Angela Robinson on Her Queer, Kinky Wonder Woman Origin Story and the Power of the Female Gaze

Last week, a handful of journalists gathered at What Katie Did, a vintage-inspired lingerie and corset boutique for the Blu-ray release of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Directed by queer film favorite Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S., The L Word), the film tells the story of Harvard psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), creator of feminist icon Wonder Woman and his polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their lover Olive (Bella Heathcote). The thruple lived together and raised a family, which was quite the scandal in the 1940s, and their experiences in kink and BDSM inspired the look and design of Wonder Woman herself.

Angela Robinson spent almost eight years trying to get the film made, and the result is a story about polyamory and kink that is warm, romantic, and moving (suck it, Fifty Shades!). I sat down with Angela to discuss her exploration of kink and queer culture, the reboot of The L Word, and her plans for a Strangers in Paradise movie.

Photo by Claire Folger/IMDb

Chelsea: One thing that really struck me about Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was the playful and romantic way you treated kink and BDSM in the film. What was your thought process going into that?

Angela: Yes, I was very adamant from the start, and I remember telling Sony this, that the lie detector scenes are about sex, and the sex scenes are about fantasy and transcendence and Wonder Woman. I talked to my cinematographer, my production designer and I told them I don’t want the traditional depictions of kink in cinema as dark, seedy and bad and sinister, and I don’t want to feel any of that in how we shoot it. The love scenes are where they (William, Elizabeth and Olive) are able to create and transcend these limiting earthly roles, together, and find freedom and fantasy, and whoever they want to be.

It’s a space where they can be the fullest versions of themselves. When they put on these costumes and when they enter this space, it’s about creating themselves. It was so important to me to capture the women during the exchange of consent, and to make sure that every step (of consent) was captured. It was really important to me that Olive lead them, and for her to have agency and make the decisions, to be sure that she wanted to do it: she’s the first person to kiss Elizabeth, she’s very clear on what she wants, she’s the first person to test the lie detector…it was carefully constructed to have Olive decide for herself why she wanted to do these things, but also I really wanted to play with the female gaze.

When Olive decides to put on the costume, we are with Olive. When she sees herself in the Wonder Woman outfit, we stay with her throughout that scene. I wanted to shift the audience’s POV from her as object to her as subject throughout the movie as she gains her sense of self.

Another thing I really loved about the movie, that sets it apart from other queer period films, is it isn’t so much about the angst or the struggle of being queer, as it is about them being poly. It’s so refreshing to see a different angle of this story.

I remember being on a panel with a bunch of incredible queer filmmakers many years ago, and we were talking about the next wave of queer cinema, because I feel like my first film D.E.B.S. was at the tail-end of this incredible wave of queer cinema that started with Greg Araki’s films, Go Fish, But I’m a Cheerleader, and I was kind of at the tail end of that wave. We all knew each other.

So then I’d been thinking a lot about what the next thing is, and I think its moving beyond the issues of the coming out story, whether this is bad or good, and I thought it was important in this story because they (the Marstons) were pre-identity, the term “lesbianism” had only been invented a few years prior as a concept, but they didn’t have the language of poly or queer, and it was important for me to tell the most organic love story, and to have them do what they were doing, and they have to figure out what to do about what they’re doing!

Moderator Teresa Jusino, Angela Robinson, and costume designer Donna Maloney, image by Richard Thomas

Speaking of D.E.B.S., are there any plans for a sequel?

You know, I thought about and briefly developed a D.E.B.S. TV show, but it didn’t end up going anywhere, but a sequel would be really fun.

Okay, let me pitch you this: D.E.B.S. comic book!

I would be super into a D.E.B.S. comic book, I’d write that in a heartbeat If someone wanted to publish it!

As a comics nerd, if you could make your fantasy comic book film, what would it be?

If I could make any comic book movie…ooh that’s a good one. It actually would be Strangers in Paradise. My second choice would be Batwoman Detective, yeah.

How good would Jessica Chastain be as Kate Kane/Batwoman?

SO good! She’d be so good. I don’t know if DC is planning on it, but I love that comic book. Y: The Last Man is also another huge favorite of mine, but I think it’s already in development as a series. Those are some of my top faves.

Do you have any advice for folks who are starting out in the industry, who want to be filmmakers?

Write your truth. A writing teacher once told me, “the script is the coin of the realm” and I did not know what they were talking about, but I didn’t figure it out until I got here, and he also said “paper is cheap.” I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer, I was pretty convinced I couldn’t write, I did everything I could in my power not to write, and then I realized that the only way I’d ever be able to direct something is if I wrote it myself, so I just sat down and read a bunch of books and taught myself to write, which took many many years, but it’s the best thing I ever did because nobody can do anything in this town until somebody writes it down: actors can’t act, agents can’t agent, directors can’t direct, until there’s a script, so I tell everybody to learn how to write, it’s a craft, and don’t let anyone tell you your stuff is bad because the concept of talent doesn’t exist.

Photo by Claire Folger/IMDb

On a personal note, D.E.B.S. was one of those pivotal movies that I saw when I was first coming out, so thanks for making it!

I’m so glad, you know what’s so funny is I just came back from Sundance, and while I was there I ran into three different women in the last week who were like, “thanks for that film” and that’s why I made it: it was the teen movie I never had when I was that age, so that was the goal!

So where are you at with your Strangers in Paradise adaptation?

You know, I was just emailing with Terry Moore this morning; we’re co-writing a draft so we’ve been kind of going back and forth…we’ve started our collaboration and our writing, and a lot of it is how do you…it’s so epic, the entire story of Katchoo and Francine and David, so how do you distill it? I feel more excited about that challenge, having to distill this story (Professor Marston) into a movie, so I’m excited about it. We just started our collaboration, so we are writing away.

