Redrawing Gender Boundaries: How Wonder Woman Could Change Female Directorial Opportunities (Editorial)

Posted by on May 29, 2017 | 0 comments

Many of our readers know that I fight fiercely for the empowerment of women, not by diminishing men, but by arguing for the simple removal of artificial gender barriers like the glass ceiling and other cultural artifacts from the past.

Without these barriers, the best person will (or at least, has a chance to) win out.  While microbudget content creating can remove many of these barriers at our level, what happens when you move on to the next level, where more money is on the line?

The challenge is that, much like racism, gender bias is so built into our world that most of us don’t realize it’s there. (And it’s not just men doing it; women often continue the gender bias inadvertently even when they are in positions to change things.)

Despite the fact that women were responsible for developing most of the cooking over the ages, investigative site, The Nest, found that there are currently estimated to be fewer than 20% of world’s chefs that are women.

Tests in the '70's showed how a curtain could both reveal and disarm gender bias.

Tests in the ’70’s showed how a curtain could both reveal and disarm gender bias.

As shared by a piece in the Guardian, gender bias is so much a part of humans that it often takes shocking ways to root it out. In 1970, the top five orchestras in the U.S. had fewer than 5% women making up their ranks. However, when they began using blind auditions, in which the identity of the person playing was kept hidden from the hiring board, the number of women hired rose drastically. When they added carpet to muffle the weight and cadence of the footsteps, as well, the number went still higher.

With similar percentages to those 1970’s orchestras, the Hollywood Reporter has shown that just 7% of the top 250 films were awarded to female directors in Hollywood last year. (As the statistics at Women and Hollywood show, it’s actually worse than those early orchestras, because only 4% of the top 100 films were awarded to female directors.)

The Oscars, which prides itself on showcasing the truly creative and more artistic fare than the blockbusters, has nominated only four women in the Best Director category since its inception and only one has ever won. (In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director for her 2009 film, The Hurt Locker.)

Despite the fact that the MPAA shows that 52% of all moviegoers in 2016 were women, Hollywood has been very unwilling to seriously consider women to actually direct their most important films.

In fact, according to a piece in the Washington Post last year, of the 334 films with budgets of $100+ million that had been released since that budget barrier was broken by James Cameron with True Lies in 1994, only one film had been directed by a woman: 2002’s K-19: Widowmaker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

$100 million K-19: The Widowmaker is only the film directed by woman in this range before WW.

K-19: The Widowmaker with stars Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson was the only $100 million dollar film to be directed by a woman prior to Wonder Woman. (Photo owned by Paramount Pictures.)

Obviously, there’s simply no way to do a blind audition for directing a film, as it’s far too collaborative for that, but something’s got to change when less than 1/3 of 1% of these major films are being awarded to women. (Especially since studies of the differences between women and men show that women are superior at collaborative communication to their male counterparts, which is a huge part of successful filmmaking.)

Fortunately, it would seem that Hollywood is not quite as complex as we give it credit for, nor as antagonistic a villain as we might assume.

Film pundit John Campea (of Collider’s Movie Talk) has stated that:

“Hollywood is not an immoral place; it is simply amoral.”

He goes on to explain that Hollywood doesn’t care about making political or societal changes; it’s a business and the role of a business is to make money. If a film makes money, Hollywood tries to make more films like them. If a film makes a LOT of money, Hollywood tries to make a LOT more films like them! But if a film LOSES money, Hollywood avoids anything that reminds them of that film.

He goes so far as challenging fellow film fans to make sure they cast their vote for the type of films they want to see with their pocketbooks, especially on the opening weekends (when studios make the majority of the plans for what they’ll sequalize and what they’ll “copy” from others). Even if a film isn’t particularly good, if it’s headed in a direction you want Hollywood to head, buy a ticket and help more films head in that direction, as well.

Is this an oversimplification? Not really.

Over the last few decades, a handful of corporations have acquired all the movie studios in Hollywood and we now get many movie scoops leaked through shareholder meetings.

With this in mind, lets go back to Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: Widowmaker, the only $100 million film to be awarded to a woman before now. For a film to barely “break-even” with its advertising and PR costs, a $100 million film needs to make at least $150-$160 million. It’ll need to make $200 million to be considered barely profitable and at least $350 million to be considered successful enough to want to do more like it. So, how much did K-19 make in its 2002 release? According to Box Office Mojo, just $65.7 million worldwide!

