comic books

Wonder Woman has all the potential to be more than a breastplate-wearing, female version of He-Man

With Patty Jenkins at the helm of the movie adaptation, the stage is set for DC Comics to save the world and their flailing pride.

She was arguably the best part of the gloomfest that was Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Every time her electric guitar theme rang through the theatre, there was a perceptible change in atmosphere, the fun and hope of the comic book genre finally peeking through the overwhelming darkness. DC Entertainment, which has thus far not scored critical success with any of its DC Universe movies (i.e., pretty much anything since Christopher Nolan doffed his directorial cap), is really, really counting on her to save the world, and also, their flailing pride.

Wonder Woman comes to a screen near you in June 2017. Played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress best known for her performance in the Fast and Furious franchise, this marks the 75-year-old’s comic book character first live outing on the big screen. She’s been on TV, she’s been in animated movies, notably The Lego Movie (2014), but she’s never been in a feature of her own. Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, then, is historic, not only because it’s a first for the character, but also one of the first superheroine-led movies of what promises to be a long-drawn-out war between Marvel and DC.

The Jennifer Garner-led Elektra released in 2005, but for some reason no one seems to remember that.

Play
‘Wonder Woman’.

Trailers have been leaking out for the past few months, and put together, the rough outline of the story of Diana Prince (Wonder Woman’s alias) is visible. Raised on the island of Themyscira, Diana and her fellow Amazons are protected from the woes of the modern world, until an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands there, and jerks them back into the present. Unsettled, Diana recalls the ancient edicts of the Amazonians, to protect mankind, and enters the fray of what turns out to be World War I or, as Trevor gasps dramatically in the trailer “the war to end all wars”.

Unlike many of its predecessors, which have largely operated in a time much like ours, Wonder Woman enters the territory of the period piece, locating the heroine as a fish out of water in a world that would be, for many of today’s viewers, foreign territory. In this way, it’s close to Captain America: The First Avenger, which also took a leap into the past, telling the origin story of a man who fought in World War II and then landed up in the present, confused about cell phones and other things we take for granted. But Diana is much, much older than Cap, a demi-goddess whose memory spans events no human can possibly remember.

Wonder Woman is one of DC’s flagship heroines, a founding member of the Justice League and its most famous powered figures. Where Superman stands for “truth, justice and the American way”, Diana Prince has long been a symbol of women’s empowerment and LGBTQ representation. The film addresses the former in obvious, and rather hackneyed ways. Grasping for what to call her, Trevor labels Diana his “secretary”. The trailers have made clear Diana’s disdain for the term. When told what a secretary does, she blithely retorts, “Where I’m from we call that slavery.” Raised on an island of women, sexism would be an entirely unfamiliar concept to Diana, and her incredulity over flouncy dresses is completely understandable.

Tied into this is Diana’s understanding of sexuality. Comics writer Greg Rucka recently made headlines for saying that Wonder Woman has “obviously” been in romantic relationships with women. She was raised on a paradisical island of women, where “you’re supposed to be able to live happily”, Rucka pointed out. Romantic love, a part of that “happy” life, would have been found only with another woman.

It’s not clear whether the film explores this aspect of her personality, though Gadot stated in an interview that the character “can be bisexual. She loves people for their hearts”. Perhaps a franchise, not planned at the moment, could open it up further.

DC has a lot riding on Wonder Woman, and not only because they need a hit to counterbalance all the bad press their movies have been getting. Diana’s status as a queer icon has only been raised after her public outing. The United Nations’ rather controversial decision to appoint her an Honorary Ambassador of Empowerment of Women and Girls has put her in the spotlight as well. Taken together, the cultural weight of Wonder Woman has only been increasing. The audience is being prepared to see her as more than a breastplate-wearing, female version of He-Man. Hopefully, Patty Jenkins and her crew will deliver more than that.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.