It’s About What You Believe: A Letter to Diana of Themyscira (aka Wonder Woman)

This is the latest in my series of letters to inspirational female characters that will be compiled in a book alongside letters from my fellow fangirls and fanboys. If you are interested in being part of The Fan Mail Project, I’m still taking submissions on a case-by-case basis, and you can check out all the information here

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Source: rogerebert.com

Dear Diana,

I never thought I’d write a letter to you. Growing up, I didn’t read many comic books, so when I was getting ready to see Wonder Woman, I had only the slightest idea of what to expect. I thought you would kick ass and that your story would be empowering—not just for me, but for so many young girls who get to grow up now with your story as a part of their superhero movie pantheon—but I didn’t expect to see much of a reflection of myself in you.

You see, I’m not exactly built in the typical “strong female character” way. But then I discovered something amazing during my first viewing of Wonder Woman: neither are you. I sat down in that darkened movie theater and expected to see a woman whose strength would inspire me to want to be more like her, but what I ended up seeing was a woman whose strength has inspired me to want to be more fully myself.

“Strong” and “tough” are often synonyms, and, for most of my life, it’s been hard for me to see myself as strong because I’m about as far from tough as it gets. When it comes to how women are perceived—both in life and in the media—it’s typically the tough ones who become leaders, who earn people’s respect, and who get things done. No matter how often we tell women that vulnerability and openness can be a strength and not a weakness, it’s hard to believe when most female heroes in the media only smile when it’s a huge moment of character development and when most people in life are told more than once to “toughen up and stop being such a girl” when they openly display emotion.

For years now, one of the first phrases that comes to my mind when I’m asked to describe myself is “painfully sincere.” I think I was born without the ability to mask my true feelings about anything, and for decades, I’ve seen that as one of my greatest weaknesses. People have preyed on that part of me since I was a kid.

“They’re just saying that because they can tell they’re getting to you.”

“You’re an easy target. It’s fun to get you riled up.”

“Don’t let them know it bothers you, and they’ll stop.”

“You can’t hide that you’re mad at me. I can see it all over your face.”

“Katherine, your brow is furrowed. You must be confused by the assignment.”

“Calm down!”

“Why do you care so much?”

I spent so long hating that part of me—my emotional transparency, my painful (in more ways than one) sincerity. And then I saw you, and I saw how we were allowed to truly see you. I saw your indignation, your sadness, your childlike sense of wonder, your hope, your frustration, your joy, your desire, your confusion, and your conviction. You felt no shame in your emotions—whatever they were. You showed what you were feeling as you felt it, without ever feeling a need to hide your emotions or push them down to appear stronger or more in control.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill)

Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

The Basics: Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins with Steve Rogers (aka the eponymous Captain America) still struggling to adjust to the modern world after being awoken from a frozen state that he remained in since the 1940s. His sense of unfamiliarity in this colder, bleaker world is made worse by his growing sense of distrust for S.H.I.E.L.D., the government intelligence and defense agency he’s a part of. Steve’s suspicions turn out to be more than just unfounded fears; a faction within S.H.I.E.L.D. is planning to use advanced surveillance methods to kill millions in the name of the greater good. Steve—along with Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) and Sam Wilson (aka Falcon)—must confront old and new enemies, but one new enemy (the mysterious Winter Soldier) might not be so new after all. Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds not just as a highly entertaining superhero blockbuster; it also feels darker and more thematically complex than any Marvel Cinematic Universe film that came before it, while still being driven by the sharp writing, strong character development, and charismatic performances that have made Marvel films huge box-office draws season after season.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Iron Man 3

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Title: Iron Man 3

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Don Cheadle (Colonel James Rhodes), Guy Pearce (Aldrich Killian), Rebecca Hall (Maya Hansen), Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Sir Ben Kingsley (The Mandarin), Ty Simpkins (Harley Keener)

Director: Shane Black

The Basics: The third installment of Marvel’s successful Iron Man franchise finds Tony Stark still haunted by the alien attack he helped fend off in The Avengers, throwing himself into the construction of Iron Man suit after Iron Man suit in a feeble attempt to keep his PTSD at bay. However, when the Mandarin, a terrorist waging war on the United States, brings destruction to Tony’s doorstep, he is forced to rely on only himself (and young Harley Keener) to protect those closest to him and the country as a whole. In the process, he confronts the question of whether or not Iron Man can be a hero outside of his suit. Iron Man 3 is the best of the franchise. Its action-packed moments were breathtaking, but the film was even more impressive in its quieter moments of character development. And, as always, it was anchored by a charming, funny, and surprisingly nuanced performance from Robert Downey Jr.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Any superhero movie is only as good as its superhero. What’s made the Iron Man films stand out above almost any other in the genre is the easy charisma Downey lends to Tony Stark. His rapid-fire delivery and natural sense of “cool” make it impossible to see where actor ends and character begins, and that’s always been the selling point for this franchise. Downey was once again excellent in Iron Man 3, but the real strength of his performance was not in how cool he made Tony appear but in the exact opposite: the sense of barely-contained anxiety he brought to every scene. Yes, he was still brilliant in his smooth-talking, sharp-shooting moments of dialogue, but he was even better in the moments where he had to convey to us just how damaged Tony had become since the events of The Avengers. This time, his fast-paced delivery hinted not at a “too cool for school” attitude but instead at a crippling panic he’s trying to push down with every word spoken. In this film, Downey had to show more sides to Tony than ever before, and he proved himself more than up to the challenge.

