Movie Review: Booksmart

If you have not seen Booksmart yet, I recommend it. It is an incredibly fun and brilliant movie, and two of the ladies behind it are Olivia Wilde (the director) and Sarah Haskins. I haven’t seen Olivia Wilde’s other films, but I was just happy that she was directing this movie, and I know Sarah Haskins because she did these really funny parodies of products directed at women called Target Women, in which she gives fun and informative commentaries about things like yogurt commercials marketed towards middle aged women and the portrayal of women in movies with Disney princesses. I hadn’t seen any new videos from Sarah in a long time since I watched Target Women ages ago, but I was so glad to see her in action with this movie!

So basically, Booksmart is about these two high schools seniors named Molly and Amy. Both of them are friends and are really smart, and they are about to graduate with the rest of their class (Molly is valedictorian). However, Molly’s world comes crashing down when, contrary to what Maya Rudolph’s motivational voice tells her at the beginning about how she is better than everyone at school because she studied instead of partied like them, even the students who spent their school year studying are, like her, going to top universities. She and Amy realize that unless they spend the night before graduation living a little, they won’t get to end their senior year with a bang. So they go to the party of Nick, who is Molly’s crush. At first Amy doesn’t want to go because she thinks it is pointless, but Molly tells her not just that they need to end their senior year with a bang (especially since Amy is leaving for Africa that summer) but also because Amy’s crush, Ryan, is going to be there, and it would be Amy’s only chance to sleep with a girl before she leaves for Africa. So they go to the party and it turns out to be a night they will never forget (pardon the cliche).

Although I couldn’t 100 percent relate to Amy and Molly, since I didn’t drink in high school or have any relationships, I felt for them so much when it came to their social consciousness and their nerdiness (and their love of the library). Like Amy and Molly, I was a feminist and studied a lot, but Molly also worried about her class rank and where other people were going to college. I didn’t even bother getting in line with all the other students during that lunch period to check my class rank, and when a fellow student came up to me and asked what my class rank was, all I told him was “I don’t know” because I didn’t care enough to check it. Even in my high school orchestra class, where most of the kids were gunning for the top 10 percent of their class, my teacher gave a 10 minute speech on why looking at your class rank was pointless. His idea, which I completely agreed with and still agree with, is that no one cares about your class rank when you leave school (of course, this might depend on which people you happen to be around, because there are grown adults who care about class rank and GPA. And of course, if you go to grad school, you definitely need your GPA from undergrad. But again, depends on what the situation is) and, moreover, your class rank says nothing about who you are as a person. And frankly, he’s right. Not once in college did anyone ask me about my class rank. No one at work has asked me about my class rank. Not my friends. Not my family. Most, if not all, people couldn’t give a rat’s butt what your class rank is.

To add to his point, I was more interested in learning for the sake of learning, not so I could beat everyone else in my school year. Which is why after all these standardized exams I got burned out and tired. There’s this film called Race to Nowhere, and I saw it during my last year of high school because I was fed up with everyone’s focus on class rank and GPA and standardized exams. It is a documentary about how messed up the U.S. education system was (and still kind of is, as is evident by this video) and at the beginning of the film a song by The Weepies called “Nobody Knows Me At All” plays as we see kids going to their classes and the visible stress they feel about their work and extracurricular activities. The students interviewed say that they have to cram in all this information before they take their exams but after it’s done they can’t remember any of it. This is because the teachers, having to follow a set curriculum and deadlines, don’t have time to teach their students more than just what’s in the textbook. In my environmental science class, I was so frustrated because I wanted to delve more into the ethics part of environmental science, ask the hard questions that one couldn’t find by just looking at the text book. Working on a project about invasive species brought me peace as I listened to Seal’s “Dreaming in Metaphors”. But of course, the teacher, being already stressed enough as it was, told me each time, “It’s in your textbook.” “It’s in your textbook.” “It’s in your textbook.” I almost gave up on asking so many questions because I didn’t want to bother the teacher, but I couldn’t, because I have loved environmental activism since middle school, so it made no sense for me to back down just because it seemed as if the other students didn’t care about the material.

