“Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman” tells the story of the man who created the female superhero. Consider it the other Wonder Woman movie, and it’s an indie. Like most indies it took writer/director Angela Robinson some time to get her movie made. She worked on the script on nights and weekends for over four years. Then it took another four years to get the film financed. Robonson had been a lifelong fan of Wonder Woman and was obsessed not only with the superhero but also with her creator, William Moulton Marston. He led a fascinating double life because he was hiding his polyamorous relationship with his wife and mistress. Interviewed by AWFJ.org at the Toronto International Film Festival, Angela Robinson spoke about why she needed to tell the Marston family story on screen. Continue reading…
Julide Tanriverdi: There a renaissance for Wonder Woman – why do you think that is?
Angela Robinson: I’m not sure. My own personal opinion is that Wonder Woman has always been part of the big three: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. And yet, Batman and Superman have multiple reboots and franchises and I was like, “How many times can we see Bruce Wayne’s parents get killed in the alley?” Wonder Woman had never been in a film in 75 years – ever in live action. And that was part of my impetus to start writing this story.
Tanriverdi: How was the experience?
Robinson: A friend of mine was writing one of the early drafts of Wonder Woman and she said, “Why is this so hard?” Because she was created for a totally different reason. Marston called it psychological propaganda but he really wanted to teach a generation of boys and men to love and respect powerful women because he thought that women could save the world. He thought men were going to drive it into a ditch and that women were inherently loving and nurturing and they should be in charge. This was part of his work to do that.
Tanriverdi: How did you choose your cast?
Robinson: I got really, really lucky in that it’s very difficult as an independent film maker to get your top choices in a small movie. I’ve been tracking Luke Evans for forever. I was just obsessed with him and I felt that Marston really needed this sense of – he really needed a palpable masculinity but also an intelligence and charm and sensitivity in order to play this part that was really important. So, I just harassed Luke’s reps. (laughs) With Rebecca Hall – actually, one of my producers, Amy Redford, ran into her at Sundance. And then I heard that Rebecca had been considering adapting the story herself and had actually done a lot of research in it. We had a mind meld and she’s so freaking smart and incredible. So, then she came on board. I searched for a long time for the right Olive Byrne. When I met Bella Heathcote I asked her to put some scenes on tape and sometimes people do or don’t. She sent me this tape of herself doing the scenes and she was just a revelation. She was incredible. It’s very hard to find somebody who can be very vulnerable and strong simultaneously. It’s a very hard thing to illuminate on screen and she had that quality. Then I had my three!
Tanriverdi: The movie deals with a polyamorous relationship. But it has a very strong feminist story – really surprising for that time, especially for a man. How accurate is it to the actual events?
Robinson: I do think that was very accurate that they were very actively involved in feminism. And actually Olive Byrne, her mother and aunt were two of the foremost feminists in the entire history of feminism and they were very actively involved as was Marston. That’s one of the things that was really exciting and sad about the research was that it was so contemporary – that we’re still fighting all these battles. It could be yesterday that they’re having all the same conversations about what was going on and what battles they were fighting. As far as the characters, there’s a lot of facts in the Marston’s life that are indisputable, that everybody agrees on and there are a bunch of facts that are open to interpretation. This film is definitely my interpretation of my research. That took me a long time to do so. I’ve done things… like any historical bio pic you want to condense timelines and there’s some composite characters and stuff. But I really feel like the spirit of feminism is incredibly accurate.
Tanriverdi: Speaking of feminism, why do you think it’s important to keep putting strong female multifaceted characters on the screen?
Robinson: It’s hugely, hugely important to me. I feel like the one – some people have commented that the difference between my first film and this film but I feel like the thread through all of my work is really trying to render complicated, interesting, strong, complex female characters. I kind of am similar to Marston in that Marston put his ideas into a pop culture package because he thought it was the best way to change the world with his ideas and I feel similarly that if you can tell really entertaining stories but put in what’s important to you to literally change hearts and minds I feel like it’s really important because it still is absurd that women are 51% of the population and yet represented on screen as just a tiny, tiny fraction of that.
Tanriverdi: Do you also think that like Marston who was subversive at the time with what he put into the comics – the bondage for instance. Your film is going to be released during a very conservative time in America. How do you think that releasing the film into that kind of climate?
Robinson: It’s really interesting to me because I was watching some of the EPK footage that we shot last October. About two weeks before the election so it’s almost like a time capsule. We all thought we’d have the first female president when we shot it. I think it’s actually kind of incredible. Luke’s interviewing and he’s like, “We’re about to have our first female president.” The ironic thing is that I was like, “Maybe by the time the movie comes out it will be passé and we’ll be past all this.” And then it was distinctly the opposite. I do feel it makes the message of tolerance and love and peace and having the kind of freedom to be who you are against society or just any type of adversity is even more important and relevant today to hear that message.
Tanriverdi: What are the main challenges as a female director?
Robinson: I think that it is kind of hard across the board. I was going to say mainstream Hollywood but I think almost anywhere for directors, writers, actresses but especially directors. I do think that there is a very kind of entrenched system that’s not super hospitable to women and that there’s a lot of institutional misogyny baked into Hollywood. It’s funny – I feel like a lot of my frustration with Hollywood or experiences, I was able really to relate to Elizabeth in her pursuit and her frustration and the glass ceilings because I feel like a lot of what the movie also talks about is kind of white male privilege and entitlement and it really struck me that for all intents and purposes… Elizabeth, she had three degrees, everyone said she was smarter than him but that she, because she was a woman and the time she lived in hit certain glass ceilings and she couldn’t get the same degree. You experience a lot of her frustration and they talk a lot about the entitlement and also that Elizabeth and Olive have been almost completely erased from history and in that she was not credited in the work that she did on the lie detector test and they were hidden as the inspiration for Wonder Woman. It was kind of important for me to kind of reclaim them as people and characters and to the narrative so that they could be recognized for their contribution.
Tanriverdi: It is pretty good timing – after the success of Patty Jenkins movie “Wonder Woman”.
Robinson: Totally. (laughs) I wish I could say that I planned that eight years ago when I started on this journey. I do think there is kind of a Wonder Woman renaissance right now.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You might also be interested in
Professor Marston and The Wonder Women – Review by Susan Granger
Angela Robinson on Professor Marson and the Wonder Women – Pam Grady Interviews