Today the WONDER WOMEN! team kicks off a series of posts about individuals who inspire. We’ve been blessed to meet many heroic women throughout this project and in our general lives. We want to highlight those who’ve made a difference to both us and to you. Please consider nominating someone to be highlighted.
Meet Liz Belson:
Liz Belson grew on the South Shore of Long Island in the town of Cedarhurst. Although a fan of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Liz’s TV version of a wonder woman came in the form of Rhoda Morgenstern, lead character on the show Rhoda (a spin-off of the Mary Tyler Moore Show).
“At a very young age I somehow related to her and in 2nd grade tried to emulate her by wearing kerchiefs around my head,” recalls Liz. “I loved how Rhoda had this hot boyfriend, Joe, she worked in fashion, had business smarts, was very independent and very witty.”
To lift spirits Liz often looks to this picture of her as Wonder Woman.
Witty is in fact a good description for Liz’s blog “Twin Peeks,” which she started the year she turned 40. Following a baseline mammogram Liz was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Through her blog she communicates with loved ones, processes information, jots down thoughts and, as she likes to say, get her proverbial ducks in a row.
“Although I didn’t set out to write a funny blog, the feedback has been nothing but positive,” said Liz. “I can find humor in just about anything and in this case I choose to laugh at cancer. I suppose it’s a defense mechanism. And honestly I think it doesn’t just help me, it helps everyone else feel at ease too. Plus, who wants to read a serious blog about cancer in their spare time?”
Recently Liz received a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in the lungs. Undeterred she is determined to get well and hopes to help others overcome challenges thrown out by the health care system. For those facing difficulties in their own lives she has the following advice,
“Try and look at the bright side and see what good can come out of a shitty situation; there’s always something. Definitely do your due diligence and get several opinions. And last, accept the assistance and strokes of love, as my mom calls them, that others want to share with you. It’s OK to create boundaries, but there’s no need to shut everyone out. We’re all human. We all need love.”
“Wonder Women!” the documentary investigates American popular culture’s evolving attitudes toward powerful women, including the serious lack of them.
WONDER CITY strives to actively involve tweens in addressing the very same failure of imagination and opportunity that the film documents. As the film encourages young audiences to explore pop cultural history as a means of thinking critically about how we visualize power and gender, the game provides an interactive component for the same audience to identify their own heroic qualities and make empowered choices while building self-esteem.
The player starts by creating a heroine with her own unique style. She has the opportunity to select her heroine’s body shape and ethnic background as well as picking a costume, a superpower, and even a weakness she’ll have to strive to overcome.
WONDER CITY will use a gameplay structure popularized by games like “Surviving High School” from Electronic Arts and explored by lesser-known games like “Cute Knight”, “Prom Week” and “Choice of Romance”. The game itself will be both web and mobile based. The game will work as a stand-alone piece though it will live on the film’s website so fans of the film can easily find it.
Game writer applicants should include a CV, letter of interest and a link to any online work.
Illustrator applicants should include a CV, letter of interest and a link to an online portfolio or other online work. Please send work samples, with special focus on character design, comics, work for tweens, and work for games.
Both positions are paid commensurate with experience. The project deadline is March, 2013. Applications will be accepted through December 21, 2012.
As we approach Thanksgiving, the WONDER WOMEN! team would like to extend its gratitude to everyone who made this project possible. You truly helped us get this far.
Recently we’ve had a lot of exciting events, including international screenings in Canada, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Taiwan and Poland. Also, the folks at DOC NYC were gracious enough to tape the Q&A after our Nov. 11 screening in New York City. Producer Kelcey Edwards, film character Katie Pineda, editor Melanie Levy, and editor Carla Guttierez answered questions from both a moderator and the audience.
“Feminism simply means equal social and political status for men and women. There’s nothing radical about it or about using that word or having that as a goal. We’re simply trying to elevate the status of the female characters to equal. We take up half the space in the world so it would be great to see roughly half of characters be female.”
There was quite a bit of jumping up and down by the WONDER WOMEN! team this weekend.