Although I definitely see the point of a movie like Booksmart, because the film’s message was that while it’s important to take your work seriously, it’s important to not take yourself too seriously. In other words, it’s ok to let loose a little, although in my opinion, everyone has their own definition of letting loose. And the film isn’t the stereotypical high school party movie because the film gives the studious characters more dimension and personality. Molly and Amy aren’t side characters who go to the party and get laid; they are the central protagonists of the film who prove that they can have some fun even though they study a lot. I remember carrying the same study habits I had in high school to college (aka study hard and don’t party. The only party I went to was my senior year prom, but there wasn’t any alcohol there and I went with a few friends who were also studious like me to college) and I got burned out. So burned out that one of the seniors had to remind me at least a million times (more like the entire school year, to be more accurate) to make time for myself to have fun. After her senior banquet (which I didn’t go to because, well, #studies) she dropped a gift by my door (they called them “wills” since it was their last year of college). It was a planner/calendar for me to balance my commitments and schedule some time for self-care, because, in her words, “it’s not just about the classes”. That whole year I poo-poohed her advice, and this carried on into senior year (although I did go to a few parties that year). It wasn’t until after college that I learned to take care of myself, and my definition of self care has evolved to include doing my laundry, taking a shower, eating right, and blogging about movies like Booksmart without caring about my bad grammar skills or trying to sound like Roger Ebert or Peter Travers (when I clearly do not have the years of experience they had).

Other awesome things about this film? The frequent references to influential women figures. At the beginning of the film, we see, as Molly meditates to the motivational voice of Maya Rudolph, posters with slogans such as “We Should All Be Feminists” (I’m sure it’s a reference to Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s book), photos of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama, and a pro-choice poster with the words, “My Body, My Choice”. Molly and Amy use a code word before they go to the party because Amy is thinking of backing out of the party, and Molly just says, “Malala” to remind her that they are friends and stick together at all times (they are referring to Malala Yousafzai, a young woman in Pakistan who is an activist for women’s education). Like Molly and Amy, I was a hard core feminist and I told people in school I was going to a women’s college because I was a feminist (there were of course other reasons for going to the school but that’s for another time). However, I lacked the knowledge that Molly and Amy did about feminism, because the feminists I idolized happened to be white women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who, as Adam Grant explains in great detail in his book Originals, didn’t care about all women, and by that I mean black women. It wasn’t until I got to college that I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge of women’s rights and the history of the feminist movement to include women of color. Amy and Molly were advocating for Malala before I even heard about this young woman getting shot in 2012 (I was in college by then). They had more posters about feminism and reproductive rights than I ever did (in high school, me, a single poster? Nope.)

The movie also sends a positive message about how it’s okay to be yourself. Even though Jared, one of Molly’s classmates, seems to have slept with his supposed girlfriend, Gigi, and even though he rolls up in a fancy car and, on the night of Nick’s party, has a yacht where there are giftbags with his name on it and fancy hors d’ouevres (sad truth: no one attends his party other than Gigi, Molly and Amy). However, he later tells Molly, when they’re at Nick’s party together, that he is a nerd like her and contrary to popular belief, hasn’t slept with Gigi or anyone. He also tells her that he likes airplanes and theatre and wants to do that after college. Earlier in the film, there is a group of popular kids who talk poorly about Molly while she is in the bathroom stall, and Molly tells them that she worked harder than them and is going to go to a good college because she worked hard. But each of them tells her that they are going to pursue higher education like her, and one of them says that he’s going to work at Google over the summer. The film showed me that while hard work is fine, it’s also okay to spend time with people and not just bury your face in your textbooks (although I am incredibly appreciative of my K-12 education and college education and that I had time in college to study and learn about philosophy and social activism). There are also two students who are passionate about theater, but the film, unlike a lot of films, doesn’t portray them as the outcasts. They are embraced, too, in the film, and really everyone in this high school (the movie takes place in Los Angeles and was filmed in Los Angeles) is a nerd in some way.

