It’s National SUPER Hero Day! But Where Oh Where is Wonder Woman?

IMG_9175Last month Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered to scathing critical reviews, record breaking box office returns, and a storm of controversy. Both a sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel and the next step in DC Comic’s attempt to create a cinematic universe to rival the wildly successful Marvel franchise, Batman v Superman had a lot riding on it. You would think that the main draw of a film titled Batman v Superman would be the chance for fans to see two of the biggest comic book icons duking it out onscreen for the first time, but pre-sale surveys told a different story. In one survey, a whopping 88% of respondents indicated that Wonder Woman’s introduction to the big screen was what they were most excited to see, and while I didn’t take part in that particular survey, anyone who knows me even a little knows that that’s the box I’d check without a moment’s hesitation. So forget Dawn of Justice, might we be at the dawn of a new era of superhero films? Namely, ones featuring a female character in the lead role? I think YES! And Wonder Woman will be leading the charge.

I have never been shy about declaring my love for Wonder Woman. I have loved this character since I was a child, and today, anyone who visits my house will invariably find themselves on a tour of my Wonder Woman room where I display all of the memorabilia that I’ve collected over the years. One of my most prized possessions is a copy of the first edition of Ms. Magazine that proudly proclaims, “Wonder Woman For President” on its front cover (1972). Another one is a box containing pieces of Linda Carter’s costume from the 1970s television show. Pictured above is a custom made pair of stilettos my hubby bought for me on ETSY. I quite literally have shelves full of Wonder Woman paraphernalia.

Someone recently asked me why I collect Wonder Woman, and there are lots of layers to that answer. Firstly, it’s just fun to collect something that is deemed a collectible, and superhero stuff is certainly that. Secondly, I loved her show growing up and it really did inspire me. However, perhaps most significantly, to me she represents something much bigger. This is what I said in my 2013 60+ page report titled WHY NO WONDER WOMAN?

I believe in the story of Wonder Woman. I always have. Not the literal baby being made from clay story, but the metaphorical one. I believe in a story where a woman is the hero and not the victim. I believe in a story where a woman is strong and not weak. Where a woman can fall in love with a man, but she doesnʼt need a man. Where a woman can stand on her own two feet. And above all else, I believe in a story where a woman has superpowers that she uses to help others, and yes, I believe that a woman can help save the world.

So needless to say that fact that we have not had a truly great female superhero film has left me bothered to say the least. (You can refer to the report for the complete history of such films.) But now the wait is almost over. I’d like to think that the powers that be in Hollywood read my report and got to work, but regardless of how it happened, later that year it was announced that Gal Gadot had been cast as Wonder Woman for the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, and in 2014, it was announced that Wonder Woman would finally be getting a solo film in 2017.

It was a long wait to get to last month’s premiere, but believe me when I say it was worth it. The movie itself was just as horrible as the critics said it was, but Gadot’s Wonder Woman was truly amazing. Finally, after all of these years of waiting, I got to sit in a darkened theater and cheer for this character that I love so much. I’d like to say that Wonder Woman was easily the best thing about the movie, but given my passion for the character, I’m guessing my endorsement won’t hold much water. So I’ll let others do it for me. In the midst of a sprawling, muddled, and just plain poorly done film, Wonder Woman stole the show, and I couldn’t be happier. Well, that’s not entirely true. I really wish the film had been better, and the fact that an entirely different creative team is in place for Wonder Woman’s solo film gives me hope that her first outing won’t be as much of a disaster. However, I’ll be there regardless, because even if the reviews match those of Batman v Superman, I’ll still be first in line for a ticket, ready and waiting to cheer on my hero once more. Earlier this month news came that the release date had been moved up three weeks to June 2nd, 2017, and as far as I’m concerned, that date can’t get here fast enough.

Happy National Super Hero Day! What Super Hero do you love?

(The piece below is a miniature glass sculpture one of kind art piece I just bought at a gallery in Chicago. It’s a miniature glass airplane on the right)

FINALLY- Wonder Woman is Coming in 2017

3c5a15cOriginally posted on LinkedIn Influencers on October 16, 2014.

I love Wonder Woman. I’m not talking about a casual affection. I LOVE Wonder Woman. I’ve collected her memorabilia for years, and I have a room in my house where I display it all. I call it my Ode to Wonder Woman. I’ve often spoke about my love for this character and my frustration with Hollywood over its inability to get a Wonder Woman movie made. The top grossing film of the year so far is a superhero movie featuring a talking racoon and an anthropomorphic tree and we still don’t get a Wonder Woman movie?! It’s enough to make me crazy.

However, instead of going crazy, I decided to try and do something about it. Last year I released a report titled Why No Wonder Woman?, which was the culmination of two years worth of writing and research. The report chronicled the history of Wonder Woman in print and in other media, as well as the history of superhero films in general, and acted as a call to action to Hollywood to get their act together. And it wasn’t just me who had picked up on this glaring omission from Hollywood’s current love affair with movies based on comic book characters. Publications such as TIME, the Guardian, Forbes, and the New York Times have all wondered why it’s taken so long for Wonder Woman to make it to the big screen, and when Marvel recently announced that they had their films planned through 2028 with nary a female fronted film in sight, the backlash was swift and damning. I think Anthony Mackie, star of the recent blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier best put the situation in context when he talked about his joy at being cast as the Falcon.

When I first got this role I just cried like a baby because I was like, “Wow, next Halloween, I’m gonna open the door and there’s gonna be a little kid dressed as the Falcon.” That’s the thing that always gets me. I feel like everybody deserves that. I feel like there should be a Latino superhero. Scarlett [Johansson] does great representation for all the other girls, but there should be a Wonder Woman movie. I don’t care if they make 20 bucks, if there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman. You know what I mean, ’cause little girls deserve that.