Paramount (the studio that released the film) lost their shirts and, even though a Cold War submarine movie might not be the movie that folks wanted to see a year after 9/11 and even though lots of movies directed by men lose a lot more money (like Guy Richie’s recent King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword), Paramount and the other studios in Hollywood saw that the big difference in K-19 was that it was directed by a woman. Their takeaway was simple: “clearly women can’t direct big budget films that will be profitable.”

Jenkins' directing star, Gadot, in battle in Wonder Woman.

Patty Jenkins’ directing star, Gal Gadot, in only the second $100+ million film to be directed by a woman. (Photo owned by Warner Brothers Pictures.)

It won’t be for nearly 15 more years until another studio will finally gamble on a female director with a major budget again.

Warner Brothers’ chose Patty Jenkins to direct the upcoming film adaptation of Wonder Woman, with a projected budget of $120 million. Jenkins’ prior film, Monster, earned $60.2 million on an $8 million and dealt so well with strong conflicted female characters that it would allow Charlize Theron to earn her Best Actress Academy Award. As such, she was an absolutely perfect choice for this film. (Despite all the profitability and artistic merit Jenkins showed in her debut, Wonder Woman is the first films she’s been awarded to direct in the nearly 14 years since Monster came out in 2003.)

In addition to this being just the second $100+ million film to be directed by a woman, this will also be the first major comic book hero film to ever have a female lead. (I said major, so we’re not looking at 1995’s Tank Girl,1996’s Barb Wire, or 2004’s Batman-less abomination Catwoman—all of which tanked in the box office, it might be added.)

Surprisingly, DC/Warner Brothers–who’ve been consistently a few steps behind Marvel Studios/Disney in their cinematic universe development--ended up beating Marvel to the punch by nearly two years in comparison to the MCU’s Captain Marvel, which is announced for a 2019 release.

This is the time we have to make a statement if we want to see the abysmal record Hollywood has with female directors and female leads change! (The importance of the female led film can’t be stressed enough, either, especially in light of how Marvel has delayed making a female led super hero film despite the fan outcry for a Black Widow film and the star power of Scarlett Johnansson who led the $40 million budgeted film, Lucy, to tenfold $463 million payday worldwide.)

Marvel has been extremely reluctant to pull the trigger on a female led comic film.

Despite Scarlett Johansson’s box office clout that helped lead Lucy to 10 fold profit and Black Widow’s fan popularity, Marvel has been extremely reluctant to pull the trigger on a female led comic film. (Photo owned by Marvel Studios & Disney Pictures.)

Fortunately, we have a pretty amazing package to do it with, considering Patty Jenkins amazing directing debut with Monster.

The military trained Gal Gadot is a force of nature.

The military trained Gal Gadot is a force of nature. (Photo owned by Warner Brothers Pictures.)

The casting of Gal Gadot, with her Israeli military training coming through in her dynamic physicality, is awesome. Despite some critics apprehensions about her casting, I (and many other film pundits) felt like she stole the film from both Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck in last year’s Batman v Superman.

Gal Gadot arming up for battle as Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot arming up for battle as Wonder Woman. (Photo owned by Warner Brothers Pictures.)

Finally, although the character of Wonder Woman started in the 1940’s with a lot of dominatrix-inspired sexuality (and a body and outfit to match), this movie is much more inspired by 2011’s New 52 reboot of Wonder Woman, which features an athletic demigod (the half-human/half-god offspring of Zeus) who has enough mystic power at her disposal to fight Superman. With this much more physically powerful interpretation of Wonder Woman, we find someone who is sensual and confident, but not an objectifying cheesecake pinup on the nose cone of a B-52 Bomber. Gadot’s much more athletic build reinforces this modern inspiration, with her look, demeanor, and battle readiness showing that this is a character that was trained for battle by Ares, the God of War.

Jenkins chats with Gadot about an FX shot which will let her hurl a tank.

Collaborative communication, not physical stature, is what’s required in a successful director, which is an area that women are often far superior to men in. [Patty Jenkins featured as she chats with Gal Gadot about the green screen shot which will become Wonder Woman hurling a tank.] (Photo owned by Warner Brothers Pictures.)

