By Gordon K. Smith
Playing Saturday, September 29th, 2012 at Dallas VideoFest 25, WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES is a wry and illuminating documentary that starts with William Marston’s creation of the Wonder Woman character for DC comics in 1941, and expands on her influence on the depiction of female characters in comics and pop culture in general.
The film’s executive producer, Texas native Erin Prather Stafford, held a September 13th roundtable discussion on how she became involved and what the project means to her.
“My interest in the film started in 2008 when producer Kelcey Edwards mentioned it to me at a mutual friend’s wedding,” she began. “We met and became fast friends while volunteering on the same crew at the South By Southwest Film Festival (SXSW). Kelcey knew I had a Master’s degree in Gender and International Development and asked if I knew someone who might be interested in being the executive producer of WONDER WOMEN! I thought about it for several days, made some inquiries and then it dawned on me that I wanted to be the executive producer, and part of this incredible project. Fast forward to this past March and WONDER WOMEN! had its world premiere at SXSW, which was a very cool moment for Kelcey and me.”
One can’t imagine this documentary without the participation of Lynda Carter (still a stunner at 61), the first and still only actress to portray Wonder Woman in a weekly series (’75-’77), but that almost didn’t happen.
“This documentary was four years in the making, and they spent two tracking her down. That’s so great because it really connects with those who grew up watching her…we did try to get Joss Whedon, but that didn’t work. We met up with him at SXSW, he was there for CABIN IN THE WOODS and he showed up at our world premiere. We do discuss Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the movie. He was very supportive and complimentary of (our movie). Jane Epson, the writer from Buffy, adds so much to our movie.”
“THE HUNGER GAMES, BRAVE, THE AVENGERS with the Black Widow character – all of a sudden this wave, which has been really great for our film, and brought the discussion to the forefront. People are responding positively to these characters. I hope the studios will see that and understand there’s real value here, to explore this. In super-hero comics, modern drama and modern comedy, we’re seeing women at the forefront, and it’s wonderful…last week CW announced that they’re considering a show called Amazon, which would look at Wonder Woman before she became that, like Smallville was for the Superman character…I’d watch that!”
“We explore how she’s been written through the decades. In the ’40s, she was really was an amazing character. We get into the background of why this is such a feminist character, and the trends she went through, through the decades, and where she’s at now…there’s been a lot of discussion about her new writer, some very big changes to the storyline with the reboot in the comics, with the upcoming romance of Superman and Wonder Woman. I don’t want her to wind up as just a sidekick to Superman. She’s better than that, and deserves more. I’m afraid they’ll take away from her character, like they did in the ’50s, when she went from ‘I’m going to save everyone’ to ‘dainty little Wonder Woman, I’m in love with Steve Trevor, la de dah’, you know…at some point this writer will cycle off, and she’ll be picked up by another writer. It’ll be interesting to see what they do. That’s what’s so great about comics, you can always reboot and change things up. Nothing is forever.”
The film touches on the period in the ’50s in which congressional hearings were held to determine if comics were perverting impressionable young minds. Among their concerns: Wonder Woman must be a lesbian, considering the emphasis on bondage, and female bonding, in the books. As a result, the character spent years reduced to the level of “Romance” comics. This was in the news again recently, with reports that Green Lantern, and possibly WW, would be rebooted as gay.
“I haven’t heard…but why can’t there just be strong female friendships in comic book characters? Just like real life, some women are attracted to each other, some care about and support each other…Life itself is so multi-faceted, why can’t comics be that way.”
“I have a two-year-old daughter, and I want her to have these role models, when she gets to the age when she’s really consuming (media)…Girls deserve better, and that’s the message in this film, and I really hope it inspires people to create those characters, or take characters that already exist and take them to a whole new mediums that are impactful.”
Stafford talked about the origin of the film, and its lengthy gestation.
“It started with (director) Kristy (Guevara-Flanagan) reading a New York Times article about Gail Simone being the first female writer of Wonder Woman (in 2007). She grew up with Wonder Woman and was also surprised there’d never been a female writer for it before. Simone started looking at the violence against women in comics on her site Women in Refrigerators. I think it started out being about Wonder Woman, and evolved into being about the role of women in general.”
A long-overdue big-budget screen treatment, a la SPIDERMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT, or THE AVENGERS, has been in “development hell” for years, with names such as Joss Whedon and Sandra Bullock attached at times. Stafford commented on the various reasons for the delay.
“They’re like, how do we capture the biggest female superhero ever? Don’t wanna screw it up. There’s so much pressure. If it bombs, it would be so crushing to so many people. I’d be distraught…Time and time again, they’ll pull out, ‘ELECTRA bombed. CATWOMAN with Halle Berry bombed.’ Yeah, because they weren’t good movies. If it’s well written, it’ll work.”
The future looks bright for the film and its applications.
“We’ll be on PBS Independent Lens in March. We were very fortunate to get a grant from the Tribeca Film Institute’s Games for Change, to develop a games component to go with the movie…There’s not a lot of games options (for teenage girls), which we hope to fix with this game. We really want to create another option, calling it something like “Wonder City”, with a super-heroine figure. It’s not just about kicking and punching, it’s using your mind and solving problems.”
What was her hardest job in getting the film made?
“Getting the funding together. We did two Kickstarter campaigns, which was so essential to getting this film funded. It worked because a lot of people love Wonder Woman, and we could tap into that energy…It was also a lot of work to bring it down to its current length (62 minutes). With this material you could make ten movies. I think it doesn’t overstay the message…my brother said he walked out and felt inspired, not preached to… We’re also doing an educational curriculum, for junior high through college. We’re busy!”
For more information on WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES and Dallas VideoFest 25, log onto www.videofest.org. The festival runs from September 27-30, 2012 at the Dallas Museum of Art.