What do William Moulton—a psychologist, Harvard professor, and inventor of the lie detector test—and Rihanna, queen of everything, have in common? Though separated by nearly 100 years, they both brought the taboo topic of S&M (sado-masochism for those who still haven’t seen, read about, or heard of Christian Grey) into mainstream American pop culture: RihRih by way of literally singing its praises, and Marston by littering his comic Wonder Woman with references to bondage and female domination.
Now Marston’s story is coming to the big screen, in an adaptation of Jill Lepore‘s engrossing nonfiction book The Secret History of Wonder Woman. The professor is played by Certified Hottie Luke Evans; the always excellent Rebecca Hall plays his wife Elizabeth “Sadie” Holloway, and Bella Heathcote is his student and eventual mistress Olive Byrne (niece of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger).
Now, we all know that movies “based on a true story” often take significant liberties with their source material, but after weeks of reading Lepore’s book and looking at pictures of the jovial and pudgy Professor Marston, I almost laughed out loud when I saw the dashing Evans in the trailer. The book and Marston’s story definitely got a classic Hollywood treatment, made sexier and shinier: the trailer features a steamy kiss between Hall and Heathcote, and dramatic shots of Heathcoate in a tiny Wonder Woman costume. But with an excellent cast that also includes Connie Britton as editor Josette Frank, there’s potential for this to be a pretty great film—although I am curious to see if less glamorous details of the trio’s life will be included, such as the fact that Byrne never got her Ph.D. because she had to take care of Holloway and Marston’s child.
“Women have twice the emotional development, the ability for love, than man has. As they develop as much ability for worldly success as they already have ability for love, they will clearly come to rule business and the nation and the world.”
— William Moulton Marston, The Washington Post
I’m also interested to see how deeply the film will dive into the feminist themes of Marston’s work. Marston, Holloway, and Byrne were all heavily involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and he would eventually argue that Wonder Woman’s frequent chains were a representation of female oppression (although it could also be argued that her bonds belied his noted preference for S&M).
The film comes out Friday, October 13, and if nothing else, it looks to be a gorgeously filmed period piece that will allow us to escape from our garbage fire reality for one hour and 48 minutes. And there’s still a chance that it could provide timely commentary how much—and how little—has changed for women and their rights since the early 20th century.