We were first encouraged to create a game at the BAVC Producers’ New Media Institute. Our research found that half of girls ages 8 to 12 play games online. The most popular “girl games” center on themes like cooking, shopping, makeup, and dating, and the default protagonist of most other games is a white male. This lack of representation discourages girls and women from participating in the gaming community – as either consumers or creators.
While making the film, we became aware of how few women occupy leadership positions – fewer than 15 percent! – in politics, business, government and the media. Despite the gains of the women’s movement, we still live in a world where girls are rarely protagonists, let alone shown as strong, smart, or bold. Girls are constantly bombarded by messages and media representations that put them into narrow, stereotyped boxes and limit their choices. Too few girls have risen to be leaders in business, politics, government, or media.
Our hope is that WONDER CITY will undermine these problematic stereotypes and gender limitations by immersing players in a world that represents a more realistic diversity in race, gender, and body image. By empowering tweens to adopt their own superhero identity, they become agents of their own values.
With the help of the non-profit, Games for Change, an organization that facilitates the creation and distribution of social-impact games, we were able to connect with game designer Naomi Clark, who truly understood our vision. We brought on board Tamarind King, the up-and-coming illustrator who did our brilliant title sequence and ending credit animations for the film. We were ecstatic when we found out that ITVS wanted to fund the pilot episode of the game. We then hired the rest of our team!
As filmmakers, it has been an incredible experience to see this game come together and to lean more about development process. We connected with an amazing writer, Phoebe Harris Elefante, who has a great ear for teen characters, and a lead illustrator, Melody Lu, who has brought our vision to life. And of course, we’d be nowhere without a brilliant programmer, Justin Fargione, to make all our gaming dreams come true. We are truly excited to bring to you WONDER CITY.
Wonder City launches May 1st! Discover the super inside you!
Throughout March we screened the film at public events across the country, including free Community Cinema screenings sponsored by ITVS (the Independent Television Service). So far we have recieved wonderful feedback on the film, as audiences have responded to the unique exploration of women’s history and pop culture in WONDER WOMEN!
At the Community Cinema screening in Chicago, viewers had the chance to create costumes for themselves, as they invented new superheroines and superheroes. Here’s one viewers take: “My characteristics of a hero would definitely be perseverance; somone who’s not afraid to make a stand and someone who can admit they’re scared, but can do what needs to be done anyway.”
Renee Gasch, Engagement & Education Coordinator for ITVS, wrote this account about a screening on International Women’s Day. 200 enthusiastic high school girls in Oakland, California watched the film and then answered the question Community Cinema partners have been asking audience members across the country, “What would your superpower be?”
We’ve been particularly gratified at the impact the film has had on young audiences. One Community Cinema viewer said it was the first time she ever heard her 12-year-old daughter use the word “empowering” in reference to herself.
Kristy recently screened the film for high school students participating in the San Francisco Film Society’s Youth Education Program. And we were proud to have the film included in the Tribeca Film Institute’s Youth Screening Series in New York City. Kelcey spoke at that event and had the opportunity to meet the students, who also got to create their own superheroes.Watch this short video about that event and see how the students identified the amazing super-women in their lives.
Be sure to be a part of our television broadcast premiere, by tuning in to Independent Lens on your PBS station on Monday, April 15 at 10 p.m. (Check your local listings, as time and date can vary by PBS affiliate.) If you miss the PBS television broadcast, Independent Lens will be streaming the film on their website for free for a month. Gather your family and friends and make it an event! Superhero costumes are optional, but recommended.
For more than a year now, the WONDER CITY team has been developing the characters and environments players will meet as they begin this epic journey of self-discovery and empowerment. With only a few weeks to go until launch, we want to share some of our still-in-development concept art and show you what we’ve been up to!
In WONDER CITY, you have the power of the universe at your fingertips – but that doesn’t make high school any easier! In Episode 1: Origins, you discover your own powers, and uncover a nefarious plot to identify and enslave budding superheroes like yourself! All while navigating the complex sea of friendships, academic achievement, and the small acts of everyday heroism that define who you are.
Here are a few samples of our Player Character, or “PC”. First and foremost, we wanted her to embody the range of beauty we see in women and girls in our real lives, and in the mirror.