Scene Stealer: Child actors can often make or break a film. A bad one makes you roll your eyes or cringe with every line of dialogue, but a good one brings an energy to a film that only a child can bring. I think it’s safe to say that Ty Simpkins is one of the good ones. I would have never thought that the missing emotional piece in the Iron Man franchise was a little boy, but Simpkins’s performance added a warmth to Iron Man 3 that was absent in both the first and second films. His chemistry with Downey was incredible; the scene where Harley talked to Tony during one of his panic attacks was one of my favorite moments in the film. He was sweet but not cloyingly so, and his solid delivery was a strong match for the great things Downey can do with dialogue. Best of all, his presence in the film added another dimension to Tony as a character and brought out another side of Downey as an actor. The genuine bond between Tony and Harley was such a pleasant surprise, and it really helped make this the best Iron Man film yet.

Bring the Tissues? I think you can leave the tissue box at home for this one. While there were plenty of strong emotional moments, there weren’t any that reduced me to tears.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Stay until after the credits are all over for a hilarious scene featuring one of my favorite members of the cast of The Avengers. It does nothing to tease future movies or enhance this one’s plot in any way, but the surprise cameo was probably one of my favorite parts of Iron Man 3.

Most Memorable Scene: While Iron Man 3 was elevated above traditional “popcorn flick” status by its moments of serious character study, it was also an incredibly entertaining thrill ride—and in no scene was that more evident than in the film’s climatic action sequence. The moment when all of the Iron Man suits appeared on command was a gorgeously triumphant moment, and the action that followed was a breathless adrenaline rush. Coupled with the emotional stakes in the scene for Tony and Pepper, this was everything I love about big action movies rolled up into one incredibly fun scene.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: The Amazing Spider-Man

Title: The Amazing Spider-Man

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors), Sally Field (Aunt May), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy)

Director: Marc Webb

The Basics: Some parts of the Spider-Man story we’ve seen on the big screen before: the life-changing spider bite, the loss of Peter Parker’s father figures, the journey from masked vigilante to superhero…But some parts are new to moviegoers: Peter’s struggles with being abandoned by his parents, his first love with fellow science prodigy Gwen Stacy, and his battles with Dr. Curt Connors’s alter ego The Lizard. The Amazing Spider-Man takes a story we’re all familiar with (thanks to 50 years of comics and Sam Raimi’s recent trilogy of films) and makes it profoundly personal.This is a superhero movie that at times feels like a small character study, with moments of real warmth and surprising depth amid the action and special effects.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Spider-Man is literally Andrew Garfield’s dream role (just watch his speech at last year’s Comic-Con if you want proof), and you could feel it in every moment he was onscreen in this film. His total dedication to making both Peter Parker and Spider-Man human and relatable is a beautiful thing to watch. Physically, he deftly balances the mannerisms of Peter the gangly teenage boy and the surprising grace of Spider-Man the superhero. That dichotomy carries over into every aspect of his performance. He gives Peter the perfect combination of sadness, sweetness, and anger. His Peter is a loner by choice, living with the weight of being abandoned and then orphaned. It’s only when he’s with Gwen that we see that weight lifted, and Garfield shines in his moments with Emma Stone. This is a different kind of humanity that Garfield gives to Peter – not the crushing sadness of being an orphan but the incredible joy of being in love for the first time. He’s by turns awkward, playful, and warm – adding a lightness to the film that is very much appreciated.

Garfield also brings new life to Peter’s persona as Spider-Man. This is the Spider-Man of the comics: sarcastic and full of quips. Spider-Man is who Peter is without inhibition, under the protective mask of anonymity. The balance between Spider-Man’s inherent heroic streak and his sense of humor is deftly handled, and I don’t think that would have been the case without an actor of Garfield’s caliber in both Peter’s glasses and Spider-Man’s suit.

Scene Stealer: Gwen Stacy is no ordinary “superhero girlfriend,” and no ordinary actress could bring to life her beguiling mixture of beauty, bravery, depth, and intelligence like Emma Stone did in this film. She brings her own spark to one of the most iconic significant others in the Marvel universe, and it’s a spark that ignites some of the most charming and memorable moments in the film. Whether she’s bantering with Peter, using her scientific skills to save New York City, or showing a rare glimpse at the vulnerability behind her perfectionist exterior, Stone’s Gwen is a fully-realized character, and so much of that comes from the vitality Stone brings to the role. We know she can do comedy – and she’s excellent in her comedic scenes in this film – but she also has a talent for showing real emotion in dramatic scenes. She and Garfield bring out the best in each other as actors just as Gwen and Peter bring out the best in each other in the film.

Bring the Tissues? Yes. There are some truly moving moments in this film: the farewell between young Peter and his mother; Uncle Ben’s murder and Peter’s reaction to it; two poignant scenes of vulnerability between Peter and Gwen – one in her bedroom and one at his doorstep; and a scene featuring tower cranes that some might call cheesy but I call a moment to celebrate the heroism of the common man. Also, there’s a scene between Peter and Aunt May that will have me getting misty-eyed every time I see a carton of organic eggs (which, thankfully, doesn’t happen too often).

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Stay until about halfway through the credits for a mysterious confrontation about Peter’s fate. Who’s the man with the hat? It’s a question to keep us guessing until the next installment arrives in theaters.

Most Memorable Scene: In terms of cinematic spectacle, the centerpiece of the film (and one of its most stirring moments) is the aforementioned scene in which crane workers help an injured Spider-Man across the skyline of Manhattan to his final confrontation with the Lizard. However, the most memorable thing about the film as a whole is the blinding chemistry between Garfield and Stone. That chemistry shines throughout the film, but it’s at its strongest in two scenes that transcend the “superhero” genre and could stand on their own in any romantic film: Peter asking Gwen on a date (and Gwen accepting) in the most awkwardly endearing way imaginable and Gwen tending to Peter’s wounds while confessing her fears of the men she loves going off to save the world and never coming back.

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