When the end credits began to roll on Wonder Woman, I leaned back in my seat, looked up at the ceiling of the theater, and let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. It was as if I had spent the two hours of the film waiting for some other shoe to drop.
I’m not here to review the movie—you’ve probably read them all by now—but know that it’s a good film. One with action, heart, humor, and sadness. It’s shot beautifully and has a tight script, though the third act is admittedly a little crowded. What I’m here to tell you is how I felt at the end of it all—and why it matters.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a massive nerd. I was raised on sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes. You don’t want to be around me when I am feeling particularly strongly about Batman because you’ll be my audience for an hour. But growing up, I spent a lot of my time feeling as though I was standing in someone else’s clubhouse, trying to make myself small in a shadowy corner. I wasn’t consciously aware of why I felt that way, but I felt it all the same.
Part of the reason I was so unaware was because I had just enough to sustain myself. The bridge of the Enterprise had a few women. I loved watching Sigourney Weaver battle the alien queen. Leia Organa was a crack shot with a blaster. So while I felt as if there was a “No Girls Allowed” sign on every door I wanted to open, I had hard evidence that shouldn’t be the case. If someone ever called out my quiet place in the corner, I had my defense prepared. Girls had been inside all along—but the space we occupied had a capacity limit the boys’ did not.
I’ve had to defend my space in the clubhouse. I’ve been questioned at conventions, in comics shops, in public when wearing nerdy merchandise, in the comments of virtually anything I write online. Defending my right to exist in the community I’ve been a part of for 30 years has been a constant and exhausting exercise.
So when I spoke to Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins earlier this year, I decided to tell her a personal story about the first time I saw the trailer with a few friends. Specifically, the scene in which Diana walks out of a foxhole into no man’s land and deflects an enemy bullet coming for her. I told Patty that my friends and I cried. We were literally grabbing at one another as we watched a woman go where no man could. We watched a woman take the space that had been denied to her and own it completely.
It’s a moment that was engineered to be powerful. For context, the scene is a turning point for the character—Diana is rushed through a trench as our band of heroes runs out of time to stop the evil plot. But as she moves forward, she sees not the mission but the people. She sees soldiers fatally wounded and others running scared. She sees a woman refugee who explains that her village is being destroyed. Diana can’t take that. She can’t stand by so close and watch so much suffering when something, anything, can be done. So she charges across the battlefield.
But that scripted emotional moment isn’t why we were blubbering. It was because we were finally given something we hadn’t gotten before. It felt as if a puzzle piece that had been kept away from us had been recovered. Suddenly the picture was more complete.
It was the same feeling I had when Rey wielded a lightsaber for the first time, and when I first saw Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl take flight. I felt it too when Batgirl put on a homemade cape and cowl.
Every one of those moments was another piece of the puzzle.
Which is why, sitting in the theater and waiting for Wonder Woman to start, I was so impatient for another puzzle piece. It felt like we sat through 28 minutes of trailers; by the time the sixth green preview screen came up, I couldn’t help but yell, “Oh my God, NO!” But my unintentional outburst earned laughter and commiserating responses from the other women in the theater. We were all done waiting. When the lights finally went down and the Warner Bros. logo appeared on the screen, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
And from the very first scenes, Wonder Woman did not disappoint. The story begins on the paradise island of Themyscira with a beautiful community of warrior women. (Sidebar: I would happily watch a full two-hour movie just about their day-to-day.) We see a young Diana run around, eyes wide with curiosity, as she tries to learn as much as she can. She sneaks away from her mother to watch General Antiope (Robin Wright) train her fellow Amazons. Her smile grows bigger as she watches the women fight one another and hone their skills. She mimics their movements; she asks questions. She is desperate to prove her mettle.
I spent most of that beginning sequence wiping away tears, and I could tell by the noises around me that I wasn’t alone. The theater was full of women who knew precisely how Diana felt in those scenes: the eagerness to join others, to work alongside them, to prove that we belong. We each know that feeling in our souls.
And as I left, I looked around the lobby and saw so many groups of women smiling, waving their hands, clapping, and laughing. I saw a small girl in a Superman dress tell an adult how the movie was so cool. On the way to the subway, I asked friends to give me one word about how they felt after seeing it.
Take these words with you when someone tries to tell you putting this much weight on a superhero movie is silly. These are real feelings coming from real adult women. We should feel validated. This movie is our chance to say: We are here. Look at our hero. Look at our director. Look at our story. Just look at what we can do when we’re finally given space in the clubhouse.