September 27, 2017 10:37 PM EDT

James Cameron is surprised his comments on Wonder Woman proved to be so controversial. “Yes, I’ll stand by that,” the Avatar director told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. “I mean, [Gal Gadot] was Miss Israel, and she was wearing a kind of bustier costume that was very form-fitting. She’s absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. To me, that’s not breaking ground.”

Cameron sparked a backlash that caught the attention of the film’s director, Patty Jenkins. “I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards,” he had said. The filmmaker helped turn Sarah Connor into a movie icon in the Terminator movies, and it worked because she “was not a beauty icon,” he said. “She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”

With Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman, Cameron now says, “They had Raquel Welch doing stuff like that in the ’60s. It was all in a context of talking about why Sarah Connor — what Linda [Hamilton] created in 1991 — was, if not ahead of its time, at least a breakthrough in its time. I don’t think it was really ahead of its time because we’re still not [giving women these types of roles].”

Jenkins, who became the highest-grossing female director of a live-action film with Wonder Woman, published a retort on social media.

“James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, to women all over the world is unsurprising as, though he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman,” she wrote in part. “Strong women are great. His praise of my film Monster, and our portrayal of a strong yet damaged woman was so appreciated. But if women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren’t free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far have we.”

Cameron continued his defense by arguing how Hamilton’s rendition of the character “looked great” but “wasn’t treated as a sex object.” He said, “There was nothing sexual about her character. It was about angst, it was about will, it was about determination. She was crazy, she was complicated. … She wasn’t there to be liked or ogled, but she was central, and the audience loved her by the end of the film. So as much as I applaud Patty directing the film and Hollywood, uh, ‘letting’ a woman direct a major action franchise, I didn’t think there was anything groundbreaking in Wonder Woman.”

Despite Cameron’s remarks, Jenkins received an overwhelming swell of praise for the film, which finally gave DC’s Amazon warrior a live-action feature film of her own. Hillary Clinton called it “inspirational,” Geena Davis already wants a part in the sequel, and Jenkins continues to receive stories about young girls embracing the heroine.

Wonder Woman earned $820.4 million at the global box office.

“I thought it was a good film. Period,” Cameron continued. “I was certainly shocked that [my comment] was a controversial statement. It was pretty obvious in my mind. I just think Hollywood doesn’t get it about women in commercial franchises. Drama, they’ve got that cracked, but the second they start to make a big commercial action film, they think they have to appeal to 18-year-old males or 14-year-old males, whatever it is. Look, it was probably a little bit of a simplistic remark on my part, and I’m not walking it back, but I will add a little detail to it, which is: I like the fact that, sexually, she had the upper hand with the male character, which I thought was fun.”

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