The film reminded me of the film Dope. Although of course, there were differences in the storylines (Dope was about three nerdy black and Latino students who sell cocaine on the black market after someone they meet at a party puts it in one of the kids’ backpacks. Booksmart is about two young white women who spend their last night before graduation partying instead of hitting the books so they can make a good impression on their peers), the films have one main similarity, and that is that both of them transcend the traditional white male nerd archetype. Historically in Hollywood, nerds were often straight, cis-gendered white men who were standoffish and incredibly misogynistic. It’s why The Big Bang Theory rubbed me the wrong way during the first few episodes (no shade, but I couldn’t finish it). All except one of the main characters was a straight white man, and the one person of color in their friend group didn’t speak much during these few episodes I watched. I don’t know, maybe I am completely wrong and that I should have finished the show. But after reading and watching so many films and TV shows with LGBTQ+, POC and female protagonists who tell their own stories without following society’s standards on what viewpoint they should have, I didn’t want to watch The Big Bang Theory anymore.

Other characters make the story unique: the principal, Jordan Brown, played by SNL’s Jason Sudeikis (I just found out that he’s the film director’s spouse), turns out to be a Lyft driver because he has to supplement his income (the movie makes this a brief but brilliant commentary about teachers’ salaries in U.S. schools) and is writing a novel about a pregnant female detective whose fetus kicks every time she finds a clue (I have no idea why these writers are so creative. In no movie have I heard a school principal writing a novel with such a random storyline). The teacher Miss Fine (played by Jessica James), an African-American woman who doesn’t play a major role in the film but relates to Amy and Molly very well because she used to study a lot in school and not party and she tried to make it up by being wild in her 20s (she mentions she is not allowed in Jamba Juice anymore because of her behavior). The tall girl in Amy’s class who makes snarky comments and hangs out in the bathroom alone and smokes during Nick’s party (she plays a key role later in the film). And Mike O’Brien, also from Saturday Night Live, who plays a pizza delivery driver. Overall, the film was amazing, and absolutely hilarious! The first time I saw Beanie Feldstein was in her film with Saiorse Ronan, Lady Bird, another, albeit more serious, coming-of-age story. The two actors play friends, but Lady Bird’s story is at the center, while her friend Julie is there to provide support for Lady Bird. The main characters of Lady Bird are Lady Bird and her mother (played brilliantly by Laurie Metcalf). In Booksmart, however, the friendship between Molly and Amy is at the core of the film. Julie is a good polite student like Molly, but any other development of her character stops there. In Booksmart, Molly curses, talks about masturbation, and drinks Heineken (the only out-there thing Julie does is eat the communion wafers and chat with Lady Bird after school. The nun calls them out on it soon after).

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind watching Booksmart again. And like I said, if you haven’t seen it, it is a great film. It got more than 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and I believe it deserved that rating. I felt like I wanted these characters in the film to be real. I wanted Amy and Molly to be my friends so we could talk about feminism together. I also felt for Amy because she is a lesbian, and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I felt for her. Also, Amy isn’t an outcast because she is gay; there are a lot of films that make the characters outcasts because they are gay. But Amy is an outcast because she studies a lot and doesn’t engage in the silly games her classmates do. This is the thing that makes her stand out, not her sexual orientation. The film embraces Amy’s sexual orientation and that’s what keeps Amy and Molly’s friendship so tight.

Anyway, I have to go to sleep, but watch this movie when you have time. I wish I had seen it in theaters when it came out, but I’m glad I got to watch it period. Also, like the soundtrack for the film Dope, the soundtrack for this movie has me grooving, especially at Lizzo’s “Boys” and Leikeli47’s “Money”.

Booksmart. 2019. Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking – all involving teens.