And here are a few members of our supporting cast: your best friend, Buffington Cloud Saint-Claire; the boy next door, Alfred Sotai; and the coolest science teacher ever, Ms. Pauli Planck:
But not everyone in WONDERWORLD is your friend… Meet Laleh Theadikitus, the girl you just can’t seem to get along with!
Perhaps the most exciting part of Episode 1: Origins will be discovering the super inside of you, even though having powers doesn’t always work out the way you want!
We can’t wait to launch the game, and meet the super YOU!
WONDER CITY is a comic-book-style adventure game where players realize their own ideals of leadership and heroism by shaping the story of a teenage superheroine. Targeted to tween audiences, players will have to balance different values, outcomes, and relationships to determine what’s important to them and how they think a hero should act.
Last year, through the Tribeca Film Institute, we were honored with a fellowship with Games for Change — an organization that facilitates the creation and distribution of social-impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. Games for Change has come aboard as one of our key non-profit partners. We also had the opportunity to participate in the BAVC Producers’ Institute for New Media, where we worked with key members from Games for Change to further develop WONDER CITY.
WONDER CITY’S talented creators now include:
Naomi Clark has been designing and producing digital games and virtual worlds for nearly 20 years, starting by designing early virtual worlds as a teenager. She has grown and managed many online communities, from message boards for youth groups to the vibrant community surrounding one of the first multiplayer web games, Sissyfight 2000. In the last decade, Clark has worked as a producer, game designer and creative director at studios such as Gamelab, Blue Fang, and Fresh Planet. These projects included downloadable games such as Egg vs. Chicken and Miss Management; web games such as Josefina’s Market Day for American Girl; Facebook games like Zoo Kingdom and The Specialists; and large community projects such as Gamestar Mechanic, a website where kids create and share their own games.
Tamarind King is a recent graduate of Stanford University Bachelor of Arts program. She has worked as a graphic artist, animator, and sequential artist and is a bright young star in the illustrative arts. King did the title and credit sequence for the WONDER WOMEN! film and will do the concept art for the game.
Phoebe Harris Elefante directs narratives. Drawing on a background in political science and economics, with a masters in media management, she synthesizes vast immersive story worlds with multi-platform distribution strategies to meet the demands of 21st century players. As the founder of Mstrmnd Ltd, she developed and produced a print and web magazine, “Mstrmnd,” designed games and web experiences for several clients, including: CBS, Sprint, Rockstar Games, and Melissa Auf der Maur’s music video project “Out Of Our Minds.” Phoebe’s writing credits include “Captain Heartless: Legend of the Lost Heart,” a literacy-building adventure game, AT<’s “The Lost Function,” an algebra role-playing game, and “The Tides,” a casual MMO for tween girls.
Melody Lu likes thinking with a pencil or a stylus in hand, and she pretty much never stops drawing. Over the years, she’s created illustrations and animations for TV series pitches, medical textbooks, kid’s books, magazines, comics and commercials, but most of her recent work has been in social games, including Top 10 Free iTunes and Android Marketplace games. Melody studied animation at Vancouver Film School and has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Yale University.
We’re aiming to role out the game’s pilot episode – in an abbreviated form – at the time of our April 15 PBS | Independent Lens broadcast. Be sure to check back for further updates in March.
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.
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.
The WONDER WOMEN! team is back together for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). We’re ecstatic to be here, especially since Seattle is the home of both Jen Stuller, author of the fantastic book “Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology,” and the nonprofit Reel Grrls. Both are featured in WONDER WOMEN!
The film will be screening three times during SIFF:
Saturday, May 26, 3:30 p.m. at the Everett Performing Arts Center
We’re also part of an amazing panel “Titled “Sheroes in Media: Women and Girls Changing the Game” on Saturday, May 26, 7:30 p.m. at the SIFF Film Center. It is free and open to the public.
Kristy Guevara-Flanagan: Director, WONDER WOMEN!; Jen Stuller, who is also programming Director for GeekGirlCon; Daniel Tayara: Reel Grrls youth filmmaker; Megan Gaiser, Her Interactive and Marta Smith, IGNITE: Inspiring Girls Now In The Technology Evolution, will discuss how women, both real and fictional, are represented in American culture.
Who influences and controls the media messages we receive about strong women – and how are they internalized by consumers?
Can’t make the panel? No worries, we’ll be tweeting from it live over at @wonderwomandoc, hashtag #sheroesSIFF.