Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wonder Woman versus Atomic Blonde

Women have longed for female protagonists portrayed as strong, resilient, intelligent, intuitive, multi-faceted individuals in fiction and in film. To prove they are as capable as men ... with both hands tied behind her back while wearing four-inch heels.

The film Wonder Woman was released this year to much fanfare, proving a woman superhero could carry a film on her slender shoulders, a feat film writers believed would never happen.

Wonder Woman is a goddess raised by Amazons with superhuman strength and magic powers. She is appalled by the mindless killing she encounters during the war with Germany. She intends to save humanity in spite of their flaws, only to learn humans are warlike by nature. I wonder if she grew weary of the endless conflict over the decades? (I know I am). From Nazis to Ares God of War, her love saves the day. She is the more noble kick-ass heroine, but she takes punches in stride.

In an attempt to right past wrongs and make up for lost time, we now have a spy as (unrealistically) brutal and violent as male heroes.

The recent film release Atomic Blonde stars actress Charlize Theron as an MI-6 agent. There is an extended brutal fight scene no real person could walk away from, but she does, shrugging the abuse off like a tattered shawl. Finally, an article opined, a female showing she can take a punch without vulnerability. She is just as cool (and as promiscuous) as James Bond. There is no enemy she can't overcome or overpower.

Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled we have strong female protagonists in film. I just wish it wasn't at the expense of our humanity. For that reason, I prefer Wonder Woman over Atomic Blonde.

I am sickened by the extended torture scenes and obscene body counts in contemporary films. I wish characters, male and female, didn't have to be vicious to be considered "strong." I realize we live in a violent world and villains don't respond to "Please" and "Thank You." Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. But our collective addiction to increasingly brutal fighting in fiction and film is a trend that should raise alarm.

Writers have a duty to illustrate their world. But they also have the power to challenge, perhaps change, the narrative. We could redefine heroism as using one's intellect and skill to avoid physical conflict as much as possible, to limit the body counts. And when a character, no matter how evil or violent, dies we should acknowledge the seriousness of ending a life.That murder should be an act of last resort not a first response.

I fear that day will never come as the nightly news displays viral brutality spreading, mutating, and devouring millions across the globe.

For now, it appears not only will boys be boys, but girls will be boys too ... bad boys.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Love the point you made here, Diana. Strength and violence do not need to go hand in hand--and in fact should not in most cases. (Some exceptions: attempted kidnapping, rape, physical assault, etc.) Persevering with dignity in the face of verbal abuse; gender, racial, or ethnic bias; wage inequality; or any other form of injustice shows strength of character not required to be backed up by a gut punch or a gunshot. I often wonder why women choose to degrade themselves by behaving violently or resorting to language unfit for a sailor's ears rather than using more effective means of making their point. Behaving like the out-of-control men seen in news reports, videos, and films does nothing to promote a valid cause, but instead labels us as no different from the abusive counterparts we claim to be fighting. I'm not suggesting that we be doormats--far from it. Anger, a valid and often justified emotion, can be expressed in ways far better than smashing windows, rioting in the streets, or lashing out profanely at the "enemy." As writers, we have a powerful tool: the pen (today, the computer). Using it wisely and powerfully can get us so much farther than the violence we currently see.

    1. I can't watch a lot of the "reality tv" shows. I don't like girls behaving badly anymore than I like boys behaving badly.

  2. Great post, Diana. The two movies characters you mention pose the question, Where are the intellectual heroines who solve crimes by using their brains? There have been some, but let's face it, the kickass gals, like the guys, make more of a splash and bring in the bucks. Last years movie, Hidden Figures, made heroines out of brilliant African American women who were unknown for almost 60 years. There are many reasons for that, but they showed that brilliance is more than a karate kick. Hopefully, there'll be more movies and TV programs that make that point. Until then, we have characters played Mariska Hargitay, Claire Danes, and a few others to show women with brains and guts.

    1. We need healthier role models for our boys as well as our girls.

  3. I remember thinking much the same thing when I watched the movie Salt with Angelina Jolie. It made sense when I read that the role had originally been created for Tom Cruise(!), but when he declined it (because it was too similar to his Ethan Hunt character from Misson: Impossible), they decided to turn the character female and offer it to Jolie. I don't have a problem with women acting tough and "masculine", but I think it is a serious indictment of storytellers if they can only envision "strong" female characters as writing a male role and then casting a female actor. It's not (always) as simple as switching the sex of the protagonist.

    1. So many movies rely on extended choreographed fight scenes and high body counts. Hollywood thrives on them. But for my taste, character counts more than special effects.

  4. "But our collective addiction to increasingly brutal fighting in fiction and film is a trend that should raise alarm."

    Great point, Diana, and a really nice article that points out some social problems we face.

    I mentioned to my son that I could not get past the first episode of Jessica Parker on Netflix because of a bathroom scene, then a very rough sex scene. He commented that the relationship between Jessica and the man she was in bed with is an important part of her story line, but I countered that saying that was not a love scene. Nor were either scenes necessary. It was bad enough when there were scenes of detectives discussing a case while taking a whizz in the men's room, but now we have women on the john, talking on the phone? Really? Do we need that?


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