The BendFilm festival announced its winners in 12 categories Saturday evening at an awards gala in downtown Bend. Film Director Kristy Geuvara-Flanagan won Best Directing and WONDER WOMEN! also was awarded Best Documentary.
Things continue to be at full speed for WONDER WOMEN! Next weekend the film will be screening at both the Mill Valley Film Festival and New Orleans Film Festival. We’re also a few days out from announcing a future November screening in New York City.
Additionally jurors at the Dallas Videofest honored WONDER WOMEN! on Sept. 30 with theDocumentary Feature award. The festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, below is its fantastic opening credits:
WONDER WOMEN! also continues to receive great attention from the press. In August Sadie Magazine did a Q&A feature with Kristy about the film. San Francisco Magazine named it one of the best five documentaries at Mill Valley.
Dallas Morning News blogger Jaron Hataway said, “My hopes, and I’m sure the creators of this documentary feel a like sentiment, is that this film and others like it can put a more female empowering message out into the culture.”
The team is also preparing for the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies at the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) in San Francisco. We’re ecstatic to be moving forward with a gaming component to complement the film and will have a lot more to report after October.
Independent Television Service (ITVS) announced today the rollout of its second year of documentary broadcasts in support of the Women and Girls Lead campaign, a multiyear public media initiative to focus, educate, and connect citizens worldwide in support of the issues facing women and girls.
We are honored to be included with these other amazing films:
WONDER WOMEN! will have its first San Francisco Bay area, home-town screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival in San Rafael, California. Screening dates are Saturday, October 13 (at 9:15 pm) and Sunday, October 14 (at 3:00 pm).
Since Kristy and most of our production team are based in the San Francisco Bay area, we’re hoping to see a lot of our friends, family members and colleagues at these shows. We’d love to share the film with you, get your feedback, and take the opportunity to thank you in person for all your support.
Soon we’ll also be able to announce another home-town screening in New York City (where Kelcey lives). And we’re excited about our screening this weekend at the Dallas VideoFest, in Dallas, Texas, home of Executive Producer Erin Prather Stafford. Erin talked about the film at the Dallas VideoFest roundtable.
Of course we also have to mention the anniversary cover of Ms. Magazine. With Wonder Woman at the helm, the issue celebrates 40 years of fearless reporting with 40 Ms. and key feminist moments that shaped the publication’s history; birthday letters from dozens of life-long readers; and essays from founding editors Gloria Steinem and Letty Pogrebin, and current Executive Editor Kathy Spillar. Congratulations Ms. Magazine!
WONDER WOMEN! character Jen Stuller is a Seattle-based writer and scholar, specializing in gender and sexuality in popular culture. A critic, thinker, and an occasional knitter, she has vowed to use her powers only for good.
WONDER WOMEN! Executive Producer Erin Prather Stafford recently interviewed Jen about her book, popular culture and love for the character Modesty Blaise.
EPS: Your book “Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology” argues that Superwomen, from Wonder Woman to Charlie’s Angels, are more than just love interests or sidekicks who stand by their supermen. How did you become interested in this topic? What inspired such a thorough examination of female heroes in our popular culture?
JS: As long as I can remember I’ve been interested in stories about adventurous girls and women. My favorites as a child were those of Dorothy Gale, Pippi Longstocking, and Alice in Wonderland. From them, I learned that curiosity, bravery, and compassion lead to life-changing journeys and life-long friendships.
Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman was also incredibly formative. She was both graceful and powerful – that, combined with her belief in, and support of women (and her belief in herself), informed that kind of person I wanted to grow up to be.
When I went back to college at nearly 30, I had just fallen in love with the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Around that time, American culture was also seeing a revival of the superhero genre – especially in film. I started thinking about why we weren’t seeing women on screen in superhero roles, particularly at the level we were seeing men. I wondered about the journey of the female hero. Are her trials and tasks different from that of the male?
I decided to make this the topic of my senior thesis, which eventually took the form of a book proposal. That, of course, evolved into “Ink-Stained Amazons”, where I explore the history of female super and action heroines in film, television, and comics, and how they were influenced by, and in turn, influenced, real world politics and social mores in American culture.
