Wonder Woman has been a huge influence on movies this year. The comic book film from the DC Comics world, and released by major studio Warner Brothers, has made over a staggering $400 million domestically.
By contrast, writer/director Angela Robinson has been working on an origins story of her own about the creator of the original Wonder Woman comic.
“I’ve been working on this movie for eight years. It was four years researching and writing it in between other jobs. And about four years to get it made,” Robinson tells Free Press Houston during an interview at the film’s American premiere during the recent Fantastic Fest in Austin.
“It’s funny to me because everybody’s complimenting me on my exquisite timing to have my film come out in the wake of Wonder Woman’s global success. There’s definitely a Wonder Woman moment happening right now but I didn’t plan it that way,” she says.
Financing for Professor Marston and the Wonder Women came through last August from Stage 6 Films, and the film is distributed domestically through Annapurna.
When Robinson had finished directing her first feature, D.E.B.S., one of the stars, Jordana Brewster, gave her a book on Wonder Woman’s history.
“There was a chapter in that book on the Marstons and I couldn’t believe it. They invented the lie detector test, their open relationship, DISC theory, and the controversies when Wonder Woman first appeared. I was blown away by the story and that nobody knew about it,” says Robinson, who herself was a Wonder Woman nerd while growing up.
Like Superman, who first appeared in Action Comics, Wonder Woman originally appeared in All Star Comics and then Sensation Comics before getting her own stand alone title.
“The early comic book business was really fly by night,” Robinson explains. “Companies kept buying each other. Wonder Woman got her own title in 1941.”
“The comic book phenomena was the biggest publishing phenomena since The Bible. It’s like apps are now, one day you had no apps and the next day there were a ton of apps,” says Robinson. “Then there was a huge backlash to the comics, all these decency commissions and churches started burning comic books.”
William Moulton Marston (Lee Evans) and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) were in the psychology department program at Harvard in the early 1920s. Elizabeth was actually at nearby Radcliffe, which was Harvard’s college for women.
In addition to inventing an early version of the lie detector test, the couple lived an unconventional lifestyle, living at times openly with one of their grad students Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcoate). Byrne herself was unorthodox. Byrnes aunt Margaret Sanger founded what is now called Planned Parenthood. Marston fathered children with both women.
“Marston got turfed out of a bunch of universities. I collapsed his career for the purposes of the storytelling,” she says. “He taught at Radcliffe and Tufts and Columbia. He worked at several schools then could no longer get a job as an academic.”
It was at this point that Marston started writing what would become the Wonder Woman comic book series. Marston incorporated elements from his career such as the Wonder Woman’s rope of truth, itself taken from the polygraph band used around the chest for lie detector machines.
Another one of Marston’s academic principles, DISC Theory (dominance, inducement, submission, compliance) also found its way into the themes and plots of Wonder Woman.
“My goal was to always tell a simple and organic love story. I didn’t want to shy away from the sexuality of the story. But to me, the dialectic of the movie was between fantasy and reality,” notes Robinson. “To me, the lovemaking sequences are about the freedom they find in the fantasy.”
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women opens at area theaters this weekend.