the Producers Institute is a highly competitive program, which received a record number of entrants this year.

We’ll keep you up to date on this project as it develops.

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Learn more about the film at the official Wonder Women! website.

Read our interview with last year’s recipient, The Undocumented, here.

COMMENTS

2 Responses to New documentary and game about Wonder Women in American pop culture

  1. Celeste says:

    Our organization recognizes women Role models, women that stand out and have made a difference. We call our women SHEROES. Take a look we are already collaborating with the film teams at Miss Representation and Invisible War. I am the director and I also sit on the Women & girls LEAD project with PBS. I would love to chat with you about collaborating please get in touch with me. Best of luck!
    Celeste Gleave

  2. Pingback: Signal Boost: Wonder Women!

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