Fanboys and feminists cheered in unison as Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins officially signed on to direct the film’s sequel. Much of the summer, fans have been cheering on the success of Wonder Woman, the highest grossing film directed by a female director to date. Variety and other news outlets ran headlines like "Success of ‘Wonder Woman’ Could Pave Way for More Female Directors". So has Wonder Woman’s success actually expanded opportunities for female directors in Hollywood? Evidently, it hasn’t.
DC Comics was lauded for taking a “risk” with an indie director for Wonder Woman, even though relative unknowns have recently directed other franchise films, like Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow), Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts), and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson). But instead of continuing to support female filmmakers after the success of Wonder Woman, DC Comics has selected two male directors for both of their upcoming female led films, both of whom have histories of sexism as filmmakers.
Suicide Squad director David Ayers has hinted at his involvement in the upcoming Gotham City Sirens, based on the two iconic female Batman villains Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Despite the abject failure of Suicide Squad, which was crucified by critics and comic book fans alike, he was given a second chance at directing a DC film, and one that features two of the DC Universe’s strongest female characters who are also lesbian lovers in some iterations of the story. .
It’s unlikely that we can we expect Ayers to have the tact to explore such nuanced characters. He failed to explore any deeper character dynamics in Suicide Squad, and particularly failed the relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn. In Suicide Squad, they were portrayed like Bonnie and Clyde, widely ignoring the fact that their relationship was intended as an exploration of domestic violence and abusive relationship. Ayers drew heavy criticism for oversexualizing Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, which seems to contain more scenes objectifying Harley Quinn’s breasts and butts than those explaining her obsession with the Joker.
DC has also announced Joss Whedon as the director of Batgirl in 2019. Whedon’s film credits include The Avengers franchise, but he is perhaps best known as the creator of Buffy, a seminal television show known for its independent and strong female lead. Whedon himself is a self-proclaimed feminist who claims to advocate for stronger roles for women on screen, but that doesn’t mean his feminist credentials are secure.
Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, published a scathing statement in August calling him a "hypocrite preaching feminist ideals." Cole says that despite Whedon’s proclaimed feminism, Whedon told her "I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women," and therefore unable to resist the women on set, while describing his experience on the set of Buffy. Whedon’s Wonder Woman script from 2006, which he intended to write and direct, also drew criticism from some feminists when it leaked earlier this summer. Whedon’s leaked original Wonder Woman script, albeit ten years old, centers the character’s love interest, Steve Trevor, dictating who Diana should be without ever exploring her character. Not to mention that she evidently confronts villains by distracting them with "sensual" dances. Despite this recent backlash to Whedon’s proclaimed feminism, DC still saw fit to let him direct the next woman-led film in the DC Universe.
DC still fares better than most other major studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is 16 films in, and has yet to produce a single woman-led film. Instead, female characters have been relegated to the periphery, and only 9 MCU films pass the Bechdel test. It won’t be until 2019 when Ms. Marvel becomes the first lead female superhero, and co-director Anna It becomes the first female director in the entire MCU.
Speaking of Disney properties, LucasFilm has also fallen short of its promises regarding female directors for the Star Wars franchise. LucasFilm made a big splash in 2015, when CEO Kathleen Kennedy emphasized the studio's plans to hire a female director for the next Star Wars. Despite these promises, Star Wars IX was then given to Colin Treverrow, best known as the director of Jurassic World, and for his comments suggesting female filmmakers just weren't interested in films with "superheroes or spaceships or dinosaurs". Treverrow was fired from Star Wars earlier this month, only to be replaced by sci-fi veteran J.J. Abrams. Despite LucasFilm’s early assertions about getting women directors behind the camera of a Star Wars film, LucasFilms CEO Kathleen Kennedy now says a woman director will come “when the time is right.”
Hollywood is not only willing to “gamble” on male directors for major projects, but even give them second and third chances. But it’s considered risky when women directors like Patty Jenkins are offered the same franchise projects. Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and many others are considered some of the most iconic and complex characters in comics history, and it is important to not just have women in front of the camera for these projects, but also behind their production. People who can fully grasp their nuances and relate them to audiences should tell their stories. And who could better relate to the challenges of working in a male dominated environment than a female director? We cannot keep applauding the strides Wonder Woman has made for the superhero genre when recent directorial choices seem to have taken the genre a step backward.