Get to know the polyamorous, kinky, feminist Creator of Wonder Woman in a new film

This past summer, we all fell in love with Gal Gadot when she took the world by storm as Wonder Woman. There have been a gazillion thinkpieces on how feminist Wonder Woman truly is (our argument: yes, it is feminist) and how empowering the film is for audiences everywhere (did you see that video of a little girl crying when she met Gal Gadot??).

But few people are talking about the deeply feminist and kinky origins of the iconic comic. A new film, “Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman,” is here to remedy that.

In this indie film from Angela Robinson (producer and writer of True Blood and The L Word, among other shows), the love life of the Wonder Woman’s creator unfolds on the big screen. Dr. William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s author, was in a long-lasting polyamorous relationship with two women: his wife Elizabeth and one of his students, Olive. According to Jada Yuan from Vulture, this film is “quite the female-on-female-on-male bodice ripper.

William and his wife Elizabeth invented the lie detector in 1913, which must’ve inspired by Wonder Woman’s truth telling lasso. The film doesn’t focus on their careers, rather, but on their love story with Olive Byrne (…and how they later use a lie detector in foreplay). Olive was the daughter of Ethel Byrne, a radical feminist who advocated for birth control with her sister, Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood!!).

Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman tells the tale of how both William and Elizabeth fall for Olive, and how she becomes the married couple’s lover. Elizabeth and Olive both end up having William’s children, and after William dies in 1947, Elizabeth and Olive remain together until Olive’s death in 1985 (Elizabeth herself lives until age 100). The film dwells on the feminist and sexual ideas that brought the three of them together and Wonder Woman to life.

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In the film, you see Marston lecturing on his theory of DISC – Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance – and telling his students (Olive included) “a person is most happy when they are submissive to a loving authority.” This hints at William’s kinky sexual life: one that included “super-enthusiasm” for bondage in the bedroom. When William began to write Wonder Woman, he was inspired by the bondage fetishism he enjoyed with Elizabeth and Olive.

As Jill Lepore writes in The Secret History of Wonder Woman (excerpted in The New York Times Book Review):

Not a comic book in which Wonder Woman appeared, and hardly a page, lacked a scene of bondage. In episode after episode, Wonder Woman is chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered and manacled. She’s locked in an electric cage. She’s winched into a straitjacket, from head to toe. Her eyes and mouth are taped shut. She’s roped and then coffined in a glass box and dropped into the ocean. She’s locked in a bank vault. She’s tied to railroad tracks. She’s pinned to a wall. Once, so that she can be both entirely bound and movable, her fettered feet are welded to roller skates. ‘Great girdle of Aphrodite!’ she cries. ‘Am I tired of being tied up!’

This bondage, so frankly depicted, disgusted many. The villain in the film (Connie Britton, we love you) is censor Jossette Frank. Jossette was a children’s literature expert, head of the Child Study Association of America; the film is framed through her questioning of William for the “violence, torture, and sadomasochism” depicted in Wonder Woman.

But for William, as Professor Marston & the Wonder Woman argues, the matriarchal world of Wonder Woman is fundamentally feminist. He viewed erotic submission as deeply feminist. Noah Berlatsky, author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, explains: “Marston [saw] erotic submission as important not because it puts men down but because submission is actually for him a virtue. Erotic submission is about releasing control to the one you love….[which has] feminist implications when coupled to a belief in women’s power, and women’s right to power.”

The movie doesn’t dwell so much on the character of Wonder Woman as much as the love story of William, Elizabeth and Olive. As writer/director Angela Robinson explains:

I didn’t want to other-ize their experience, I wanted to make it as romantic and accessible as possible. I didn’t want anyone to say, ‘look at these freaky people into this sex thing and this bondage thing.’ I wanted it to be, ‘I want them to be together, I could see how that could happen and in a different set of circumstances it could happen to me.’ I think the actors felt the same, and they dove in with passion and commitment and emotional honesty, and were just having fun with the love story. And that’s what shines through.

The unconventional love story at the heart of Wonder Woman’s origin is fully embraced in the film.

The next Wonder Woman love story we want to see on screen? A female love interest for Gal Gadot! Hollywood, please make it happen. William, Elizabeth, and Olive would be proud.