The Queer Cloud Looming Over Wonder Woman

Most people who have seen Wonder Woman this summer cannot deny how incredible it was.  Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins rescued us from the clutches of another testosterone-charged, misogynistic blockbuster action film. Wonder Woman’s script, cast, and the slo-mo Amazonian battle sequence on the beach of Themyscira  made us all want to go out and buy a horse and a sword. Needless to say the feminist meter reading was off the charts. Women and girls of all ages finally got to see themselves represented as a superhero on the big screen, and the movie itself set new records for women in the film industry. According to NPR the movie brought in over 100 million dollars it’s first weekend in the United States and over 200 million dollars worldwide – the most money made by any female director to date. Overall, the work was a step in the right direction for female representation in the mainstream media. Kind of.  While Jenkins’ Diana in many ways is the heroine we have been waiting for, the creators of the film glossed over a crucial part of her identity: her bisexuality. In place of Diana’s queerness, creators sanitized the film for Hollywood with a heterosexual love interest. And while Diana is attracted to men, her attraction to women was never acknowledged. Consequently, Wonder Woman’s full self was not realized, and millions of LGBTQ+ viewers’ identities were ignored. Herein lies one of the main problems with Wonder Woman, and the mainstream media’s overall LGBTQ+ representation as a whole.

Since the birth of Wonder Woman comics in 1941, Diana Prince has always been a Sapphic goddess. Her creator William Moulton Marston was heavily influenced by the Grecian poet Sapphos, who wrote about her love for other women. More importantly, Marston himself was an ultra progressive man and used his personal life to influence his writing.  Marston engaged in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Sadie Holloway and another woman Olive Byrne, the niece of the infamous women’s rights activist Margaret Sanger. In his relationship with these women Marston, “shared intimacies” with both of them, and the women with each other. It was these women, their strength, and their sexual relationship that sparked Marston’s inspiration for Diana’s character. When the first Wonder Woman comics were released in the 1940s, Diana was portrayed as Marston had created her – a powerful Amazonian woman whose catchphrase was,  “suffering Sapphos!”,  a proclamation of her own queerness. The comics were a hit, but later in the 1950s were banned from stores because they contained scantily clad women and relationships deemed “abnormal” by the Comics Code Authority. It was then that Wonder Woman became a more sanitized, “morally permissible” character who had devolved into a vapid damsel in need of a male savior.

Unfortunately, in 2017 Wonder Woman’s queerness lies buried beneath Hollywood’s incessant need to make its films “digestible” for non- LGBTQ+ movie goers. After all, what’s the point of seeing a movie (especially a movie revolving around a strong, incorruptible female lead) if she does not have some sort of sexual encounter with a man? A Hollywood movie is not a Hollywood movie without heterosexual representation, am I right?  The creators of Wonder Woman have successfully made Diana’s queer identity apparitional- a notion put forth by known lesbian author Terry Castle in her book The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture. In her work, Castle explains that modern culture seeks to “alienate” the lesbian (or women who love women) from the everyday, to omit her out of history and obfuscate her identity to fit another more “acceptable” mold. This is exactly the case for Diana Prince in Wonder Woman. Her identity as an LGBTQ+ character is elusive, a specter that looms over the character relentlessly (even painfully) but is never talked about directly.

In the movie and in the comics, Diana’s origin story begins on the island of Themyscira, a refuge for Amazonian women only. Current Wonder Woman comic writer Greg Rucka has articulated that her bisexuality is implicit based on her upbringing on Themyscira. However, those who are not aware of her sapphic ethos would never know this from the movie. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter Rucka states, “It’s supposed to be paradise. You’re supposed to be able to live happily. You’re supposed to be able — in a context where one can live happily, and part of what an individual needs for that happiness is to have a partner — to have a fulfilling, romantic and sexual relationship. And the only options are women.” Even if an uninformed audience member did pick up her “implied” queerness, it would quickly become an afterthought as soon as Steve Trevor washes up on the island and their romantic subplot ensues. And this is just the issue: Diana’s bisexuality is implicit, not explicit. The audience holds onto only what they can physically see on the screen: a perceived straight Diana with Captain Steve Trevor dancing around a war zone in WWI France. Because of this obscured portrayal, Diana’s queer identity is erased, absent and to some who are ignorant, nonexistent.  Her queer identity is floating, and present only in the consciousness of those who know her complete character, or those observant enough to make an assumption.

Why is this part of Diana so important to acknowledge? The answer is simple: because LGBTQ+  representation matters in a world where the media is slowly recognizing the validity of this community. If filmmakers claim to portray stories that every audience member can relate to, then the creators of Wonder Woman are seriously lacking on their follow through. LGBTQ+ audience members do not want to imagine Diana as a bisexual woman anymore, they want to see it with their own eyes.  To merely imply based on deductive reasoning that Diana is bi is not good enough. LGBTQ+ viewers deserve to be represented, instead of  conveniently avoided to appease intolerant majorities for fear of losing money. To Patty and the Wonder Woman writers: let us not be afraid of ALL of Wonder Woman. Instead, let us embrace her intricacies.  To deny Diana of her queerness in a movie about her origin story is to erase the work of her creator and her history. She is not truly Diana Prince if all of the parts of her identity are not accurately and explicitly represented. One can only hope that the next installment of Wonder Woman will validate her bisexual identity and do so accurately.