The Brooklyn 99 Episode that Changed My Life

In Season 5 of Brooklyn 99, one of the characters, Rosa Diaz, comes out as bisexual. It is a pivotal moment for Rosa because she was worried everyone would judge her for being bisexual. The most stressful part of this episode was when Rosa was worried about telling her family she was bisexual, and Jake Peralta, her friend, lends her support by going with Rosa to eat dinner with her family. When Rosa’s parents meet her and Jake, they assume they are engaged, and when Rosa clears up that Jake is engaged to another coworker of theirs, Amy, her dad says that is a relief because they thought she was going to come out as gay to them. When Rosa finally tells the truth that night, that yes, she is bisexual, her parents are in shock and have a hard time accepting this. When Jake and Rosa go to play game night with her parents, Rosa, in a game of pictionary, draws a same sex couple, and her parents try to say that the two women holding hands in the picture are friends, coworkers, anything but two human beings who love each other and are married. Rosa, rightfully frustrated, tells them that it’s a wedding between two women and that Rosa, contrary to her parents’ heteronormative expectations, will marry a woman someday. Her dad says, “there’s no such thing as bisexuality” and Rosa and Jake leave because clearly her parents aren’t going to change how they view Rosa’s orientation.

Rosa’s dad comes up to see her at work and formally apologizes for not being understanding, and says that while he is going to try and support her more, Rosa’s mom needs time to think about accepting Rosa for who she is. This was even more stressful because these two people raised Rosa to be the incredible woman that she is, and the fact that they cannot accept the fact that she is bi is depressing and also not an isolated instance of biphobia. As a bi-identifying person, this episode was powerful, and while I feel fortunate to have had support coming out, I know I cannot speak for other bisexual people. The actress who plays Rosa Diaz, Stephanie Beatriz, has this amazing piece in GQ about being bisexual and dealing with people’s assumptions about her just because she is married to a straight man. She says in the piece that a lot of people assume that if you are in a straight relationship, you are straight and nothing else, and if you are in a same sex relationship you are gay or lesbian and nothing else. But bisexual people like Beatriz and True Blood actress Anna Paquin are proud of who they are and that gives me hope.

Historic Profile: Gladys Bentley (1907-1960)

This past February The New York Times published an issue of obituaries dedicated to influential African-American figures who never got an obituary when they died. One of these figures is Gladys Bentley, a queer entertainer who defied gendered standards at the time.

Bentley was born in 1907 and raised in Philadephia, and it was a very unpleasant childhood because her parents were homophobic and couldn’t accept their daughter’s sexuality. To escape this painful reality she played piano and wrote songs, and moved to New York City at the age of 16 to perform in illicit bars. One of these bars was the Clam House, Harlem’s hub for LGBTQ people. Even though Gladys used she/her pronouns in public, she was the first prominent performer at the time to identify in these spaces as trans. During the Prohibition Era, there was less stringency on what was allowed in the entertainment industry, so people were more relaxed about Gladys expressing herself. But as time went on and the Great Depression hit America, the public lost favor with Gladys and the police even cracked down on one of her performances, so she left NYC and moved to Los Angeles, where she once again gained her status as the leading queer entertainer there. She performed mainly at Mona’s 440 Club, the first lesbian bar in San Francisco. In the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy instilled anti-Communist ideologies in the public mind, and so any individual thought to be working against the government faced serious punishment. McCarthy mainly attacked artists and LGBTQ+ people, and so under this threat, Gladys changed her image to appeal to a straight audience and underwent hormone treatments to try and make herself straight. In 1960, she died from flu while studying to become a Christian minister.

