Taking the world by storm, Wonder Woman was a blockbuster success commercially and critically. More importantly, the film has garnered enough praise to reassure Hollywood that films created and led by women can make money. Wonder Woman has become a “tent-pole”—a term, in this case, reserved for successful women-centric films that support the tent of opportunity for future films led by women. Although it’s wonderful that women will receive more recognition, it’s also unnerving that it took a profit of 800 million dollars to convince a male dominated industry that women can do more than just hold up a tent.
Moreover, directors like Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins are still pigeonholed under the guise of “female director” instead of being addressed like their male peers. With more than 90% of male directors having worked on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016, it’s no wonder there was so much pressure for Wonder Woman to change the paradigm.
This type of marginalization brings fear of risk, which can be exemplified by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige’s comments about the future Captain Marvel film starring Brie Larson. “There were, you know, 15 years ago, a bunch of bad ones. Did they fail because they were female lead movies? No. They failed because they were not good movies. I don’t have to say that anymore, because thanks to Wonder Woman, that fallacy has been blown out of the water.”
While it is true that female led films like Catwoman and Elektra disappointed fans, films like Green Lantern and Suicide Squad were also giant failures. The difference is that after a male led/directed film tanks it will not condemn all men as being incapable of making good movies.
However, Wonder Woman’s success is already making a difference, as more progress with gender equality within the film industry is being projected, especially with superheroes. Captain Marvel (2019) is being directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and a Spider-Man spinoff for the characters Silver Sable and Black Cat will be directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
On top of the new dedication to hire women, more scripts and stories that accurately represent them are being favored. When Joss Whedon’s rejected script for Wonder Woman— filled with Whedon’s signature objectification—was leaked, it was obvious why Warner Brothers discarded it in favor of storytelling that both women and men would enjoy. After all, women don’t want unrealistic and sexualized portrayals of themselves—women yearn to be portrayed with strength, beauty, diversity, and complexity.
Perhaps, what will create a new standard for how women are portrayed is Jenkins’ approach to filmmaking: “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”
Hopefully, more people in Hollywood will mimic Jenkins’ approach, supporting inclusion, good storytelling, and common sense. Maybe then the tent-pole shtick can be put to rest.
By Stephanie Elmir