About two weeks ago, Warner Bros announced a slate of ten superhero films between now and 2020. (12 movies if you factor in the claim that there will be standalone Superman and Batman films in addition to that list.) This included the announcement of a solo-Wonder Woman movie coming in 2017. Though some outlets mistakenly called it the "first female superhero movie," that's not quite accurate. Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra would beg to differ. However, it IS the first female superhero movie of the modern superhero film era, so that counts for something.
Then yesterday, Marvel announced it's own slate of eleven superhero films between now and 2019. One of these also features a female superhero, but not Black Widow, as many might have expected. This one is Captain Marvel, who will arrive in 2018.
Of course, this has provoked the usual outcry that Marvel and Warners MUST hire a woman to direct both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. A few sites have even gone so far as to put together lists of their top choices. On one hand, I'm glad we're having this conversation. For one thing, the fact that most of the lists keep coming up with the same five or six women should tell you something about how few female directors there actually are out there. And even then, some of those lists are padded because they contain a candidate or two who's probably only a serious contender in the eyes of some very small circles on the internet.
Don't forget that Warners takes a very different approach to their tentpole directors than Marvel does. Marvel often seeks out less-experienced - and cheaper - feature directors. Warners tends to go with people who have climbed the ladder from modest budgeted to hugely budgeted films. These movies are going to probably go to guys with resumes approximating Zack Snyder's - solid genre work and solid relationships with the studio. Warners wouldn't have handed Man of Steel to the equivalent of 2008 Jon Favreau. This is why I think that we're probably more likely to see a woman helm Captain Marvel than Wonder Woman.
Let me say that I think both Warners and Marvel would be smart to seek out female writers not just for projects where the lead is female, but also for ANY projects. The same for female directors, though I realize we're working from a smaller pool, at least as it relates to female directors equipped to take on a $150 million dollar project. (The number of men who can dive into that scale of project isn't exactly huge either, and many a director has gotten eaten alive by that machine.)
But do I think a good Wonder Woman movie can ONLY be directed (or written) by a woman? No.
As a character, Wonder Woman has had a lot of men write her and only a couple women. Some really fantastic work has come from male writers dealing with her character. There's also been some really shitty work from male writers too (don't get me started on some of John Byrne's storylines.) As far as female writers, I read acclaimed author Jodi Picoult's brief run on the character and it... really wasn't good, showing that a great writer in one field might not see those skills translate to another character.
Look, I've sat through too many bad superhero movies to get pissy about who writes and directs it as long as it's good. I don't want another True Detective Season Two situation, though, and the way the internet's getting all activist-y over these films, I can see that happening.
See, a while back, the rumor was floated that True Detective would change gears for season two and focus on a female partnership. That was never officially stated (seriously - check this timeline of official news), but somehow people got it in their heads that this was a done deal. And then when Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell were announced as leads, the internet got really ugly. There were accusations of sexism, cries of betrayal and just general venom directed at the creators for "going back on their word." But that's just it. The all-female True Detective was never a promise that was made. It was the result of a game of telephone and wishful thinking. A creator should not be responsible for what the audience thinks they are entitled to.
THR has said - without quoting anyone - that Warners is "looking" for a woman to direct Wonder Woman. That's not any kind of official statement, nor does it mean that if a man gets the director's chair they're breaking some kind of promise. I'd like to hope that if the helmer ends up being, say Drew Goddard, the primary reaction won't be to tell Drew and Warner execs to rot in hell.
But here's the other possible outcome that occurred to me, and one I find far more intriguing. What happens if they go to everyone's number one choice, Kathryn Bigelow... and she passes?
In all of this "Hire THESE ladies, WB!" has anyone ever actually thought to ask those women what they want to do? Maybe they don't want to be stuck spending a year making a giant product that will be overseen by a host of studio executives second-guessing every decision. (And let's face it, that already happens to a number of male directors on these films, so odds are it will be at least as hard on the women.) And then there's the audience second-guessing every decision too. Some of that is just part and parcel of making a comic book movie and some of that is the inevitable microscope that the press is going to put any female director under in this situation.
So let's say Bigelow feels like she and Warners aren't on the same page with this project and she'd rather make another drawn-from-real-life feature. Her heart's not in Wonder Woman. But CAN she say no? We saw the internet turn on True Detective when it didn't provide that wish fulfillment. What happens if Bigelow says to Warners and the internet, "Thanks, but no thanks."
And then how bad does the reaction get when her passing opens the door for a candidate who happens to be male? Should Bieglow feel obligated to take the gig just because of the larger implications, that it's important for film history that this movie be directed by a woman? Should she take it just to show that a woman can handle these films just as well as a man?
Basically, I'm wondering if all this pressure being put on WB isn't also creating a situation where whichever woman ends up being leaked as the top studio choice (and let's be honest, this WILL leak as deals are being negotiated) is essentially drafted. A cynical person might assume that making a public offer to a woman is a PR move that will cover the studio in the event of a pass. They can say, "Well, we tried" and then feel cleared to hire 300: Rise of an Empire's Noam Murro. (Or maybe they go for the Wachowskis first, which lets them work with directors in the Warner stable and enact some sort of progressiveness with regard to inclusion.)
I would hate to see any director take that job out of obligation. If Green Lantern proved one thing it's that these movies really need a helmer who's passionate about the character. Martin Campbell is an excellent action director - so good he actually directed TWO reboots of James Bond, both of which were fantastic for different reasons. However, he didn't appear to connect to the Green Lantern character at all, even after being handed a script that was relatively true to the comic book elements that should have made it a solid performer. The result was a movie that was neither good for Campbell, nor Green Lantern, nor WB's comic book franchise.
If the best ideas - or at least, the ideas that the studio is going to be most supportive of - happen to walk through the door along with a penis, so be it. Here's what I might do if I was running a studio and the best director pitch on a female superhero movie came from a man: You find one of the truly talented female directors like Bigelow or Michelle MacLaren and go through their passion projects. Whatever it is, make sure it's something they're as invested in as James Cameron was for any of his. When you make the announcement, trumpet how much this is their project. You're not putting them on a franchise to baby sit. You're hiring a woman director to give you something different. Not be just be a shooter.
If you want to change things THAT's how you do it.
Back in the 70s, Spielberg almost directed Superman. Did you know that? The producers waited to see how "his fish movie [does.]" Big mistake. Or not... if Spielberg does Superman and Superman II (which were shot together), maybe he doesn't do Close Encounters. In fact, given the timeframe, he wouldn't have made Close Encounters until a few years later. And then what about Raiders of the Lost Ark?
And even Raiders came about because he wanted to do a James Bond. If Lucas got Flash Gordon, there'd be no Star Wars. What would you rather have had? A Spielberg James Bond and and Lucas Flash Gordon - or two new franchises that inspired so much more? Can you name anyone who directed a James Bond movie in the late 70s and 80s? Do you know who directed Flash Gordon or anything else they directed?
But you sure as hell know who created Star Wars and Indiana Jones, don't you?
So stop begging for women directors to be accepted in the "pre-existing IP" toybox. Why not make some noise so they can tell their own stories? And yeah, maybe that means that they get $60 million to play with instead of the $150 million through at these marketing juggernauts. But they'll get to make movies, their movies.
One way or another, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are going to get their own films, and that will make an impact, no matter what genitals the person calling "cut" and "action" has.
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