I remember taking a course in the Harlem Renaissance, and I vaguely remember learning about Gladys Bentley in the course. The Harlem Renaissance was a crucial time in which black queer people such as writer James Baldwin, academic Alain Locke and Bentley flourished. Reading Bentley’s obituary taught me the importance of recognizing those people who are often forgotten in history. The pain she suffered as a queer person of color is so real, even for today in an age where more queer POC have mediums through which they can make their stories heard and help shift the public’s consciousness. I often take it for granted that we have public figures like RuPaul and Todrick Hall, but the fact that it isn’t until centuries after her death that Bentley got recognized in The New York Times once again taught me to always educate myself on the people who don’t make it in the history textbooks, who don’t get a huge social media following. I also take it for granted now that many LGBTQ+ artists such as myself can express themselves without the government always punishing them or censoring them for their work, but back then Gladys Bentley had to try and change her sexuality because she was literally fighting for her safety against the government. It reminded me of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and how deep-seated homophobia was in Britain during the 19th and 20th century (Turing was forced to undergo painful hormonal therapy to try and make him not gay anymore. All it did was cause him misery, to be honest). Reading Bentley’s obituary taught me that I must make my own voice heard so that I can inspire other young queer artists (especially queer artists of color) who somehow think their voice doesn’t matter. Because trust me, these narratives matter and it’s how we can gradually bring about more open dialogue about LGBTQ+ people of color in history.

So I thank you Gladys from the bottom of my heart, for being a pioneer for queer POC artists everywhere.

Movie Review: The Imitation Game and Paving the Way for LGBTQ+ People in Tech

The Imitation Game is a period drama film based on the real life of Alan Turing, a British mathematician who cracked the code of the Enigma, a machine that was so unbreakable that no one during World War II could solve it. German forces made the Enigma so difficult to solve, but that didn’t stop Alan Turing from working long hours to solve it.

At first, Alan doesn’t want to work with his teammates, and they find it hard to work with him because he is closed off from them. He fires most of the people on the team, but then recruits new people by putting out a difficult crossword puzzle in the local newspaper (sort of like fliers for talent show auditions) to recruit anyone to join the Enigma-cracking team. Joan Clarke, played brilliantly by Keira Knightley, is the only woman in a room full of men, taking the test for recruitment. When she first walks in, a gentleman at the door tells her that she should join the other women in another room (women at the time were secretaries) and that she shouldn’t be here. But then Alan tells her to stay so that he can go on with the test without interruptions. At first, Joan looks at the test while everyone has their heads down and is lost, but then she works hard at it and finishes under the six minute mark. She is the first to turn in her test, and the only woman to make the team.

When I first saw Joan, I was like, “Yessss! Women are killing it in tech!” But then, soon after, Alan goes to Joan’s house, where she lives with her parents and doesn’t have a husband, and she tells him she doesn’t think she can be around so many men when she is the only woman on the team. However, he tells her that he doesn’t care if she is breaking social norms. What he cares about is that she helps him crack the Enigma code because he is short of team members. Joan’s role as one of the code breakers really showed me how important it is to have women on a team, and moreover, how important it is to encourage women to pursue tech. Before watching the film, I was skeptical about whether I would ever pursue JavaScript again, but then I just decided to resume my Codecademy learning and just pace myself. I found that not being hard on myself and not giving up was what got me through the first lesson of JavaScript, because before that I said I would continue coding, but then thought about how it seemed everyone was more qualified than me. In a later scene, Alan gets frustrated because he is being spied on and pursued (homophobia was prevalent at the time, and Alan Turing, as a gay man, faced serious discrimination and married Joan just so that they could continue working on the team together and so that her parents wouldn’t make her come back home to them and quit the project). He comes out to Joan and tells her that she doesn’t have to be on the team anymore because in his mind, he’s thinking she doesn’t want to work with him because he’s gay. She then slaps him and tells him that it is preposterous he would try to get her off the team, telling him that she worked incredibly hard with him and the rest of the team to break the Enigma code, and that she was not ever going to leave the team.

While of course Joan’s story isn’t the same as Katherine Johnson’s story in Hidden Figures, her determination reminded me of when Katherine has to run back and forth between classes because the science buildings at NASA are separated by gender. Even when dealing with the worst kind of sexism and racism, Katherine and her fellow black female programmers never gave up on themselves and continued to persevere, paving the way for so many young women of color in tech. Of course, sexism and racism are still a reality in the tech world, and women and people of color in these programming industries still endure a lot of prejudice and often feel like they don’t belong. But that’s why we need movies such as Hidden Figures and The Imitation Game to remind us of how women’s involvement in computer programming shaped the course of history. In several scenes of The Imitation Game we see women in naval computer offices punching out code like nobody’s business; seeing this was so cool. 🙂 It reminded me of the incredible legacy of Grace Hopper and her service to the Navy as well as her service to computers. Joan’s legacy isn’t often talked about much but I wish our history teachers in school included her in the textbooks (this brief but fascinating bio gives some background about her role as Enigma code-breaker).

This film also is important when we think about the legacy of LGBTQ+ individuals in the field of technology. This film is unique from other films about men in tech because Alan, while he was a white male, was gay. Hollywood movies about men in tech often featured straight white men who treated women like props and spent all day doing computer and video games. Alan’s sexuality plays a huge role in the film because, as I mentioned earlier, LGBTQ+ people faced severe discrimination during the 20th century and often faced severe punishment at the hands of homophobic government officials. We flash back to Alan’s childhood, him being severely bullied by his straight male classmates, and Alan making friends with a guy who rescues him from being trapped under the floorboard. Alan falls in love with the guy, but he is called to the principal’s office and told that his lover died of a serious illness (bovine tuberculosis). We then flash forward, and Alan’s fellow team member, John Cairncross, threatens to tell everyone Alan is gay if he tells everyone that Cairncross was a spy for the USSR. He also tells Alan that he can’t come out to Joan because it is illegal for him to be openly gay. When Alan comes out, the government forces him to shut down the project and gave him two equally brutal options: time in prison or chemical castration. At just 41 years old, Alan committed suicide after enduring an entire tortuous year of government-mandated hormonal therapy. The movie also reveals that from 1885 to 1967, 49,000 gay men were convicted of “gross indecency” under British law. As a queer person seeing this movie, I literally had to stop the film and just sit and cry for five minutes.

Even though Silicon Valley is known for perpetuating a straight white male “bro” culture that often excludes LGBTQ+ people, there are several resources and programs for individuals in tech who identify as LGBTQ+, such as Lesbians Who Tech, and several prominent LGBTQ+ people working in tech, such as Apple’s Tim Cook. The chairman of Linux Professional Institute, Jon “maddog” Hall, for instance, came out as gay in 2012 in honor of the 100th birthday of Alan Turing, saying that

“Most of the people in my world of electronics and computers were like the mathematicians of Alan Turing’s time, highly educated and not really caring whether their compatriots were homosexual or not, or at least looking beyond the sexuality and seeing the rest of the person.”

“The 23 most powerful LGBTQ+ people in tech”, Business Insider

Indeed, in the film, Alan’s fellow coders remain with him until the end of his life even when he faced anti-gay discrimination because he showed them how hard work and perseverance really pay off in the end and helped them crack the Enigma code and thus save many lives during the war. Overall, this film taught me to have perseverance as an LGBTQ+ woman in the tech field and to find creative ways to express myself when working in tech, such as finding ways to incorporate my tech learning with my musical learning.

Overall, incredible film that I highly recommend seeing.

The Imitation Game. 2014. 1 hr 54 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.

Movie Review: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

I just got done watching the 2017 film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, and I must say, it was definitely a movie that makes you think. It is a biopic about William (“Bill”) Moulton Marston, a Boston-based psychology professor who teaches his mostly-female class about DISC theory, which means that every social situation, every interaction between individuals, could be broken down into four categories of emotion: dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. He catches the eye of Olive, one of his students who appears to be a quiet innocent young girl, and falls for her. But his wife, Elizabeth, is jealous of Olive and dismisses her at first. However, after taking a lie detector test, the two women find out they love both each other and Bill, and the three have a poly-amorous relationship with each other. However, the university that Bill and Elizabeth teach at finds out they were in a relationship and fire them, forcing Bill and Elizabeth into unemployment. Then, when all three are at a burlesque dress store in Greenwich Village, Olive tries on a Wonder Woman costume, sparking the inspiration for Bill’s comic book character, Suprema the Wonder Woman. At first, when Bill takes his manuscript to get published, Mr. Gaines, the publisher, tells him female superheros failed too many times before, but after convincing him Gaines finally publishes it and the comic book takes off, selling millions of copies. However, the Wonder Woman comic books receive backlash for their explicit depictions of submission and bondage; however, Bill calls for the publishers to fight back against the backlash by publishing more explicit scenes in the comic. Unfortunately, when a neighbor finds out about Bill, Olive and Elizabeth’s relationship, it takes a deep and nasty toll on not just the success of Wonder Woman but the beautiful relationship that has unfolded for all this time between the three people.

