Wonder Woman is fighting her most disobliging battle yet: the crusade to make her upcoming, long-awaited feature film, out June 2, a smashing success despite a nitpicking public.
Since DC confirmed Wonder Woman was in the works way back in 2010, the odds have been monumentally stacked against the Amazon. Not only is it the first big-budget film to center solely on a female hero, Wonder Woman is also directed by a woman, which is sure to be a talking point throughout the film’s press tour. In order to compete with the massive success of the Marvel franchise, whose Guardians of the Galaxy sequal has already raked in $250 million worldwide, the second standalone movie in DC’s Justice League canon must be both critically-acclaimed and commercially profitable in order to not only secure the future of Justice (The Flash and Aquaman are already slated for next year), but also help more female-led superhero films—like Captain Marvel—get made.
In March, Marvel exec David Gabriel caused some trouble when he controversially blamed declines in Hollywood’s profits on the emergence of diversity and female heroes on screen. “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” Gabriel told ICv2. “They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”
Gabriel isn’t necessarily wrong. Early industry projections estimate that Wonder Woman will earn $83 million its opening weekend, a figure significantly lower than most of DC’s other popcorn flicks: Batman v. Superman nabbed $166 million, Suicide Squad pulled $134 million and Man of Steel, largely considered a failure, broke $117 million. Eighty million dollars is far from a disappointing debut, but when you’re dealing with a film that’s carrying the fate of four other superheroes on its back, this figure is paltry at best. In fact, $80 million is about how much Doctor Strange made its opening weekend, which featured a more obscure lead character and tons of controversy over the casting of Tilda Swinton in the role of an Asian.
Before anyone has even seen her film, Wonder Woman is already falling victim to a strange form sexism: she’s just too pretty.
But if commercial success, critical acclaim and the weight that comes with influencing an entirely new gender-inclusive genre of action film aren’t enough to bury the film with high expectations, Diana Prince still has to deal with the public, devoted fans and critics alike, who may prove to be the most overwhelming of beasts.
When the film’s first trailer was released last July, Wonder Woman became a catalyst of heated debate among the internet’s nerd-sphere. Many died-hard fans turned into online trolls, citing that actress Gal Gadot—previously only known for her static role in the Fast and the Furious series—was, get this, too skinny to play the sword-wielding warrior. Let it be known that Gadot, a noteworthy model, has served in the Israel Defense Forces.
Then, in December, the United Nations dropped Wonder Woman as its gender equality ambassador for being too sexy. “Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent ‘warrior’ woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions,” the petition behind her firing read. Apparently, before anyone has even seen her film, Wonder Woman is already falling victim to a strange form sexism: she’s just too pretty.
The criticism has gotten so bad that even Gadot’s armpits—her armpits!—have been nitpicked in certain groups. Multiple websites, including Forbes and Refinery29, have attacked what they speculate to be post-production Photoshop applied to Gadot’s armpits, to create a smoother appearance. In these exaggerated articles, at least one writer suggests that Prince is “conforming to unrealistic patriarchal beauty standards"—again, without having seen the film. By the way, not since her debut in 1941 has Wonder Woman displayed armpit hair.
Beyond the hypocrisy of these sentiments—"to have or not have armpit hair is a woman’s choice and it’s one that she’s often judged for,” Refinery 29’s Shannon Carlin observes confusingly—it would seem that, armpit hair or not, everything regarding Wonder Woman’s big-screen debut is proving to be an issue.
Other notable attacks include the detail that she doesn’t tie up her hair before battle and that her armor is scant. But these are not sudden and pernicious decisions made just for the film. These are characteristics that were written into Diana Prince’s DNA when pencil first hit paper.
So why the fuss? Because superhuman strength and bullet-deflecting cuffs aside, Wonder Woman is a woman. More remarkably, a woman in an inaugural, and therefore precarious, position. This unfortunately means that she’s not just a heroine, but a social experiment.
Are we really choosing to chip away at Wonder Woman’s first monumental opportunity, which we’ve basically begged for for years, by attacking her? Gadot let it be known to fans that what they’re doing to Wonder Woman’s image is harmful. “There are so many horrible things that are going on in the world, and this is what you’re protesting? Seriously?” she told TIME. “When people argue that Wonder Woman should ‘cover up,’ I don’t quite get it. They say, ‘If she’s smart and strong, she can’t also be sexy.’ That’s not fair. Why can’t she be all of the above?”
Those who know Wonder Woman are cognizant of her rich history in girl power. Her creator, William Marston, was a self-styled feminist and Harvard psychology student whose thesis suggested women are mentally stronger than men. His roles in feminist movements have been well-documented and Marston spent much of his years encouraging women to stand up to the patriarchy. In fact, a key detail in most of Wonder Woman’s early work is symbolic of these beliefs and the suffrage movement. Yes, it’s a male telling her story, but Marston didn’t develop her blindly.
In many early portrayals, Wonder Woman is drawn bound in chains. These chains serve as symbolic representations of the the feminist struggles for suffrage in the 1910s. These shackles are often fashioned by male adversaries, to which Wonder Woman must “break free,” thereby signifying her emancipation from men. Pretty obvious social commentary there. And still no armpit hair.
But while the lack of a ponytail may sully some people’s visual idea of a strong woman, let’s not ignore that the Wonder Woman film’s very release needs to be celebrated. Instead of griping about her hygienic choices, we should be observing that Wonder Woman has finally been made and that its director, Patty Jenkins, is one of the first female directors to receive a budget of more than $100 million.
With so many reasons to be positive, it’s almost idiotic to threaten the film’s integrity or intent with regards to what Wonder Woman represents. The only thing we can hope for is that she won’t soon represent box office failure—but that part is up to us.