There's a reason Wonder Woman binds her enemies with a golden lasso and proudly wears the "Bracelets of Submission." It's always been about sex, as the new biopic, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women reveals.
Wonder Woman was created in the late 1930s by a psychologist, William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their two girlfriends, Marjorie and Olive. Professor Marston, which is playing in select theaters now, ignores Marjorie, focusing instead on the sensual love story that flourished between William (Luke Evans), Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and Olive (Bella Heathcote), a graduate student whose writing on Marston inspired DC Comics to hire him as a writer.
Wonder Woman, which debuted in comics in 1941, was always a bit bizarre compared to superheros like Superman and Batman. She didn't condone violence, chose diplomacy over warfare, and generally seemed to enjoy intimate struggles with her (also female) villains. There's always been a great deal of queer imagery, BDSM imagery and first-wave feminism in Wonder Woman's early comics, though Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the first to shine a light directly on the source of all that progressive thought.
The film has already been well-received by the queer community, who call it a sensitive portrayal of BDSM in addition to polyamory. Elizabeth and Olive manage their sexual and romantic relationship as part of their collective, and they share each other with William as much he shares himself with both women. Like in any polyamorous relationship, jealousies and miscommunications arise, but William, Elizabeth and Olive work these conflicts out, motivated by the conception of their art. All of them, equally, want to be loved by the others, and we see their vulnerability naked onscreen. It's an arresting experience, especially for those who have always considered themselves irrefutably monogamous.
The real Marston had a sense of humor about his sexual proclivities, hiding images of women, both bound and binding each other, throughout Wonder Woman's comics. As we see in the film, those who recognized what Marston was suggesting were appalled, but Wonder Woman's love of bondage flew under the radar for generations of readers. Even now, as DC's blockbuster Wonder Woman hit theaters and made millions, most don't realize that the same character has been allowed to pursue men and women in her comics for years. Grant Morrison's recent Wonder Woman comics allow her to joke about sex, enjoy the act of seduction, and live a celebratory, kinky lifestyle. Greg Rucka, who writes the central canon Wonder Woman storyline, was the center of controversy when he wrote her bisexuality into the comics—though, as Rucka said to the press, anyone upset with the "development" hadn't been paying attention. Wonder Woman (and her alter-ego, Diana Prince) had been queer since her origins, though comic books had flown under the radar until superhero movies became big business.
Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman in DC's film universe, told Variety that she supported the idea that the character was queer, though she added that the films wouldn't explore this. "It never came to the table, but when you talk theoretically about all the women on Themyscira and how many years she was there, then what he said makes sense." Many other fans of the character agree, and when Gadot hosted Saturday Night Live in October, she starred in a sketch set on Wonder Woman's island of origin. Two butch-leaning lesbians, played by Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon (who is actually queer), showed up on the island assuming the Amazons were all queer. They were disappointed and comically confused when the Amazons, acting according to DC's plans for them, said they hadn't ever really thought about being with women.
The sketch launched a few headlines describing Gadot kissing McKinnon's character, but most critics ignored what it was really saying: that ignoring Wonder Woman's queer origins is beginning to look ridiculous, in a world where queer issues are supposedly becoming mainstream. "Oh come on," McKinnon's lesbian character deadpans in the sketch. "Seriously? None of you are gay? Not one?"
Critics will call Professor Marston a revelation, though it doesn't introduce information that many fans of the character and her backstory have known all along: that kinkiness in sexual relationships doesn't have to come at the detriment to emotional depth, and that monogamy isn't the ultimate goal for everyone. If anything, Professor Marston is a sexy unveiling of a not-well kept secret. The polyamorous love story asks viewers to open themselves to a new, sensual possibility: it's what Diana Prince herself would want.