Wonder Women: The Untold Story of the American Superheroines, directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan (Going on 13) provides a context for the hows and whys behind the portrayal of female action stars in the pop culture. By using the figure of Wonder Woman at its core, the film explores the relationship between how she and her fellow heroines have changed over the years in relation to concurrent trends in sexual politics.

When Wonder Woman first appeared in comic books in the 1940?s, women had left the confines of the home and, because husbands and brothers were fighting the war, they went into the workforce. Wonder Woman, a Greek goddess who came to America and fought crime, kept her own with other superheroes of the day, such as Batman and Superman. A few years later when soldiers came home and women were back to being moms and wives, in her comic book series Wonder Woman was almost entirely stripped of her powers.

Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines
Wonder Woman: The Untold Story of American Superheroines

It wasn’t until the Women’s Movement and a campaign led by Gloria Steinem — a talking head in this film — that Wonder Woman’s powers were restored and, ironically, a new wave of sexy independent women cropped up on TV in particular. Interviews with Lynda Carter and Lindsay Wagner (Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman respectively), the film reminds us of just how broad the term ‘role model’ really was a few decades ago. The film shows that those women seemed to have paved the way for the next generation of superheroines, including the Alien franchise’s Ripley and Terminator 2’s Sarah Connor. Guevara-Flanagan’s film weaves together interviews along with film clips and comic book panels, resulting in an informative and entertaining firlm. One last surprising morsel that I learned in the film was that as many times as the Wonder Woman character has been revamped, it was only recently that the book got its first female writer in Gail Simone.

So how are our superheroines doing these days? In this clip, Guevara-Flanagan gives her opinion with a dose of skepticism.

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Guest blogger Adam Schartoff is a freelance film journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. He's the founder and programmer of the Brooklyn-based film series Filmwax.