I think he may just be my new favorite actor.

However, as much as we can gripe about it online, the people with the power to actually do something about it are the executives at Warner Brothers, the studio that owns the rights to the DC Comics Universe. When it was announced that actress Gal Gadot had been cast as Wonder Woman for the upcoming Superman vs. Batman extravaganza, reaction was mixed, because although Wonder Woman would finally be making her debut on the big screen, she was playing second fiddle to her male counterparts yet again. Wonder Woman, it seemed, could not catch a break. Until yesterday, that is.

Warner Brothers just announced a full slate of 10 films to be released between now and 2020, including two Justice League films, solo films for Aquaman, the Flash, and a rebooted Green Lantern, and WONDER WOMAN!! That’s right, Wonder Woman is finally getting a solo film to be released on June 23rd, 2017! Finally, I can stop worrying about when she’ll arrive on the big screen and start worrying about whether or not she’ll get the big screen treatment she deserves. Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood is already suggesting writers and directors, females ones, so check out the list here. As for the narrative, what I would not give to weigh in, but I tried that once to no avail. Yes I have what I think is a brilliant plot but when I contacted executives at the studio to ask if I could get a meeting the response I got was nice, but no, for some sort of liability reason. I will be praying for a brilliant screenplay but regardless I will be there on opening night.

Last month, a study that was released by the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media demonstrated that across the 11 most profitable film industries in the world, women were underrepresented both on screen and behind the camera, and that the female characters on film often conformed to negative stereotypes and/or were overtly sexualized. Numerous studies over the years have come to similar findings, and while I’m not saying that the announcement of one Wonder Woman movie will fix everything, perhaps this is a sign that Hollywood executives are finally taking notice of what the research has been saying for years.

At the moment, female fronted films have never been more popular or profitable at the box office, and with Sony’s upcoming female superhero film also scheduled for release in 2017, it looks like that isn’t going to change anytime soon. I for one, couldn’t be happier, and I already know where I’ll be on June 23rd, 2017; first in line to see Wonder Woman’s big screen bow. I hope you will all join me and help make this film a hit. After all, it’s never too soon to start thinking about the sequel.

Jacki Zehner with Laura Moore

Photo:Gage Skidmore / Flickr

FROZEN Breaks Records and Cracks the Hollywood Glass Ceiling

FrozenPublished on LinkedIn Influencers on April 1st, 2014

This past weekend, Disney’s animated hit Frozen passed a historic landmark. Not only has Frozen become Walt Disney Animation Studio’s first billion dollar movie, but Frozen surpassed Pixar’s Toy Story 3 to become the highest grossing animated film of all time. Frozen currently sits in the top 10 highest grossing films worldwide, and with co-director Jennifer Lee at the helm, Frozen is also the highest grossing film with a woman director, and the highest grossing film to feature not one, but two female leads.

However, that’s not all Frozen has achieved, because this film is not just a hit, it’s become a pop culture phenomenon. The internet is filled with covers of its ubiquitous smash hit song, “Let it Go”, fan art abounds on social media, as does fan fiction, Youtube videos, and blogs dissecting every moment of every scene. The film has won Oscars, Annies, a BAFTA and Golden Globe award, and both the DVD and soundtrack have sold millions of copies. Frozen has struck a very powerful and vocal chord with audiences, and everyone; girls, boys, men, and women, are voicing their love for this film in ever increasingly creative ways.

Even more impressive is the fact that Frozen is not just an anomaly regarding women in film, but in fact was released in one of the best years for women onscreen in decades. 2013 will be remembered as the year that Catching Fire was the top grossing film domestically, the first time since records were kept that a film with a sole female lead took this honor. This was also the year that Gravity shattered box office records with its release in October, and over the Thanksgiving weekend, both Frozen and Catching Fire burned up the box office, bringing in record revenues. 2013 was the year that three films with female leads were in the top ten highest grossing films domestically, with another two (Despicable Me 2 and Oz the Great and Powerful) featuring a male lead surrounded by women and girls. However, as impressive as these numbers are, my hope for 2013’s legacy is that people finally realize how important the intent behind their tickets can be.

The fact is, despite the success of 2013, the situation in Hollywood regarding women both onscreen and off is still far from perfect. Even when the top grossing film of the year features a female lead, Hollywood still considers these films to be risky and a niche market. Behind the camera, women make up 50% of all film school graduates, but only 18% of the directors whose films screened at festivals between August 2011 and August 2012, 13.5% of the members of the Directors Guild of America, and 7% of the directors of the Top 250 grossing films between 2009-2012. I could throw plenty more statistics at you, but a picture is worth a thousand words, and this info graphic from the New York Film Academy sums up the situation pretty succinctly. It’s also pretty depressing.

However, if people were to realize the power they wield in simply going to the movies, then change can happen. By supporting women directed or women centered films, you are sending the message that women’s voices and stories are a viable business and worth putting on the big screen. By rejecting misogynistic and sexist films, you are sending the message that the discrimination and objectification of women on screen will no longer be tolerated. The truth is money talks, especially in Hollywood, and it is my hope that going forward, 2014 will be remembered as the year a critical mass of moviegoers realized that the price on their ticket stub is so much more than a simple number.

For more information on the status of women and film, please check out these incredible organizations and studies:

Sundance Institute – Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media – Gender Disparity On Screen and Behind the Camera In Family Films

Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film – On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2013

Women in Film

Women and Hollywood

Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore