I’m going to be cliché here for a moment, so bear with me—you had to be living in a cave (perhaps training as a Jedi?) to have missed the release of the Wonder Woman movie earlier this year starring Gal Gadot. Even if you didn’t see it, you probably heard about it from those who did and how it smashed records by being the largest opening weekend for a female director, the biggest-grossing female-led comic book superhero movie ever, and by proving decades of Hollywood “wisdom” wrong.
That’s right—Hollywood is wrong.
Though apparently not wrong enough. Some days I feel like I should shout it from the rooftops because for too long, we’ve heard that girl-powered superhero movies don’t sell well, they’re cliché or lame, they’re too niche, and on and on the excuses go. But earlier this year, one of the things Hollywood didn’t count on was the importance of representation.
For me, one of the most defining moments of the movie happened in its opening scenes when the Amazons are training on their island, Themyscira. We’re shown women of all ages, women whose thighs jiggle when they move, and women who are training and fighting in practical armor. That last one is important, folks. For far too long, women warriors have danced across the movie screen as eye-candy in little more than chainmaille bikinis, their sole purpose to look good on the screen rather than to be the realistic warriors they were/are.
As a fantasy author, I spend a great deal of time researching before writing to ensure that what I’m describing is as realistic and accurate as possible—a task most writers take on—because readers notice when you’ve gotten something wrong. But it’s more than that. We notice when something doesn’t make practical sense.
If someone’s coming at you with a sword, why in the world would you leave your midsection exposed? A gut wound is deadly and painful. No warrior in their right mind would leave themselves exposed like that, which is why it was awesome to see Writer and Director Patty Jenkins and Costume Designer Lindy Hemming placing the Amazonians in realistic battle armor composed of leather and metal pieces that moved as well as protected. This armor covered the vital parts of their bodies to ensure they lived to fight another day.
So imagine my surprise when in Zack Snyder & Joss Whedon’s new Justice League film, we’ve taken such a massive leap backwards with Amazonians portrayed in leather bikinis.
Some arguments have been made defending this style choice by male costume designer Michael Wilkinson, including the idea that the Amazons in Justice League were trying to show how fierce they were by exposing their midriffs, but it’s a difficult argument to accept considering how dangerous that armor would be to whomever’s wearing it. According to all the photos, they’re wearing multiple-pieced, breast-shaped armor, something that anyone who actually fights in armor will tell you is a bad idea. A sword slamming against armor hurts. When one is hit, it often leaves nasty bruises beneath that armor. Hit hard enough, one could break bones or bruise organs. Breast-shaped armor is a great way to impale yourself, too. In the Wonder Woman movie, we see armor that fits as one piece across the chest. Yes, it has some shape to it, but it’s much flatter and its seams are at the sides. Seams are areas of weakness—you don’t want those across your chest!
Another argument’s been made that these Amazonians pictured above are supposed to be from the prehistoric era and thus, did not have access to plate mail, chainmaille, etc, but even fighters in a prehistoric timeline would have covered their stomachs. Just ask the Romans. Funny how the men from the same time period shown in the Justice League film have mastered full body coverage just fine.
Actress Samantha Jo stated that she felt empowered in these outfits and cautioned folks to remember that, “…the fighting style of the Amazons is quite different…We’ve been able to see that the Amazonian fighting is a little more acrobatic and larger than life requiring armor that allows for that kind of articulation in the body. I was overjoyed with the mobility I had.” I understand her concern to a degree.
Fighters wearing real armor wouldn’t be doing the Hollywood special effects style fighting that we see in most movies these days, the kind that requires slow-motion cameras, shooting from multiple angles, hanging wires, and lots of computer work post-production. Realistic and practical armor moves, but not like Hollywood wants it to. But considering how much of the choreography we see is camera angles, film speed, and post-production effects, the armor used in Wonder Woman wouldn’t affect movement enough to require the removal of leather across one’s midriff.
Mobility is about moving at the joints—at the shoulders and hips, not the stomach. It’s about where the seams in the armor lay, and how those seams and joints are pieced together. While the outfit in Xena: Warrior Princess changed in its final episodes to one that bared her midriff, Lucy Lawless’s iconic outfit was leather armor that covered her from breasts to hips, and because of the way it was pieced together, mobility was free enough for Lucy and the stunt doubles to ride horses, choreograph fight scenes, and so on. (And honestly, even Xena’s armor was a bit skimpy and impractical for a warrior of her status.)
So why is it only the women in Justice League who need to expose themselves? The simple answer is dollar signs. The Amazonians aren’t there for representation. They’re there to look pretty for the camera and bring people into the theater in droves. After all, it’s worked for decades.