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Pressure Mounts for Female Superheroes, Will Women Directors Get a Boost?

Pressure Mounts for Female Superheroes, Will Women Directors Get a Boost?

In order for a woman to land one of these gigs, she has to be truly impressive and have proven her chops, poise and talent. Indie directors making the transition to studio hires are always a gamble, male or female. They are used to being in control. Can they give that up and work well with others, are they able to communicate with not only cast and crew but the suits who routinely interfere with big-budget productions? It’s always a challenge. 

Are women indies less willing to compromise? Men are more used to playing with the team (something you learn in sports) even if they are suffering in order to move ahead in their careers. There’s also a big difference between a parting of the ways over creative differences during the laborious development phase, with countless studio notes during a long ramp-up to a project—TV director-for-hire Michelle MacLaren (“Game of Thrones,” “Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “X-Files”) is in that category with “Wonder Woman”–and someone actually being thrown off a movie during production. This would have been MacLaren’s feature film debut, which clearly made Warner execs anxious. 

Warner Bros. quickly replaced her with another woman who has been flirting with the comic book universe, Patty Jenkins, who herself parted with Marvel during the script phase of “Thor 2.” Jenkins, like many women directors, has found more work in TV (“The Killing”) than in movies since Charlize Theron earned her Oscar for indie “Monster.” According to Variety sources, MacLaren had a very different take on Wonder Woman, imagining an epic origin story like “Braveheart,” while Warners was focused on a more character-driven story. 

I have more trouble with the rare drama of a woman director like indie Lynne Ramsay leaving a film (“Jane Got a Gun”) after the script and direction and financing were approved. What goes wrong at that point? Making the days? Second-guessing by producers? Lack of confidence in the dailies? In development, people fall out over differing visions all the time, as Marvel and Jenkins did on “Thor 2,” to the disappointment of Natalie Portman, who was rooting for a woman director who was good with actors, as she had as producer/star of “Jane Got a Gun.”

Women often fight for their POV. Sam Taylor-Johnson leaving the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise is an anomaly–where the author E.L. James was in charge. In that case, Taylor-Johnson went the distance despite her discomfort and wound up with bragging rights to a global hit ($567 million worldwide). There was nothing to be gained by moving forward with that franchise. On “Twilight,” Catherine Hardwicke wanted more time to do a good job when Summit was rushing the sequel. Because they were invested in broadening the franchise to a larger male audience, they hired Chris Weitz, who delivered arguably the weakest installment before Bill Condon took the series home. 

“Wonder Woman” has been a problem child for decades. As a comic book superhero, like Catwoman (the Halle Berry spinoff failed), Wonder Woman raises issues: how sexy is she? Is she a babe? An active action hero? Execs struggle with these decisions as they try to sell these characters to both men and women. And MacClaren had to sync Wonder Woman up with the Gal Gadot creation in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” as well as the upcoming “The Justice League.”

Based on his track record, my guess is that Marvel fave Joss Whedon –who still licks his wounds on “Wonder Woman,” as no one at Warner/DC ever told him what was wrong with his take–was probably going in the right direction. He handles women well–see Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow. She’s continuing on in the new Marvel “Avengers” lineup, but we still don’t know the fate of a Marvel feature (Nicole Perlman, who plucked “Guardians of the Galaxy” out of Marvel’s bin of second tier comics, turned in a treatment in 2011). Fan pressure has been mounting ever since Black Widow become an important fixture of The Avengers and Johansson scored as bad-ass actioner “Lucy.”

There’s momentum for female superhero movies, as Marvel pursues its own own female counter-attack by turning the spotlight on Captain Marvel, aka Major Carol Danvers (coming July 6, 2018) and creating a comic book female Thor. And Sony enters the fray with a Spider-Man spinoff –possibly featuring Spider-Woman– scripted by Lisa Joy (“Burn Notice,” “Pushing Daisies”). We’ll see if more women directors dive into this window.

One problem the studios are facing over time is that the jump between indies and huge tentpoles is so great–with so much at stake–that indie farm talent, male or female, have little opportunity to gain more experience in mid-level production. Instead they head straight for television, which is a very different kind of experience. In film, directors learn how to be in charge. Not in television.

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