Hollywood’s Wonder Woman

I’m spending the summer in Vienna and therefore had to wait until June 15 to see Wonder Woman. That evening, I stood in a tiny English theater on the famous Neubaugasse strip, my claustrophobia going into overdrive as I was crushed by the 200-some anticipating viewers awaiting access into the screening. We didn’t all speak the same language, but it didn’t matter. Our excitement was a universal tongue.

The crowd was one giant sea of Wonder Woman gear, ranging from comic book T-shirts to Lynda Carter capes and tiaras. To my great surprise, the gender balance was almost perfectly equal, perhaps proving that—while Wonder Woman’s empowerment of women cannot go unnoticed—our beloved heroine doesn’t make her love and influence exclusive to anyone truly good at heart.

As for the film itself, coming from someone who has been a comic book fan since early childhood, I can fairly say it may be one of the best superhero movies ever made, in the same league as The Dark Knight, X2 and even The Incredibles. In fact, its influence is creating not ripples, but tsunamis. Within its opening weekend, Wonder Woman deflected the bullets of male boycotters and smashed the box office glass ceiling with $100.5 million, the highest-grossing kick-start in film herstory.

For any director to achieve these feats, regardless of gender, is incredible. But for a woman to do so is a prayer answered. And Patty Jenkins is one hell of a director, though to call her one at all seems almost undermining.

Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons

Even by standard directors, Jenkins is a totally new brand of dynamic. While most directors will sit in the background and call shots—sometimes not even in the same room as their actors—Jenkins will run around set, demonstrating the kind of blocking and emotion she’s looking for in the scene. Like Kathryn Bigelow, director of Academy-loved movies like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, before her, she is willing to make her job as hard or easy as it needs to be in order to get the film she wants.

Wonder Woman plays less like a movie and more like a symphony, and Jenkins is that fierce, Wagner-esque conductor at the very center of it all. When she said “laugh,” we laughed. When she ordered us to gasp, we gasped. When she wanted us to scream or cry—or vainly pretend as men that we were doing neither—we followed suit perfectly on cue.

What was the reward of hiring on a woman to direct not only a comic book movie, but an adaptation of the most empowering female character in all of fiction? Well, despite the fact that Jenkins’s résumé is smaller than a grocery list, her only other feature being the Oscar-nominated Monster in 2003, she is now already being compared to the likes of Christopher Nolan, the Russo brothers and Bryan Singer. That’s girl power. And what more could you ask?

Ever since I became introduced to the character, I craved for a Wonder Woman movie. For the past nine years, Hollywood somehow had the mentality that they could profit more off obscure comic-book characters like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, as much as I love both, than one of the most recognizable heroines in the superverse. We had to bear the painfully mediocre drudgery of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice–where Wonder Woman gets roughly seven minutes of screen-time–before DC Comics would reward us with this movie.

Hollywood still likes to cling onto the age-old mentality that women-led films are unable to generate a profit, completely ignoring the millions of young and old women who dedicate themselves to action and comic book movies. But they’ve grown tired of their main representation being doe-eyed romantics hopelessly searching for a man. If us men can keep getting more John McClanes, James Bonds and Mad Maxes, then why can’t women have more Ripleys, Brides and Xenas?

Unfortunately, one of the main blockades for more representation in front of the camera is the lack of representation behind it. The last woman director to receive as much recognition as Jenkins is Sofia Coppola after releasing Lost in Translation, and even most of that was just bitterness and criticism for “ruining The Godfather trilogy” for her performance in the third installment almost 14 years prior. Take notes, ladies. If you screw up once, then everything you do after—even if it’s as perfect and beautiful as Coppola’s entire filmography—will be discredited. But I guess you already got a hint of that from the election.

Two women filmmakers who understand this are executive producer Nancy Crump and writer/director Emelie Flower. Crump recently produced the 2017 fantasy film The Storyteller, directed and co-written by her husband Joe. For the film, she also worked on production design and even wrote lyrics for the two original songs featured in the film. She also has experience in the past as a script analysist and a make-up artist. Flower, very much like Jenkins, is also delving into the superhero genre with her films. She has even made her own cinematic universe, entitled Vanguard, for which she has made a series of short films.

From working in the business for so long, Crump said she recognizes that studios find it easier to maintain a certain pattern that continues to make profits, and for more than a century, that pattern has primarily excluded female filmmakers. “Women and other minorities have been caught in that catch-22 of nobody being willing to give you a chance until you already have done something, but you can’t do something until someone gives you a chance,” she says.

Flower also has seen this in her own way. A few years ago, she was working on the sales floor of the National Association of Broadcasters promoting a major camera company’s latest product. The CEO of a production company, the name of which she wouldn’t disclose, came up to her and told her that a woman was incapable of doing her job. Yet there she was, a woman indeed doing her job. “We still have people telling us we can’t do what we’re doing,” she told Ms., “while we’re already doing it.”

It’s not like women haven’t been successful in the past. Filmmakers like Lois Weber, Marion E. Wong and Fatma Begum practically led the silent film era from the 1890s to the late 1920s, and some of the most talented film editors in history were women, such as Thelma Schoonmaker and Verna “Mother Cutter” Fields. As for female screenwriters, Melissa Mathison and Leigh Brackett each played monumental roles in the writing of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, respectively. Even today, there’s Kelly Reichardt, Ana Lily Amirpour, Ava DuVernay and Catherine Hardwicke, all managing to find considerably large audiences for their films. Former actresses like Angelina Jolie and Jodie Foster also found success behind the camera.

June was especially remarkable for the representation of women, both as filmmakers and performers. A total of five female-directed films were released before the beginning of July: Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Megan Leavey, Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, Coppola’s The Beguiled and, of course, Jekins’s Wonder Woman. I have seen three of these thus far–The Bad Batch, The Beguiled and, of course, Wonder Woman–and can confirm that they are easily the most unique and captivating movies of the year so far.

Both Crump and Flower are celebrating this immense success, but it seems odd to celebrate something that should have just been normal by this point. We shouldn’t judge the greatness of a film based on which gender crafts it. Film shouldn’t have to be a battle of the sexes, yet Hollywood so far has given women no other choice, at least for the meantime. As Flower observes: “With all the mainstream praise, I think it can easily get misconstrued, in the sense that women are being celebrated for being women, and not for being the artists that they are. At the end of the day, it’s about both. If a woman has made a great film, it’s because she was a great filmmaker.”

Without celebration, the victories will only seem pointless. Many women feel discouraged from pursuing a film career because they simply don’t seem them represented and idolized in the same way the media has done for so many years with successful male directors. We can only hope that Jenkins’ tremendous success, and the matriarchy of June theaters, will open the flood gates and bring more brilliant women writers, directors, producers and more to the limelight.

Flower has hope for the future of her business. “Women are stepping up to the plate and lifting up other women with them,” she says. “We’re not taking no for an answer. We’re sharing out visions and our perspectives, and we’re doing a damn good job of it. I truly believe Hollywood is taking notice. We’re making big steps in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.”

All women, regardless of their profession, should live like the Amazons of Themyscira—not against each other, but together, to bring peace, love and power to the rest of the world for many years to come. There have been enough boy wonders in Hollywood—let’s hope this time around, they finally embrace their Wonder Women.

 

 

About

Austin Faulds is a student studying journalism at the Indiana University and a feminist-fueled filmmaker. Coffee, cats and punk rock are some of his favorite things.