The book also explores the specifics in how female heroism is represented, as well as advocates both media literacy, and the production of media by women.
EPS: How did you become involved with the WONDER WOMEN! project?
Kristy and Jenn before taping interview with Q13 FOX Seattle
JS: I became involved with WONDER WOMEN! when Director, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, approached me after a presentation I’d given at the Comic Arts Conference at WonderCon on feminism in Lois Lane and Wonder Woman comic books of the 1970s. She was interested in how my work investigated ways in which feminism and popular culture influenced and reflected social and political values about gender. And in fact, my history of this interplay, “Ink-Stained Amazons” was about to be published – so we had a lot to talk about! It’s been wonderful to watch the evolution of this inspiring film, be a part of it, and of course, to become friends with a wonder woman like Kristy.
EPS: During the panel “Sheroes in Media: Women and Girls Changing the Game” at the Seattle International Film Festival, a discussion emerged about the term “superheroine.” Could you share your thoughts on the word and why it’s not the preferred way you use to describe women characters in action roles?
JS: I was sharing how I struggled over terminology when writing “Ink-Stained Amazons”. I really want to acknowledge and celebrate female strength but don’t want to use gendered language that instantly mark something as other than the norm. (Why can’t a hero be a woman? Why must we say “female hero”?) The word “superhero” isn’t inherently male, but the word “heroine” definitely provokes ideas about gender – particularly in regards to a female role within a narrative.
Ultimately, I’ve decided on using either “female super or action heroes” or “superwomen” when describing my work or discussing these characters, stories, and representations. It still marks female heroes as “other.” But, in many ways, that’s how they’re treated culturally, and I feel these terms come across as more powerful than the traditionally weak “heroine.”
Of course, I’d rather that the word “hero” did not imply gender at all.
EPS: Some commenters have claimed that with the success of Hunger Games, Avengers and other movies showing women in positive action roles, times have changed. Is this true? Do we still have a long way to go regarding the presentation of women in these types of roles?
JS: It’s true that in the past couple of years we’ve seen a resurgence of superwomen in film (not surprisingly, we’ve also seen a resurgence in feminist political action). And this is very exciting. But while we can observe some changes, we also do have to look at what compromises are being made, and where representation is lacking.
For example, The Hunger Games is a box-office hit featuring a female action protagonist – though many have criticized the producers for “white-washing” the character of Katniss Everdeen, who is described in the book as “olive-skinned.” It’s still a step forward to know that a studio is backing not just one film featuring a female hero – but a whole trilogy – especially as it proves that audiences will come out and spend money on stories about women.
Brave is the first film from Pixar to feature a female protagonist, and yet, the creator and original director, Brenda Chapman, was replaced by a male colleague. What does it mean when women are discouraged from telling stories?
Haywire, featured a highly-skilled action heroine in MMA fighter, Gina Carano’s Mallory Kane – one who was deadly, proactive, and never sexualized or objectified. But it didn’t excel at the box office (and personally, I found the narrative boring).
We’ve seen the eponymous protagonist of Hanna, and Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow (who received nearly as much screen time in The Avengers as Iron Man and Captain America – arguably the two male leads of the film), Noomi Rapace as a proto-Ripley in Prometheus, and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, among others. Though, for the most part it should be noted that generally these female characters are not the protagonist, but supporting players, and most conform to specific and restrictive standards of beauty, including white skinned, thin-bodied, and heterosexual.
We have to recognize where these representations “got it right” but also temper our celebration with informed critique so that we can be better.
EPS: You’ve revealed your favorite female hero is Modesty Blaise. What’s the background for this character and why do you love her? Where can people find her?
Discovering Modesty has been one of the highlights of my research. Not only is she an amazing character, but, as it turns out, an influential one in both American and British popular culture.
