Patty Jenkins will replace Michelle MacLaren as the director of the 2017 Wonder Woman film, Warner Bros.’ first major female superhero movie in more than a decade, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Jenkins has directed episodes of Entourage and The Killing and made her film debut with the indie Monster, which won Charlize Theron an Oscar for Best Actress.
Jenkins was at one point slated to be the first woman to direct a film for Warner Bros.’ rival, Marvel Studios. She was tapped for Thor 2, but left over “creative differences.” Speculation about whether sexism was involved that decision swirled when reports leaked that Natalie Portman was “enraged” over the departure.
The same questions arose when MacLaren — an Emmy-winning director who had built up an impressive résumé directing what are widely considered to be some of the best episodes of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead — left the Wonder Woman project. Some critics grouped Jenkins’ and MacLaren’s departures together to suggest that studio executives might be barring women from the superhero genre altogether.
Jenkins taking the helm could silence critics who just days ago had accused the studio of sexism. (Even Lynda Carter, who portrayed the lasso-wielding hero on the TV show Wonder Woman in the 1970s, said the film needed women behind it.) It could also keep the film on track for its 2017 release date — beating out Marvel, which won’t release its first female-centric superhero film, Captain Marvel, until 2018. Gal Gadot, who has proved her grit in the Fast and Furious films, will still star in Wonder Woman as the superpowered Amazonian warrior.
Despite the fact that there have been some 50 superhero movies made just in the past 10 years — from Spider-Man to The Dark Knight to X-Men to The Avengers — no woman has directed any of the major films. (Lexi Alexander directed a comic-book-inspired movie, Punisher: War Zone, in 2008, but the fan base and box-office numbers come nowhere close to the numbers a Wonder Woman or Supergirl movie might produce.)
Last year, only 7% of the 250 highest-grossing films were directed by women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. That number has fallen 2% over the past two decades. Even though women consistently take home directing prizes in prestigious festivals like Sundance for art-house films, they’re largely boxed out of the most lucrative genres.
There’s been a dearth of female superhero movies over this time period as well. The last attempts were Catwoman and Elektra: both films were directed by men, got poor reviews, flopped at the box office and convinced studios for several years that female superhero movies just “don’t work.”
But an increasingly vocal female comic-book fan base — about 50% of San Diego Comic Con’s attendees last year were women — has pushed for greater representation of their sex in both the books and film. And slowly, performances like Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in The Avengers and Zoe Saldana as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy have convinced executives that maybe female characters can build their own fan bases after all. In just the past two years, Warner Bros. green-lit a Wonder Woman film, Sony gave the green light to a female superhero movie based on the Spider-Man universe and Marvel approved a Captain Marvel flick — for which it is recruiting an all-female writing duo.
MacLaren’s departure might have threatened to slow that momentum, but it looks like Jenkins could, well, save the day.