Some More Thoughts on Women Directors and Action/Adventure Movies

In yesterday’s post I listed a number of women directors who might make good candidates for the newly open job opportunity at the helm of Wonder Woman. While it’s true that directors such as Mimi Leder and Karyn Kusama might well be qualified because of the action-oriented components of their work, it occurs to me that there is no reason why a woman director couldn’t succeed with Wonder Woman no matter what genre(s) she has been associated with. Male directors are constantly roped into superhero franchises regardless of what they have done in the past; the résumé of Marc Webb, for example, showed music videos, the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer (2009) and an episode each of “The Office” and “Lone Star” before he was signed up to direct The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Prior to directing The Green Hornet (2011), Michel Gondry was known for directing music videos and the romantic dramedies Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2006). And what about Kenneth Branagh as the director of Thor (2011)? Who made that decision? Because, of course, when you think “Marvel superhero” you definitely think of “the new Olivier” as the ideal choice for direction. Hmmm.

Not only does being a man help in these matters, but it doesn’t always ruin careers when male directors make films that are critical and/or financial flops. Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit tanked last year but that didn’t stop his latest film, the big-budget fairy-tale fantasy Cinderella, from debuting last month. When female directors fail – or, sometimes, even if they succeed – it can take years for them to rebound, if they ever do. Kimberly Peirce had tremendous success with her Oscar-winning debut, Boys Don’t Cry (1999), but her second film was not released until nine years later (Stop-Loss, a 2008 drama about young veterans returning home from Iraq) and her next film, a remake of Carrie released in 2013, was so mediocre – not to mention only barely breaking even at the U.S. box office – that I’m guessing it will delay Peirce’s abilities to make another movie. Mimi Leder, whom I mentioned in yesterday’s post, proved that she had the chops to make entertaining action films with The Peacemaker (1997) and Deep Impact (1998), but the massive disappointment of Pay It Forward (2000) has resulted in her directing only one film since then, the straight-to-DVD action drama Thick as Thieves (2009). Leder has been able to find steady employment by directing for TV (“The West Wing,” “ER,” “Shameless,” “Nashville,” “Smash,” “The Leftovers”), but evidently being the first female graduate of the AFI Conservatory (1973 – a full twenty-four years before The Peacemaker) doesn’t mean enough to Hollywood to get Leder a feature film assignment again. These are things I keep in mind as I follow the Wonder Woman story, waiting to see who will fill in for Michelle MacLaren and whether the chosen director’s past work will have any bearing on the selection.

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