Show Hide image

Can Wonder Woman make America great again?

“In times like this there’s an appetite for a hero who represents pure good.”

Like the majority of DC superhero films since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman is darker than the primary-coloured Lycra-fests of previous decades: both literally and figuratively. After the bright, shining paradise of Diana’s home, the island Themyscira, we move to the grey smog of early 20th century London (“It’s hideous”, Diana remarks) and the desaturated grit and mud of the First World War trenches. Even Diana’s Wonder Woman outfit seems duller than her predecessors’ — less red, white and blue and more burgundy, bronze and navy.

There is a general trend of superhero movies continuing to reject the kaleidoscopic aesthetics of classic print comics. But Wonder Woman's outfit hints at something more. Jingoistic Fox News presenters expressed their disappointment at a costume they felt was deliberately un-American. “Her outfit isn’t red, white and blue,” Neil Cavuto said on his show Your World with Neil Cavuto. “It’s cool to hate America these days,” guest Mike Gunzelman chipped in.

It’s an extreme and antagonistic discussion, but the anchors have picked up on something. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson, when working on Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman outfit for the Batman V Superman film (in which she first appeared), decided to look more to the ancient Greek influences behind Diana’s origin story than to the American-flag designs culturally associated with the character. “We knew we really wanted to create our very own look for Wonder Woman, [compared] to how she’s portrayed in TV shows and graphic novels, so we went back to her roots and where she came from,” Wilkinson explained to the Hollywood Reporter. “We wanted her to look like she’s been wearing the same costume, in a sense, for thousands of years — since she’s immortal, after all. We were inspired by the metal armour of Greek and Roman warriors and gladiators.” The new Wonder Woman outfit still bears an eagle on the bust and red and blue colours, but these vague nods to the USA are not supported narratively.

A less visibly American costume makes sense in this Wonder Woman film. Diana’s backstory in Themyscira and Israeli Gadot’s performance (Gadot says she played the role with a “a heavier accent” than Batman V Superman) gives Diana an international feel. Chris Pine plays the only American character in the entire film. And, of course, not a single scene takes place in the USA. We start in present-day Paris, before flashing back to Themyscira, moving to wartime London and Belgium, before finally lurching forward in time to Paris again in the film’s closing final seconds.

It’s easy to overstate the geopolitical implications of this. The current Wonder Woman screenplay was conceived long before Donald Trump’s presidency, and filmed between November 2015 and March 2016, a very different time in terms of America’s position in world affairs. Director Patty Jenkins revealed that, had the casting been down to her, she would have, “just looked for an American girl”.

But something about the timing of this less outwardly American US superhero movie feels right. One of the key concerns of the movie is the importance of justice and peace for all, regardless of trivial matters like borders between nations. While other citizens of Themyscira are sceptical about joining a fight that doesn’t concern them, Diana is compelled to help any person affected by violence, and vows to end the war. When she finds herself alongside British troops in the trenches, she is overcome by the desire to help British soldiers, Germans and Belgian civilians alike. While Wonder Woman has always been aligned with traditionally American-associated values like freedom and justice, her attitude in this film feels notably at odds with the “America First” mindset that elected Trump.

When Uproxx discussed the political climate the movie finds itself in, noting to its director, “In times like this there’s an appetite for a hero who represents pure good,” Jenkins responded: “That is so true. And it’s interesting because I can’t believe this film is landing when it is, in that way.”

But over at Vox, Alex Abad-Santos observed that Gadot’s Wonder Woman outfit has become more clearly red and blue since Batman V Superman. Indeed, Wonder Woman’s production notes confirm that costume designer Lindy Hemming did intentionally dial up the colour from the more subdued tones of the earlier film. Could the character continue to move in this direction?

A sequel is on the cards, and it feels as though Wonder Woman will be returning to her all-American World War Two origins. Jenkins has said she is “definitely planning” something from the 1930s onwards, set back in the USA. “The story will take place in the US,” she told Entertainment Weekly, “which I think is right. She’s Wonder Woman. She's got to come to America. It’s time.”

"I’m excited for her to come to America,” she added to the Toronto Sun, “and become the Wonder Woman we are all familiar with from having grown up around her as an American superhero.” Perhaps this is Jenkins’s opportunity to create a visibly American superhero who prioritises peace and love over patriotism and global dominance, and to envisage, even just for a fleeting, on-screen moment, an America more in line with those values. Could Wonder Woman make America great again?


Now listen to a discussion of Wonder Woman on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

Don't Tell the Bride YouTube screengrab
Show Hide image

How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.