Is the new Wonder Woman movie better than Frozen? It seems so, according to a kindergartner who saw both. This was revealed in a tweet sent out by Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.
She is now the It director with the It action movie starring the very It Gal Gadot. To date, the move has made nearly US$450mil (RM1.9bil) at the box office worldwide, and it won’t be surprising if it ends up as No.1 come the end of the year (and we’re talking about a year that includes the long-awaited Cars 3, another Transformers sequel and Star Wars Episode VIII).
So by all accounts it’s a great and successful film. Yet what has been puzzling me is that the headlines all seem to focus on one key theme: It is a great film about a woman, by a woman.
Why does it have to be like this? Why can’t we just accept a good movie as it is, without drawing boundaries and saying it’s good for a woman’s film? (To emphasise the point, I believe it’s a good movie, regardless of the genders of the creator and star.)
It’s the same when I look at chess. Why are there separate women’s championship and women’s tournaments?
Admittedly, women are allowed to play in open tournaments, but they mostly choose not to. Until recently, Hungarian chess grandmaster Judit Polgar was the only woman to do so regularly (in fact, she didn’t even bother challenging for the women’s world title).
She’s said that “My parents raised me and my sisters (to believe) that women are able to reach the same result as our male competitors if they get the right and the same possibilities”.
You go, girl.
Which is pretty much the same thing organisers of a chess tournament in Malaysia told a 12-year-old girl in May for an unusual reason: the dress she wore was above the knee or below it, depending on whether you believe the tournament director or the girl’s mother. Threats of lawsuits have been made, and none of any of the above should be used to determine whether or not a girl can actually play chess.
So the challenges faced by women do seem to be different than what men experience. I am reminded of this when a friend of mine mentions that she’s whistled at when she walks down the streets of Kuala Lumpur. I reply that I had never noticed that. That’s because they don’t do it when you’re around, says she.
I guess there’s a lot I don’t see or get regarding women’s issues simply because I don’t have their perspective. This is an important point.
From what I see in the Malaysian film industry, I would say women are quite well represented in many fields, from writing and directing to producing. But if that’s the case, why do female characterisations in local productions draw so much criticism? Truth be told, sometimes it feels that local actresses get more credit for having a “fresh” face or lots of followers on Twitter than for their acting abilities.
And if you look more carefully at the statistics, only two of the 10 highest-grossing Malaysian films last year were directed by women. Not completely horrible, but not great either. Worse, out of 57 directors involved in 52 Malaysian films in 2016, only eight were female.
If anything, it’s worse in Hollywood, where between 3% and 9% of the annual top 100 films between 2007 and 2015 were directed by women. So if certain stories require a female perspective, 3% to 9% seems awfully low.
But this doesn’t apply for a movie like Wonder Woman. It’s a superhero movie, with the universal themes of doing the right thing and battling those who are on the side of wrong. I felt that I was watching a movie where the hero happened to be female, rather than some statement about how women could be heroes too.
Then I read a few reviews that talked about the scene where (spoiler alert!) Wonder Woman steps out of a World War I trench and strides confidently across No Man’s Land to vanquish the enemy. It is a scene that the studio heads felt could be cut but the director insisted on keeping it in.
To me it was the scene where we see Wonder Woman really using her powers in a fun and exciting way. But some film critics had a more visceral reactions – even crying through the scene.
I can read what they wrote about it, but I can’t say I fully understand: “Witnessing a woman hold the field, and the camera, for that long blew open an arguably monotonous genre”; “the tears that welled while watching Wonder Woman flip a tank were an emotional release for years of frustration”; “(it) acknowledges that its hero is different from the ones we might be used to without pretending that should be a distraction from her righteous mission”.
This movie, that I felt was fun and entertaining, is important for some women who feel they so rarely see themselves doing the things that men take for granted. The point isn’t that I know women are as capable as men; it’s that women feel, too often, that their ability is defined by what a man can do in the same circumstance.
I have long held the belief that historical dramas say more about our present than the periods they portray. Perhaps our superhero fables do something similar, and if so, I have no problem with a five-year-old learning that apart from using great power to make a princess gown out of ice, you could also wield it to save innocent lives.
Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.