Honestly, this movie made me cry not just because of its incredible score (thanks, Tom Howe) but because it is a story that is missing from a lot of standard Hollywood period films. Many of the period films I have seen (except for Carol and a few other films) have depicted monogamous relationships between a man and a woman, but this film takes it up a notch because it features a love triangle that actually is fully developed throughout the film. Bill, Olive and Elizabeth raise kids who grew up really chill about having two moms and a dad. But like any LGBTQ+ relationship depicted in movies, some homophobic, transphobic or biphobic person finds out and then the supposedly innocent young woman (or man) involved in the relationship has to leave or deal with the older person getting married to someone of the opposite sex. I only say this because during the film I thought about Call Me By Your Name, and how Elio had to deal with Oliver getting married and settling into a heterosexual marriage. Today, of course, things have gotten slightly better in terms of accepting kids who grew up with various expressions of parenthood: two moms, two dads, two moms and a dad, two dads and a mom, and so on. I would be surprised if anyone in 2019 still batted an eyelash if they saw a perfectly normal family of two moms and a dad playing with their kids in the park like every other American family.

I also really like how the director, Angela Robinson, wrestles with Bill’s motivation for publishing Wonder Woman. In the special feature after the movie, Robinson says that while extensively researching the film and directing it (it took her eight long years to get this project off the ground) she wanted to wrestle with the question of whether Bill created Wonder Woman to satisfy his own sexual pleasure or whether he created it because he actually was a feminist who supported the suffrage movement. Indeed, when I first saw the trailer, I sort of rolled my eyes and thought, “Why is this film centered around a dude and his flings with women? Sounds pretty sexist to me.” However, after seeing the film I understood that Bill’s life was complicated, and that no one can really give a one-or-the-other answer to this question. Honestly, I think it was both. In a comparative literature course I took, we read about the concept of the male gaze and how it impacted people’s perceptions of women, as well as women’s perceptions of themselves. It seems that during the film, Bill was trying to manipulate both Olive and Elizabeth, even though it turns out that the two actually did genuinely love each other. While watching Olive and Elizabeth kiss, Bill is turned on and just watches for the longest time. When he proceeds to have Olive get in a submissive position in the burlesque shop, Elizabeth asks him when he is ever going to stop using science as an excuse for satisfying his own sexual whims; she also tells him earlier in the film that the three of them can’t be together because it’s a mere fantasy and they have to understand that their lives are essentially in danger if they openly express their poly-amorous relationship with each other. Robinson doesn’t aim for us to deify Marston but think about the role that this man, one of many individuals, played in discussions about feminism and female sexuality.

When I first heard of polyamory, it was in college. I wasn’t sure who I loved yet, and some classmates of mine and I ended up talking about different expressions of love, and one of these expressions happened to be poly-amorous love. I haven’t seen many movies or much media about poly-amorous relationships; I have seen bisexuality depicted of course, but not so much poly-amorous relationships. The media that depict polyamory often make a joke out of it, such as The Lonely Island’s “Three Way (The Golden Rule)”song. At first, I laughed but after seeing Professor Marston and the Wonder Women I think that song (and its accompanying music video) is a little outdated in how it thinks about poly-amorous love. Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake seem to poke fun at the idea that three-way relationships can be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and try to assert a hyper-masculinity in their “relationship” with the girl (played by Lady Gaga) in order to keep the relationship strictly straight. But, as Professor Marston depicts, poly-amorous love can be sweet and beautiful as long as the people in the relationship are consenting adults. Robinson explores the theme of consent in the film because we think at first that Bill and Elizabeth both tricked Olive into falling for both of them, but, as we see later in the film, we realize that Olive genuinely loved Bill and Elizabeth and didn’t mind falling in love with them. Olive isn’t all that happy being married to her husband and so she calls the marriage off between them because she actually does love Bill and Elizabeth more than she does her husband. It reminded me of Carol, when Therese and Carol both fall in love but then the men in their lives find out and they feel constrained by these heterosexual marriages they are in.

