'Professor Marston' Director on Finding the True Story of Wonder Woman's Creator (Guest Column)
Writer-director Angela Robinson's film Professor Marston & the Wonder Women tells the story of the relationship between Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and grad student Olive Byrne. It's been well established that William had an extramarital relationship with Byrne, but as Robinson got into researching the story, she found evidence that all three had a relationship. While a number of Wonder Woman scholars have also agreed with this point, the Marston's granddaughter Christie Marston has publicly disputed the idea that Elizabeth Marston and Byrne had a romantic relationship (you can read her thoughts here). In the guest column below, Robinson explains why she feels it was important to tell the love story the way that she did.
I spent eight years bringing Professor Marston and the Wonder Women to the screen. The film is about the man who created Wonder Woman and the two women in his life that inspired one of the most iconic, incredible superheroes of our time. When I first learned of the story, it looked like it was a story of a man who had a wife and a mistress. Then I came across this one core sentence… "Olive and Elizabeth lived together for 38 years after Marston died." That was the moment I realized I was writing a love story. Three people came together and formed a family. Marston drew inspiration out of his beautiful, complicated life.
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My film is based on a true story. I conducted firsthand research for the film. I’ve read everything there is to read on the subject, including all of William Moulton Marston’s writings. There are some known facts about Marston and his family. But like any work based on history, I took creative license to best tell the story from my own personal understanding and point of view.
I very much understand if the Marston family, friends or fans have issues with the liberties I took to craft this film. That is fair game. But I am alarmed that some of the intense focus of criticism is around my portrayal of Olive and Elizabeth as bisexual and their relationship with William Moulton Marston as polyamorous. I did not arrive at that conclusion in a vacuum. It is not “wishful thinking.” There is ample evidence to support this interpretation, and many Wonder Woman scholars agree with me. As Noah Bertlatsky, writes in his article on my film: “Why have people been so reticent about acknowledging that Elizabeth and Olive were lovers, when Elizabeth and Olive were obviously lovers? In her 1990 book The Epistemology of the Closet, 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. "At this very moment, issues of silence and shame are at the forefront of our cultural discussion and it’s important to look at how silencing happens, despite how good-intentioned the motives are behind the silencing." The character of Wonder Woman has been whitewashed at many points throughout her history, and from my vantage, there has been a systematic “whitewashing” of the Marstons’ queerness.
I made several attempts to contact Marston’s granddaughter, Christie Marston, both directly and through intermediaries, to screen the film and discuss it before it was released in theaters. She did not respond to my efforts to connect and to my knowledge has not seen the film. I have a lot of compassion for the family because it must be alienating to see people you love depicted onscreen, but I proudly stand by my interpretation. Professor Marston & The Wonder Women portrays the Marstons and Olive Byrne with dignity, compassion and respect. I hope at some point Christie Marston will come to understand these intentions.
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