Mako Mori, Wonder Woman and Black Panther: Rules and Representation

young wonder woman

I’ve spent the last year reveling in the success of the Wonder Woman movie and eagerly anticipating the Black Panther premiere.

Both are huge signs and signals to Hollywood of what we know from cosplay already: that identity, representation and fan inclusion matter. 

As of November, the Wonder Woman movie became the highest grossing superhero origin story ever.  As of today, the film has made 891 million dollars. Almost a billion dollars!

But Black Panther, with it’s massive pre-sales numbers and kick-ass reviews may pass that mark. FANTASTIC.

Black panther kid

Kids. Men. Women. Black.White. Asian. Hispanic. All WANT to see detailed, well-rounded, heroic representations of themselves- as we all know from cosplay. That’s what cosplay has been doing for a long time: offering the chance for people to perform stronger, braver, more beautiful or more dangerous versions of themselves as a way of exploring identity.

That cosplay involves crossplay, gender-bending, mash-ups and other great creativity, however, is a sign that media producers don’t always provide to fans the images that they seek.

Cosplayers, as I’ve said before are both very creative and very savvy about finding ways to both express and represent themselves and also to recognize the figures, characters and ideas that they resonate with.

The kids above, rocking Wonder Woman and Black Panther cosplay, are just two examples.

As a fan and a cosplayer, I’m always impressed by the intelligence and creativity of sf/fantasy/comic fans and their costumes.

But as a scholar, I’m also impressed by the awareness and savvy that gives us the Mako Mori test. 

You may have heard of the Bechdel test, which asks us to consider representation of women in film. The rules are:

  1. is there more than one female character who has a name?
  2. Do the (at least) two women talk to each other…..
  3. …..about something other than a man?

If you stop and think about it, it’s a truly astounding amount of films that don’t pass this test. (And MOST sf/fantasy films don’t.)

In real life, women have identities and names, and they talk, all the time about things that are NOT men. Work, politics, film, whatever.

So this has been a rallying cry for years in an effort to get more women represented in film as both 1. important and not just decorative (that’s also the sexy lamp test. I’ll talk about that later) and also 2. interested in more than just romantic entanglements with men.

But of course the Bechdel test is designed as a guide, not a hard-and-fast up or down rule or vote. There are films that women find to be good representations of them and their aspirational selves, but that don’t pass the test.

Enter the Mako Mori test.

mako mori

Mako Mori is the protagonist of the sf film Pacific Rim.   She is, in fact, the hero of the film, and the film is arguably about her.

But….it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. There are only two women in the film, and they don’t talk to each other.  Doesn’t mean you can’t like it, but for a lot of folks, that was disappointing.

The thing is though that, especially for female fans of Asian descent, it’s really hard to fault a film that is really a coming-of-age/hero’s journey/chosen one tale about a woman.

Fans of color point out how vanishingly few representations there are of Asian women like this.

And so, the Mako Mori test was proposed in a conversation in Reddit by the user Chalia.

The Mako Mori test is:

  1. If the movie has at least one main female character
  2. …who gets her own narrative arc
  3. …and whose arc does not exist solely to support the male lead’s story

This allows a different perspective and appreciation for the film and the truly original and even transgressive stance of placing the woman’s arc in the center of the plot.


And this is at least as true for white men as anyone else. Look at the backlash against the strong women in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Men who had grown up visualizing themselves as pure Luke or Han-who-follows-no-orders were existentially troubled by a not-perfect Luke, and a rogue fighter pilot who gets scolded by female generals (and who is really ultimately responsible for all the rebels dying.)

I think it’s important to remember that kids (and adults) can see and visualize themselves as not just victims or assistants, not just girlfriends or servants (please see Spike Lee’s important “Super-duper magical negro” theory.)


African superheroes, Amazons who run and kick ass in their own nation, Asian robot drivers and Hispanic princess are all IMPORTANT in the dreams they help build, and foster and communicate.

And so are, still, Harry Potter, The Karate Kid and every superhero that the Chris collective plays (Starlord/Kirk/Thor, etc.)

Maybe next we can have representation of men being caring, emotional and collaborative.  Let’s devise a test for that!



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