When I first saw the film Wonder Woman with Gal Gadot, I was incredibly thrilled, especially because Wonder Woman was raised on an island where all these strong women raise each other and support one another (a friend of mine wondered what the film would be like if they just depicted all the woman warriors just living their average lives on Themyscira. I, too, wondered about this.) And I think it is important to know the history of Wonder Woman in order to really appreciate her creation. Again, I am not hailing William Marston as the sole saint behind the creation of Wonder Women (in fact, Elizabeth is actually the one who suggested he create a female superhero). Robinson’s purpose for this biopic was to show the role that Elizabeth and Olive, two incredibly brilliant women figures, played in Marston’s life. After Marston’s death, editors took out the sexually explicit scenes of bondage in the Wonder Woman comics in order to make it more accessible to kids(in one depressing scene we see a bunch of kids throwing Wonder Woman comics in a fire and cheering while Bill just watches them burn the comics in silence). However, feminist Gloria Steinem, in 1972, put Wonder Woman on the cover of Ms. Magazine’s first issue and thus Wonder Woman’s superpowers made it back into the comics. Before seeing this movie I literally had no idea that Bill published Wonder Woman as a way for Bill to integrate his psychological research into an accessible form of entertainment. And I also had no prior knowledge of the comic’s sexual history. This is why I needed to see this film, though, because many of us don’t know about the history of Wonder Woman. There is a reason it is called Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (plural) and not Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman (singular).

In the scene when Josette Frank, a child development expert, questions Bill’s motives for including sexual imagery in Wonder Woman, he explains that he wants boys to see these images so that they learn to respect women and embrace their power. When he said this I thought about two ads, an Ad Council commercial and the Gillette ad. In the former, a few boys walk up to men and ask if they can teach them how to treat women since these men haven’t taught their sons how to treat women. The commercial basically tells adult men to teach their sons that violence against women is wrong and they should speak out when they witness it rather than be passive bystanders. The Gillette commercial, which came out just a couple of months ago, features a bunch of boys enacting traditionally masculine behaviors such as fighting each other and saying things such as “You play like a girl” to other boys, but then depicts scenes of men challenging these toxic masculine behaviors by checking their behavior, such as telling their male friends to stop catcalling women who walk by, as well as news footage of Terry Crews calling for men to hold themselves accountable and news reporters talking about the #metoo movement. After seeing this film, I think it would be a good film to discuss in the wake of the #metoo movement because then viewers can discuss the ways in which Marston both empowered and disempowered women in his depictions of Wonder Woman.

Also, I was literally just waiting for a movie to use Nina Simone’s song “Feeling Good”, and I can now say I finally chanced upon a film that uses this song. While Olive, Bill and Elizabeth get it on, Nina’s song plays to give the scene its steamy character. In this scene it is a song celebrating Bill, Olive and Elizabeth’s freedom at that moment to love each other without judgment (I think it’s pretty cool that the openly gay actor Luke Evans, who plays William Marston, got a chance to star in this LGBTQ+ themed film). Also, I love the acting of Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote; Hall’s simmering gaze, with her dark eyes, wraps you in and never lets you go. Bella Heathcote, in the special feature after the film, said that at first she was apprehensive about starring in this movie because of its sexuality and the emotional heaviness of Olive’s relationship with Bill and Elizabeth, but she said she is glad to have played Olive because she really felt deeply for her.

Overall, I think this film is a must. And to follow up, here is a hilarious video celebrating bi-sexuality and debunking misconceptions about it. I definitely needed to watch this for a good laugh after tearing up during the film.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. 1 hr 48 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language.