The Complex Gender Politics of “Wonder Woman”

Can Patty Jenkins make the superhero world safe for female directors? Warner Bros. gambles $150 million on its first woman-centered comic book movie with a filmmaker whose only prior big-screen credit was an $8 million indie: “I can’t take on the history of 50 percent of the population just because I’m a woman.”

Patty Jenkins is sipping some sort of healthy soup-like sludge at a restaurant in Burbank called Olive & Thyme. Dressed in black jeans and a white tank top, with a pair of aviator sunglasses perched on her forehead to keep her straight black hair from falling into her brown eyes, she looks like a grad student taking a break between classes. You’d never guess that this petite woman drinking green gunk is actually the most important female film director in the business today. She doesn’t think so, of course.

“I can’t take on the history of 50 percent of the population just because I’m a woman,” says Jenkins, bristling when asked about the heavy responsibility of directing Wonder Woman, the most expensive film ever shot by a person with two XX chromosomes (its $150 million budget surpasses Kathryn Bigelow’s $100 million K-19: The Widowmaker). “I’m just trying to make the greatest version of Wonder Woman that I can for the people who love the character as much as I do and hope that the movie lives up to all the pressure that’s on it.”

And that pressure is superhuman, to be sure. When the biggest female-centered comic book movie ever premiered at the Pantages Theatre in L.A. on May 25 (it goes wide June 2), it was Jenkins’ name leading the credits. That would be nerve-wracking enough even for a director with lots of experience working on big-budget superhero movies. But aside from the pilot of AMC’s The Killing and occasional gigs on other high-profile TV shows — shooting episodes of Arrested Development and a couple for Entourage — Jenkins’ biggest accomplishment (indeed, her only big-screen feature) was 2003’s Monster, the indie drama about a female serial killer that earned critical raves and Charlize Theron a best actress Oscar.

Hiring Jenkins, 45 — who had come close to directing a superhero movie before, the 2013 Thor sequel, but ended up backing out — was obviously a big gamble for Warner Bros., a studio that has been having creative if not necessarily financial issues with its superhero franchise films ever since the Dark Knight trilogy. But her taking the helm of Wonder Woman is also a big deal for pretty much every female director in Hollywood with tentpole ambitions. If Wonder Woman is a hit, then doors that have been kept shut for decades could potentially swing open (they are already, at least a crack, with Gina Prince-Bythewood just getting hired to direct Sony’s Spider-Man spinoff Silver & Black). If, on the other hand, Wonder Woman turns out to be another Catwoman, the superhero universe could remain a boys club for eons to come.

“That’s the challenge — how to tell a story of a woman and make it universal,” says Gal Gadot, the 32-year-old Israeli actress who stars as the Amazonian princess with bullet-deflecting bracelets. “We are all used to having male protagonists in movies [directed by men]. But the way Patty has captured the Wonder Woman character, she is very relatable to everyone. Boy, girl, man, woman — everyone can relate to her.”

Read more at The Hollywood Reporter.