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Conversations With My Dad: Wonder Woman

“Those are just men in women’s clothes,” my dad whispered to me. I refused to turn my head and see the smirk I knew would certainly grace his proud face; instead, I kept my eyes focused on the powerful Amazons across the theater’s screen.

When I first saw Wonder Woman, the aerial shot of dozens of warrior women overtook me. They thrashed swords, grunted, grimaced, back-bended off of horses, and flipped through the air, dueling each other to build up their strength as a whole. My chest swelled; I held my breath. Sometimes you don’t realize how much you need something until you finally get a glimpse of it. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been in awe of a movie and its characters--completely enthralled from start to finish.

Naturally, I felt the duty to take my mom to see the film. During that same scene, I pulled my eyes away to glance at her, and she, too, was fixated. In each Amazon, I saw my mother--one of the strongest women in my life. Their unapologetic force reminded me of when she got into Roller Derby a few years back after she and my dad divorced. She chose the name Ammeaux Bang-Bang: AK-47, a tribute to her Cajun heritage and explosive decision to start Roller Derby in her 40s.

Between the sweat and pain my mom endured, the derby team's camaraderie stood out to 12-year-old me. They pushed each other, but they also pulled each other up from each tumble with a pat on the back, seeing the potential in every rookie to contribute to the team. The spirit of a supportive, unbreakable bond among members unites Roller Derby, the Amazons in Wonder Woman, and many female-led spaces. The movie left my mother in tears.

I was disappointed when my dad’s initial reaction to such strong women was to ridicule them. It took some pleading to convince him to see Wonder Woman in the first place, as he usually detests superhero movies. I’m no Marvel or DC aficionado, but I promised him that this movie would be different. I put up with his snarky comments during the trailers, and it seemed to me that they would continue throughout the movie.

But minutes later, he noted of the island Themyscira how “the gardens remind me of Italy.” He didn't have the same sort of awe that I felt when I first saw the film, but I smiled nonetheless to know that he had found some sort of value in it. Again, when Diana and Steve (the two main characters) arrived in London, he mentioned, “it will be interesting to see how they make the switch from such a mystical island to dreary, industrial London.” I found my face donning the same smirk that his no doubt held as he taunted me earlier on.

El coloso by Francisco Goya (Photo from: Wikimedia Commons)

Leaving the theater, he told me about Goya’s artwork, musing about how the painter was able to capture the dark forces that drive people. He appreciated how the movie revealed that you don’t always know who to trust. “People will point at someone else, accusing them of being the ‘bad guy’ so that they themselves are immune to the label,” he cautioned me. I agreed, carefully tip-toeing around our political differences. The conversation drifted to his personal experiences, and his main issue with the superhero genre came out: “It’s a dangerous thing when people view the world in terms of superheroes and villains, good guys and bad guys, and individuals who can save the world,” criticizing a certain man he knows who views himself and his life in those terms.

“Maybe part of the issue is who is being portrayed as all-powerful, though,” I suggested. “That’s exactly why I love Wonder Woman. It takes someone you don’t usually see in such a tough role and shows how she can be a capable leader. And she leads in a way that’s still unique to her identity as a woman, melding intensity and strength with nurture and emotion. The danger is when buff white men are the only people Hollywood shows saving the day.”

He brought up how Wonder Woman has been around since he was a kid, and despite my insistence that it being made into a modern day movie is different, we moved on. Later that night I overheard him telling his girlfriend on the phone that Wonder Woman “was okay, better than most of those movies,” and again, I smiled to myself.

Even more than the initial shot of the Amazons fighting, the scene I find most powerful is when Diana defies all orders and rises from the trenches to No Man’s Land. She walks directly into gunfire, deflecting each bullet with her wrists as if they are flies floating her way. “No Man’s Land” means nothing to her; she’s a woman. In a similar way, Wonder Woman’s director Patty Jenkins tackled the No Man’s Land of a well-received movie led by a multifaceted female superhero. Previous duds by male filmmakers meant nothing to her, and she produced a movie in which all kinds of viewers—even critics like my dad—find their own meaning.

Lydia Straka is a New Orleans native who has recently completed her freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis. Though still juggling possibilities for her future, she loves to write and cares deeply about social justice and women’s rights. Lydia can be contacted at lydia@nolavie.com.