So, The L Word is coming back, are you at all involved in the reboot?

I am not involved in the reboot! I would love to be but I can’t because I have a deal elsewhere.

What would you like to see going forward in the 2018 version of The L Word? Is there anything you’re hoping they’ll address?

It’s so interesting, because I remember I was with Guinevere Turner, and we were friends, and she said “they’re making a lesbian show” and at that point it was called Earthlings after Urth Café, and I remember watching the pilot thinking, “Oh my God, I never thought I would see this happen ever” and then I wrote on the first season of the show…but now when they brought it back, I think its amazing because I think there’s a hole in the queer atmosphere that we assumed it would be immediately absorbed and replaced and all this other storytelling would happen, but that didn’t really happen. I’m really excited, but now so much has changed, can you even really call it The L Word anymore? I mean, with trans and gender non-binary/non-conforming, there’s just a whole new cultural landscape out there. The original was just out of a different era, a different moment, so that’s what it needs to address, this brave new world.

Do you know who killed Jenny?

(laughs) I know who I think killed Jenny, but I don’t know.

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Chelsea Steiner was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, where she works as a screenwriter/blogger/sex educator. She's the writer/director of Thank You Come Again, a queer sex positive web series based on her experiences working the Pleasure Chest, which you can follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She’s obsessed with dachshunds, Buffy, 90's dance parties, and roller derby. She loves the word "Jewess" and wishes more people used it to describe her. Follow her ramblings on Twitter and her cute puppy pics on Instagram.

Chelsea has written 46 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you did this interview! Absolutely loved the movie and have been recommending it to everyone I know! As a monogamous individual, the film was a wonderful insight into a polyamorous relationship and what it could be. As a huge nerd, it was very cool to see how Wonder Woman was originally written.

  2. I really want to see this movie! I don’t think I can think of any high profile hollywood films centring on queer polyamory?!

    also every time i read about the l word reboot and i re remember that it’s happening i get SO excited. i need more details on when it’s coming! i gotta mark it in my calendar and make sure that i’m #prepared

  3. This is very timely as I just watched that movie YESTERDAY

    I loved it and totally recognise the absence of male gaze that you don’t see ever from male directors (except maybe Todd Haynes)

    Also I had no idea she made DEBS that makes so much sense. I was just telling a friend after we watched the trailer for Disobedience and I said « I’m over queer women suffering because of their love. I’d rather rewatch DEBS instead »

  4. I saw this movie in theatres with the married couple that I date and it was so incredibly moving to see realities like mine on the big screen, and treated with such joy! Thank you for sharing this interview! (I own a copy already so I’m not commenting to win, just out of love)

  5. Ohmygosh I would so love to be able to watch this movie with my beautiful queer kinky polyam found fam pod. I was overwhelmed with caregiving for a disabled family member during it’s verrrry brief run in theatres around us and I kinda think my darlings didn’t go see it because they didn’t want me to feel left out — but we all are super heart-eyes at all the stills and things about it we’ve seen and ahhh this interview makes me even more HEART EYES YUS PLEASE :3

  6. I was so sorry I missed this film in the theaters! I’d read “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” and was so excited to see their story adapted and given new life in a movie. Also, I made my mother read the book, which meant that when I told her A-Camp might have a rope bondage workshop, she was like “ah, will it be Wonder Woman themed?”

  7. I can’t believe I didn’t watch this when it came out. I also can’t believe I didn’t know it was directed by Angela Robinson?! Whenever I start dating someone I have to show them D.E.B.S. (if they’ve never seen it) and it’s also v stressful because what if they don’t love my favorite campy queer film??

  8. I can’t wait till I can watch this movie – as someone figuring out I’m possibly a lot more poly than previously thought I have a feeling this movie might be very important to me…

  9. I’m really curious about this–I read two of the recent Moulton bios, which definitely felt like they had conflicting interpretations of parts of their relationship. I found myself mostly liking the women, and I wonder if this movie will make me like him more! I’m on the hold list at my library for it.

    • I just watched the movie last night, and similarly found myself mostly liking the women. Really really liking the women… I think the camera intentionally doesn’t linger on him as a main character/object of sympathy, although he is of course central to the story. Curious to hear what others think about this.

  10. You know, originally I wasn’t terribly interested in this film. But then I saw a trailer and realized they actually treated this as a poly relationship where all three partners are of equal standing and not just ‘a dude with a hot lesbian couple he gets to watch’ which is what it could have been were any other director handling it. I’m so glad to see this story in film though, I remember first reading about the history behind wonder woman and being ecstatic that this kind of relationship existed and thrived, and in the 1940s no less!

  11. I love this: “so I tell everybody to learn how to write, it’s a craft, and don’t let anyone tell you your stuff is bad because the concept of talent doesn’t exist.” It’s encouraging and inspiringing.

    I’ve been reluctant to see this film because of some things a friend who does a history podcast told me, but now I do want to see it for the story Robinson is telling.

  12. I’m a young queer trans woman. I’ve been out as trans for a little over two years now, and the being better understood and respected by my 60 year old parents has been an extensive but really encouraging process. I’m at a point where my mom truly sees me as her daughter, recognizes me as a lesbian, and is comfortable helping me with bras and makeup and all sorts of stuff, after always talking about being scared of trying to raise a daughter and lucky to have “two sons” when I was much younger.

    The nonbinary and poly parts of my identity are not aspects of myself I ever expect to talk with her about or that she’d especially understand, but when she saw the trailer for this movie and asked me about it, I had the opportunity to talk about a queer poly relationship entirely removed from my own social life, be clear in the healthy, positive, consent-based nature of it, and to hear my mother say she was okay with a relationship like that. This movie helped me to have that experience, to know that my mother can at least somewhat understand and accept poly identities and relationships, and that means a lot to me.

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