Wonder Woman: Trailer Analysis – empowering or exploitation?

The following piece is a way into of the new AQA A level Media Studies key areas. It is a bit of a whistle-stop tour of several areas within the feminist theory section of the exam. It is in no way an in-depth review of the thinkers presented. 

To be honest I am a little bit confused as to why some major feminist theorists are obliquely mentioned but Lisbet Van Zoonan (interesting as she is) gets a major name-check. I may well post up more on this issue.

To return to the task in hand there has been an interesting media debate about the progressive/regressive nature of the recent DC character’s film. Given this debate I thought this piece might be timely.

Find the trailer here.

WONDER WOMAN – Rise of the Warrior [Official Final Trailer] (May 7, 2017).

Write an analysis of the trailer that includes the following sections:

  • Male gaze
  • Voyeurism
  • Patriarchy
  • Sexualisation/Raunch Culture
  • Post-feminism
  • Female gaze.

You can write about how the trailer avoids these.

Note:

This film has been directed by Patty Jenkins, multiple award-winning director, and is based on the DC comics character created by William Moulton Marsden.

Marsden, a psychologist, who also invented the lie detector, was a friend of feminist and civil rights pioneer Margaret Sanger. His unconventional personal life (he lived with both his wife and partner, who were both involved in the burgeoning women’s movement) and sexual preferences (bondage imagery is a key constituent of Wonder Woman’s look and arsenal) were incorporated into the creation of a character who was designed to create a role-model in the same way that male comic-book super heroes were modelling behaviour and attitudes. In this way the character can be seen as part of the constructionist model of media production.

The character has, therefore, had a long association with emancipation and feminist movements but has also been criticized as being overly sexualised and unrealistic (especially with regard to body image). The 1970s T.V. series was notable for the way it often pandered to the male audience and gaze.

Patty Jenkins has stated that her aim has been to create an uplifting, icon and role-model. On social media she stated, “if women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong . . . then we haven’t come very far have we?”

  • Male gaze

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The trailer could be argued to have certain elements of Laura Mulvey’s male gaze. The shot choices place emphasis of Diana’s bare shoulders and legs whilst costume choices place emphasis on her breasts. These costume choices have been reworked to create significations of ancient Greek, or rather what a contemporary audience associates with ancient Greek, culture. The result is that there is plenty of athletic bare flesh on display (in contrast with the male characters). This is at its most noticeable in the opening section where Diana confronts a German trench, and machine-gun position, bare-limbed. Female athleticism, especially feminine athleticism, is associated with sexual desirability by contemporary audiences. The trailer does, however, avoid using combinations of shot-type, camera movement and editing to fetishize the body (for example it avoids the combination of headless close-up, slow motion and slow camera movement which, according to Mulvey, typify the male gaze).

  • Voyeurism

ww2

During a couple of sequences the audience are treated to a viewer position as if they were intruding on private space. This is the essential element for constructing a voyeuristic perspective. One is the shot above, an over-the-shoulder shot where Diana is emerging from a fitting-room and the audience looks into the private space. Another, arguably, is the low angled shot in the cave which places the viewer behind Chris Pine. In this shot Pine’s body is essentially naked and he is looking up at Gadot, who is wearing, essentially, stylised lingerie. Thus the signification links to traditional signification of sexual activity – darkness, nudity and underwear). Both shots are saved from voyeurism however. The first is saved because the character is emerging from the room and is more clothed than at any other time in the trailer (although this emphasizes the stiflingly restrictive nature of Edwardian clothing, and so by association, Edwardian society) and also because Lucy Davis takes up a third of the frame. We see a third-person view of what she sees and this decreases the voyeuristic content.

The second shot is saved from voyeurism by a combination of camera positioning and proxemics (how close characters are to each other). Diana is literally elevated above the male figure and there is a healthy distance between the two.

  • Patriarchy

ww3

In the trailer there is a comedic set of intercuts between David Thewlis (asking who Diana is) and an action sequence (the suggestion is that she is Wonder Woman because of what she does rather than who she is). The scene depicts stereotypical figures of patriarchal control, a middle-aged man in a suit (who is also next to a heavily moustached army general – Field Marshall Haig perhaps?) who require another man, Steve Trevor, to speak for a woman rather than letting her speak for herself. The moment is saved by the idea that Steve Trevor must cover for the Amazonian Princess; her identity needs to be a secret. This is still problematic as it presents Diana as a naïf (someone who does not know how the adult world works). This is part of the fish-out-of-water section of the trailer which incorporates comedic moments. Overall the trailer seems to comment on patriarchy rather than be the product of patriarchy.

  • Sexualisation/Raunch Culture

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This is the element of the trailer which is bound in some ways by its roots in an older media product. The costume has a history dating back to 1941 and has been sexualised and Americanised (star-spangled pants anyone?) at various points in its history. These points formed part of the analysis of the earlier male gaze section. An analysis of the kinesis (movements) in the action sequences show that they seem to be more dance-based than martial-art and it is interesting to note the similarities in costume and movement in the action sequence above and the audition sequence in Flashdance (1983).

ww5

This, earlier, film is a progenitor of the raunch culture that Ariel Levy describes in her writing. In Flashdance the female character’s “hotness” is viewed as an overriding positive and the injection of sexualised dancing is just what the stuffy world of ballet needs. In the trailer however the fantasy-perfect nature of the central character is de-sexualised by being fantasy-perfect in the first place. This creates a distance between, literally, mortal considerations such as attractiveness and “hotness”, and the immortal goddess being depicted.

  • Post-feminism

ww6

There are a number of Gifs doing the internet rounds showing Lynda Carter (a previous Wonder Women) smashing a window labelled patriarchy.  In this trailer we get another depiction (above) although it has a little bit of wall thrown in. The narrative of the trailer promotes Diana as a post-feminist archetype; she has learned to be a woman but her education (in an all-female, martial society) has not taught her to be subservient. Patty Jenkin’s project is clearest here. Her aim is to give the audience a fantasy construction that is uplifting and empowering and perfect (in the same way as Superman is masculine perfection). This is a constructionist project showing a version of the world as the producers would like it to be. Male characters also, therefore, must lose some of their masculine power within such a narrative.

  • Female gaze.

ww7

Chris Pine’s character here is shown in a way which is appealing to the female gaze. He is shorn of his usual cockiness through being wounded and is shown without clothes. The camera angle is not an exact reversal with Diana’s perspective as that would make him look too weak (therefore possibly less attractive) but a balance has been struck between the female character’s perception and the viewer.

A more nuanced analysis of the female gaze in the trailer might be that the emphasis on the fantasy-perfect nature of the protagonist is even more important. The female viewer (straight or lesbian) spends most of the time looking at Gal Godet. For the lesbian viewer (and there have been calls from fans that she be bisexual in the next film, and suggestions by the studio that she will) the appeal is obvious. For the straight viewer the idea that the female gaze shows women how they have to be to get their man is more problematic as it is an unrealistic attainment (how many women can look like Miss Israel). The trailer skirts this issue by keeping Pine and Godet apart, and unromantic, on the screen.

 

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One thought on “Wonder Woman: Trailer Analysis – empowering or exploitation?

  1. Pingback: Doozer-like Construction. – Mr G's English, Film and Media.

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