She was created in the early 1960s by Peter O’Donnell, and appeared in newspaper strip stories and novels for 40 years – all written by O’Donnell. Her story can be found in my piece, “Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise: The Princess of Spy-Fi Kicks Ass, and She Does it Backwards and in High Heels“. Titan Publishing is currently reprinting volumes of all the newspaper strips – the novels and collected short stories can be a bit harder to find. There are also two films, Modesty Blaise (from 1966 – and truly terrible stuff, not even “so bad it’s good”) and My Name is Modesty (from 2004, which I think is actually quite good, though it’s very low-budget – it stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who you might recognize as Game of Throne’s Jaime Lannister).
As for why I love her: she’s extraordinary. She’s highly skilled, sophisticated, smart, compassionate, and adventurous. She embodies all those qualities that inspired me in characters as a little girl – but in an adult protagonist. She’s complex, not like so many stand-in female characters, who only serve as plot points in male stories, or as eye-candy in their own. She’s sensual and sexual, but isn’t defined by her sexuality. She’s independent, but not a lone wolf. She has dear friends, and in return is one of the best companions anyone could ever hope for – thoughtful, considerate, and if you really mean something to her, even willing to risk her life for you. She has loving and romantic relationships with men who respect her autonomy, but her relationship with her life partner Willie Garvin, is always strictly platonic.
She is a business woman, an adventurer, a loyal friend, and a bad-ass babe.
EPS: Your book delves a lot into television shows with strong female characters. What are you currently watching that embodies some of the same qualities people loved about Buffy or Alias?
JS: I’ve found that television is the medium with the most, and the most complex, female characters. Currently, I am loving the Canadian series, Lost Girl, created by Michelle Lovretta with feminist intent, and Executive Produced by Jay Firestone, who previously co-produced the television series Nikita, starring Peta Wilson.
The premise of Lost Girl is about as silly-sounding as that of a cheerleader slaying vampires in So. Cal – and, of course, a series that turned out to be much smarter than the title made it seem: Lost Girl is the story of a bisexual succubus private detective named Bo as she navigates the light and dark worlds of the fae.
But it works. And it works well.
Not always, of course. But I’m thrilled by how the series creators manage to explore Bo’s sexuality without objectifying it, or her. That is a really fine line to walk, and they have so far been successful. Our hero is independent, strong, smart, compassionate, and has a female best friend named, Kenzi, who is delightful and snarky and supportive. It’s rare that we see women heroes working together, especially in a mentorship-type relationship, and one where there is never a hint of sexual attraction. These two put each other’s well-being ahead of other relationships – though those exist too.
The cast is wonderfully diverse, and the storytelling creative. The low-budget production quality can occasionally be distracting, but that, along with the genre format, allow for a lot of subversive storytelling. Can you imagine? A woman whose sexuality IS her power, but isn’t the whole of her?!?!? Amazing.
EPS: Are you working on a new book?
JS: Right now I’m thrilled to be editing and contributing to an anthology on Fan Phenomena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Intellect Ltd’s new Fan Phenomena series. I’d love to do a revised and expanded edition of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors, especially as we’re starting to see a lot of content featuring women and girl super and action heroes – as well as, women using non-traditional forms of media production to tell stories.
I have some other projects I’m working on featuring women and popular culture, so stay tuned!
JS: GeekGirlCon evolved out of the desire to provide safe spaces for female geeks to come together to share their work, celebrate their passions, network, make friends, and eventually contribute to the evolution of geek culture – in STEM professions, pop culture industries and representations, and in the treatment of women at other cons.
The organization evolved out of a standing room only panel at Comic-Con International in 2010 called “Geek Girls Exist” and was built, and is maintained, by over 40 all-volunteer staff members and our extended community.
We just marked our two year anniversary, have produced two successful, meaningful, and inspirational cons, as well as hundreds of events both online and throughout the Puget Sound region – and we’re going to keep celebrating, and keep making a difference!
EPS: What aspirations do you have for the depiction of women in action roles?
JS: I would like to see more diversity in our depictions in regards to race, ability, and sexuality – without the overwhelming focus on mainstream, heteronormative ideas about what is or isn’t sexy, what is or isn’t powerful, and on what it means to actually be heroic.