Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

October 17, 2017

Professor Marston's opening weekend, and facts it gets wrong and right

Moose and I saw Professor Marston and the Wonder Women — and yes by damn, it's the loveliest, most down to earth, most kind and moving representation of a polyfamily ever to appear on screen as far as I know. All those mainstream reviews I've been posting here? It's at least as good as they led us to expect.

Polyfolks are telling of literally crying at finally seeing such a straightforward representation of what they're about. (For instance, a thread on reddit/r/polyamory.)

But when we saw the movie late Thursday night at a suburban multiplex, we and a group of three were the only people in the seats. Other folks tell of poor attendance where they saw it. The box office from opening weekend was disappointing, even for an arty indie biopic, at $736,883. Further proof that good reviews (which were predicted to result in a $2-$3 million opening weekend) don't mean good attendance.

Folks, word of mouth is king. Get the word out — to your friends, Facebook and Twitter networks, on your blogs and podcasts. And if you haven't seen it yourself, do so ASAP both to support it and to catch it on the big screen in case it closes early. Facebook page. Theaters, times, tickets.


Another thing that's come up is that the granddaughter of William and Elizabeth, Christie Marston, is on a campaign against the movie and its director for jiggering details of history for the sake of story. Which like all biopics, it does. Though I don't think a movie "based on the true story of," such as this, should ever be billed as "the true story of," which in a number of particulars it's not. Some of its marketing said it is.

But Christie seems most upset that the movie portrays Elizabeth and Olive as being in a bisexual relationship — which they apparently were, as Noah Berlatsky makes clear again in an article yesterday in The Verge (see below.) Christie Marston, now elderly, was not yet born at the time of the events. She was close to her grandmother in adulthood (Elizabeth lived to 100), but her grandmother did not talk to her about her sex life. Though she did say elsewhere, of those early days in the household, that there was "lovemaking for all." Christie seems to say that descendants have a right to prevent upsetting portrayals of their forebears, even when there's persuasive evidence.

Berlatsky, who has researched and written about Wonder Women's origins for years, cuts to the chase (spoilers ahead):

The crucial thing the new Wonder Woman movie gets right about the character’s history

Historians are reluctant to admit how a long-term polygamous relationship formed Wonder Woman, but Professor Marston and the Wonder Women dives in without shame.

Like most based-on-a-true-story biographical films, Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is only loosely connected to actual events. Psychology professor William Moulton Marston (played by Luke Evans in the film) did create the comic book character Wonder Woman, and he did live in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall) and their grad student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). Everything else in the movie, though, is up for grabs.

Robinson frames her film around the explicit war against Marston’s life and work. But in spite of complaints about the bondage in the Wonder Woman comics, Marston was never seriously threatened with being fired from the title he created. The comics sold too well, and he was too skilled at defending his work. In spite of the sultry lie detector scenes in the film, the lie detector Marston created never worked [well, only a bit --Ed.] and certainly wasn’t instrumental in getting William, Elizabeth, and Olive to declare their feelings for each other. So far as anyone knows, no neighbor ever wandered into the Marston household and found Marston, Elizabeth, and Olive having kinky costumed sex. William and Elizabeth didn’t subsequently split up with Olive, even temporarily. And as the photos over the closing credits prove, Elizabeth, Olive, and William did not look anything like glamorous movie stars.

But the movie depicts one important thing accurately: Elizabeth and Olive were bisexual. They didn’t just have separate sexual relationships with William. They had a sexual relationship with each other.

This doesn’t seem like it should be a controversial point. As the film notes, Elizabeth and Olive named their children after each other. After William died in 1947, the two women lived together for almost 40 years.

And there’s substantial evidence that the Marstons were aware of lesbian relationships and approved of them. Marston wrote extensively about female-on-female attraction in his scholarly work, going so far as to discuss the mechanics of tribadism and female oral sex. He presented lesbian sex as normal and healthy, and even suggested that half of all women were lesbians. Olive helped him research sorority initiation rituals; they concluded that the rituals were sites of intense same-sex eroticism. In one passage in his academic work, Marston describes two women making love in front of him. It isn’t difficult to figure out who those women were.

DC Comics
And this isn’t even getting into Marston’s erotic novel about Julius Caesar in which he describes lesbianism as “perfect,” nor the Wonder Woman comics, in which women tie each other up, spank each other, and dress up as deer in order to mime eating one another. Marston was an enthusiastic lesbophiliac who lived with two women in a polyamorous relationship. People have to be really committed to not seeing the obvious to not see the obvious. Yet, despite all of this, scholars and fans have still been remarkably reluctant to acknowledge that Elizabeth and Olive were lovers.

The Marston family’s polyamory was probably first discussed publicly by Les Daniels in his Complete History of Wonder Woman in 2004. ... Jill Lepore’s recent wildly popular Marston biography, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, includes accounts of naked feminist New Age sex parties.

...Why have people been so reticent about acknowledging that Elizabeth and Olive were lovers, when Elizabeth and Olive were obviously lovers? In 1990’s The Epistemology of the Close, Eve Sedgwick argues that the refusal to admit that figures in the past were gay is part of the way the dominant culture represses and denies homosexuality. Sedgwick says scholarship and history respond to gay people in the past by commanding, “Don’t ask. Or, less laconically: You shouldn’t know.” Because of stigma, queer people had to hide — and then historians use their lack of clear visibility as false proof that they didn’t exist. ...

The assumption behind this sort of high barrier to belief is that there’s something shameful about same-sex attraction. In the case of the Marstons, bisexuality is somehow even more verboten than polyamory. That attitude isn’t just homophobic, it’s also a betrayal of Marston’s entire life’s work. In his scholarly writing and his comics, Marston insistently, deliberately portrayed lesbianism as normal and good. He encouraged children to see diverse erotic possibilities as fun, enjoyable, and exciting, not shameful or dangerous. And he insisted that women were powerful, loving, and in control of their own desires.

...Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is really more about Elizabeth and Olive’s love than it is about Marston, and that’s a choice Marston himself would have strongly approved of. We don’t know that Marston lost his job because of his polyamory, as the movie claims, nor is there evidence that the family’s neighbors shunned them. But the fact that Elizabeth and Olive’s relationship has been denied for so long suggests the effect homophobia and the need for secrecy had on their lives. Director Angela Robinson, a lesbian herself, opens the closet door, and presents the love of William, Olive, and Elizabeth, not as shameful, but as courageous and beautiful. Inevitably, the film gets a lot wrong, but it does get that much right.

Noah Berlatsky is the author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics [2014].

Read the whole article (October 16, 2017).

She started out not just heroic but whimsical, playful, and weird.

P.S.: As if to make Berlatsky's point, The Catholic News Service instructs Catholics to avert their eyes from the movie (Oct. 13).

Lots more news and reviews since my last Google News link. (This link is for October 15th onward).


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw it Sunday evening in NYC. Loved it. Fairly small theater in art house about half full. Definitely less shows available this week than last week.

October 22, 2017 11:57 PM  

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