Not only do all the pieces sound awesome, but I’m already hearing great things about the film from early reviewers before its upcoming June 1st release.

Wonder Woman Early Photo Release.

Wonder Woman Early Photo Release. (Photo owned by Warner Brothers Pictures.)

Regardless of your opinion on the nature of Hollywood itself, how you feel about DC Universe films of late, whether you liked the casting of Gadot, or what you think about Wonder Woman in general, if we want the larger entertainment world to get out of the dark ages as far as equal gender opportunities for larger budget storytelling, we need to support this film with our money, especially the opening weekend. (While decisions will be made in the first few weeks, that first weekend decides more for Hollywood’s future projects than you can possibly imagine.)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this film needs to crush at the box office if we want Hollywood to give more female directors a fair chance to make larger films (like Ava Duvernay’s announced, A Wrinkle in Time) and to make more female-centric films in general (like Joss Whedon’s announced, Batgirl).

Wonder Woman's Unite 2017 poster.

Wonder Woman’s Unite 2017 poster. (Image owned by Warner Brothers Pictures.)

One of the tag lines they’ve chosen for Wonder Woman is: UNITE 2017. I highly agree that we need to unite as people in this time and things actually change in this area.

Earlier this month, Deadline stated that Wonder Woman was anticipated to have a $65 million dollar opening weekend for its June 2nd, 2017 release, which is $30 million lower for one of the most iconic female heroines in comic books than 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy opened to (a film which comprised of virtually unknown heroes to the viewing public prior to its release). We’ve got to blow away these opening weekend projections and, even after that weekend, we need to go back and repeat view this film to make our statement.

With a $120 million dollar budget, Wonder Woman won’t break even until $200 million and to be seen as a huge success, it really needs to break $500 milliion. However, if the film were to break a billion, it would be only the second DC film to ever do so (after 2008’s The Dark Knight) and it would make a major statement about the viability of both female led and female directed films to the studio system.

I encourage anyone reading this to take your friends to see this on the opening weekend in whatever country, territory, or state you live in and, if you have a little extra money, maybe buy a few extra tickets to give to friends who can’t afford to go. (In the United States, the release date is officially June 2nd, but it’s actually releasing on June 1st. The majority of other countries will have a release between May 30th and June 15th.)

Prepurchasing tickets not only allows you to feel less harried when you go to the theater, but pre-sales are starting to be taken more into account for studio pre-planning.

Right now, Fandango is running a limited time special where each person that pre-purchases Wonder Woman tickets with their free Fandango VIP account will get a set of three digital Wonder Woman comics: Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 (2016); Legend of Wonder Woman #1 (2015); and Wonder Woman #11 (2006).
And for those of you wondering if MFM is part of some sort of DC grassroots marketing campaign, I can assure you that we’re not. We’re not getting any kickbacks from DC, Fandango, or anyone else; we didn’t even get free press screenings because of how far we are from the major cities in the U.S. We just want to make it simple for everyone to understand why it’s important to support a film like this (which is, frankly, long overdue) and make it as easy to get tickets as possible.

After you get your tickets, check out this interview that Jon Schnepp did with Nicola Scott, an inspirational content creator who went from an office job at the age of 30 to becoming one of the main artists for the Wonder Woman comics in the last decade.

Scott shows how powerful women can be through her incredible story and puts an even more personal take on the importance of this film as she tells about one interaction she had with a female comic fan.

Special thanks to the folks who helped inspire and give me a starting place for the research for this article:
Nicola Scott and the folks at Collider & Shmoes Know, specifically: Jon Schnepp, John Rocha, John Campea, and Emma Fyffe.


This editorial is cross-printed in collaboration
with our friends at DarkestGoth Magazine.

The director of two feature length films and half a dozen short films, Jeremy Hanke founded MicroFilmmaker Magazine to help all no-budget filmmakers make better films. The second edition of his well-received book on low-budget special effects techniques, GreenScreen Made Easy, (which he co-wrote with Michele Yamazaki) is being released by MWP in fall 2016. He's curently working on the sci-fi collaborative community, World of Depleted, and directed the debut action short in this series, Depleted: Day 419 .

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