Director of the movie Patty Jenkins poses at the premiere of "WonderWoman" in Los Angeles, California U.S., May 25, 2017. (Xinhua/REUTERS)
by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, June 24 (Xinhua) -- For anyone who thought women directors weren't ready for the "Big Chair" on studio blockbusters, think again. They're giving as good as they get.
Patty Jenkins' 570-million-U.S.-dollar global box office success with "Wonder Woman" has set those reservations to rest, surpassing the previous record for a female director, Sam Taylor-Johnson's "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Jenkins' more personal, relationship-driven take on the superhero ethos is not just a weekend wonder. It's generating the kind of sustained global reaction that has Hollywood sitting up and taking notice.
Once relegated to directing only chick flicks, smart, talented female directors are stepping up to the plate on bigger budget action films, thrillers, war and sports movies, and now superhero pics -- normally reserved for male directors -- and hitting them out of the park.
This is not a new phenomenon. Jenkins' latest effort may have demolished female stereotypes for superheroes and director genders alike, but she is not alone. Other female directors have been paving the way by challenging the glass ceiling and breaking into the coveted "100 million U.S. dollar Club" for decades.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson ("Kung Fu Panda 2"), Catherine Hardwicke ("Twilight"), Vicky Jensen ("Shrek"), Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Amy Heckerling ("Look Who's Talking"), Mimi Leder ("Deep Impact"), and Betty Thomas ("Alvin and the Chipmunks") are just a few of the heavy-hitting female directors who have easily topped 100 million dollars in receipts on their big budget releases.
Male directors have no monopoly on the talent and confidence it takes to helm a big budget movie that can enchant the public and fill studio coffers. IndieWire reported that statistics show female directors who are given big budget films perform as well as their male counterparts.
As a director and writer, Gina Prince-Bythewood wants to set the record straight: "There is a narrative that women do not have the desire to make tent-pole films, and worse, that we can't. Both are false. A good director is a good director. And the truth is, women can bring a fresh aesthetic."
But women in the film industry still have a long way to go to reach parity.
While male directors like James Cameron can routinely jump from a low budget 6 million dollar movie to a 44 million dollar "Rambo" sequel, or, a young George Lucas can step from a 1 million dollar "American Graffiti" right into his first "Star Wars" movie, equally-talented female directors often wait years for a similar breaks and are forced to do more lower budget movies along the way to earn their stripes.
More women in the top slots leads to a more diverse workforce and more opportunities for women all down the line, reports the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
The study has been endorsed by Hollywood A-lister, Jessica Chastain, who sent ripples through the Cannes Film Festival this past month, by extolling the virtues of more three-dimensional female characters.
"I hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women I recognize in my day-to-day life," she said. "Ones that are proactive, who have agency, who don't just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view."
As globalization of the film industry and online viewing proliferates, it is essential for the film industry to grasp that there are positive financial, artistic and social upsides to hiring women in top positions across the industry.
The talent, scope and unique perspectives of female directors enable them to create compelling, universal stories that appeal across the entire audience spectrum. And stars love them.
"Wonder Women" star, Gal Gadot enthused, "I was so lucky that Patty was the one to direct this movie. She is such a brilliant, talented person, and to be able to work with someone who is so funny and loving and warm was amazing."
Hollywood is finally beginning to take notice. 20th Century Fox has greenlit Jennifer Yuh Nelson's, "The Darkest Minds," and three other films to be directed by women, plus added 10 other female-helmed movies to their pipeline this year.
Disney Studios is keeping pace with their own female director slate: the Chinese-inspired hit, "Mulan," helmed by Niki Caro, Anna Boden's "Captain Marvel," "Frozen 2" by Jennifer Lee, and Ava DuVernay's family sci-fi classic, "A Wrinkle in Time."
Sony is also moving to diversify its slate with Elizabeth Banks' "Charlie's Angels Reboot," Gina Prince-Bythewood's "Silver Sable and Black Cat," Lucia Aniello's R-rated comedy, "Rough Night," and the remake of crime drama "Miss Bala" with Catherine Hardwicke at the helm.
Universal and Focus Features, its specialty division, also have four releases with female directors, including Sofia Coppola's "The Beguiled," which earned her the Best Director award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, only the second woman to win, after Jane Campion's "The Piano" in 1993.
With no female directors on their line up, Warner Bros. and Paramount share an embarrassing last place out of the running.
But, in spite of such recent hard-won battles to break into the Hollywood Boy's Club, the key will be moving beyond female directors' current "flavor-of-the month" status to support them with a sustained open-door policy that celebrates the extraordinary gifts, unique stories and enormous profits that female directors can share.
"I can't wait till enough women filmmakers have had a chance to make movies of this size and scale... It will be nice when they can just be filmmakers making films," said "Wonder Woman" director, Patty Jenkins.