Given the political climate, it’s easy to view a “Wonder Woman” film in the year 2017 having more cultural significance than it might have in other years.
Yet “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins admitted she’s not sure how the current environment — a time of massive demonstrations like January’s Women’s March and general unease about the future of women’s rights — will affect reception of the film, the first live-action feature starring a character widely known as a feminist icon. In a press event in London attended by CBR last week, Jenkins said that until recently, she’s felt mostly sheltered from the reality of gender inequality.
“Interestingly, this has been a contentious time about this issue to my great surprise, regardless of who had won the election,” Jenkins told reporters. “I was just talking about this issue — I was raised by a very feminist single mother. But for whatever reason, I was totally shielded from the reality that it wasn’t over a long time ago. Coming into my career, I was kind of like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ and I think we’re in this very interesting time where these issues have been around for a long time, but a lot of different people are saying, ‘Actually, not much has changed, for all of us.’ I think it’s a hotbed topic, regardless.”
In the footage shown to press, Wonder Woman arrives on the shores of World War I-era London, having spent all of her life up to that point in Themyscira — a paradise island inhabited by only women. Immediately, onlookers are shocked by her relatively revealing battle costume. Jenkins said that Wonder Woman is “completely confused” by the sexism she encounters in “man’s world,” because she has no context for it.
“It’s interesting and it ends up being funny because the sexism comes to the fore, because she’s walking into 1918 and she’s completely oblivious,” Jenkins said. “‘This is what you wear to battle, right?’ She just keeps being completely confused. She would never know about it. So there ends up being accidental comments about it, but I also went into it not making a movie about a woman at all. I’m making a movie about Wonder Woman, who I love, and to me is one of the great superheroes. I just treated her like a universal character, and that’s what I think is the next step — when you can start doing that more and more, and the studios have confidence to do that more and more.”
Jenkins also acknowledged that having to label a woman-led film as “universal” is something that doesn’t happen with movies starring men, and that it’ll likely be “probably further from now than I’d like to think” before that’s not the case — but she’s excited to be a part of the progress in getting to that point, dating back to 2003’s “Monster,” even if that’s not her primary goal as a storyteller.
“I reflect back on my career and I just realized that I have a woman as the lead in everything I’ve done, yet I have not thought about that at all, any more than a man might think about it when they put a man [as the lead],” Jenkins said. “I have no agenda. I have a couple different projects starring men. I just want to be a part of never thinking about the fact that it’s a woman. When I made ‘Monster,’ I didn’t think about the fact that it was a woman, I didn’t think about the fact that she was a lesbian. I was telling a story about a specific person who’s tragic and looking for love in the world. The more I could make her you, the more of a victory.”
Based on her comments at the press event, the primary inspiration for Jenkins in making “Wonder Woman” appears to be one of pop culture’s most prominent masculine archetypes: Superman, specifically his depiction in the 1978 film starring Christopher Reeve and directed by Richard Donner.
“I’m here because of ‘Superman,'” Jenkins said. “I’m here because when I saw ‘Superman 1’ as a kid, it rocked my world, and I was Superman. I was that little boy. I took that ride and that journey. ‘Star Wars’ had a huge effect on me, too, but what ‘Star Wars’ did for some people, Superman did for me. I remember the theater, I remember the feeling, I remember that I cried and I laughed — I went through that whole thing, and I was Superman. I believed in myself as Superman.”
Issues with sexism and representation have been a part of Wonder Woman since the character’s debut in 1941’s “All Star Comics” #8. Though Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston certainly had, to put it generously, a complicated relationship with feminism, he’s been quoted as saying, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”
For Jenkins, it seems to come down to a balance — acknowledging the significance of a woman-directed movie starring the world’s most famous female superhero, while also not classifying it as a “women’s film.”
“Of course, it’s a bummer that we’re going to be a ‘women’s film,’ made by a woman, with a woman, but on the other hand, it’s important to talk about, because I think a lot of times, those movies haven’t been,” Jenkins said. “It’s important to acknowledge, but yet in making the film, it’s important to completely tune out.”
The lack of major studio films from women directors has been well-publicized, and it’s especially noticeable in the superhero genre, with the one exception before “Wonder Woman” being 2008’s “Punisher: War Zone,” directed by Lexi Alexander. Jenkins was originally slated to direct Marvel Studios’ second “Thor” film, and later was reported to have been fired by the film, which was eventually directed by Alan Taylor.
“Whoever you make a movie about, it’s so old-school to think that it matters — I don’t relate at all with people in Greek times, but we’re still telling stories about them,” Jenkins said. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if they’re an elf, or a dog, or a whatever. It’s just, pick your character and tell a story that rings everybody’s bell.”
Directed by Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot in the title role, “Wonder Woman” is scheduled for release on June 2.
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