Last night I was leafing through the April 2015 issue of Vanity Fair when I came across a profile of women directors. The written piece is only one page long in the magazine, while the other five or six pages are devoted to photographs of women filmmakers over many generations, from Ida Lupino on the set of Hard, Fast and Beautiful in 1951 to Ava DuVernay filming Selma in 2014. The article ended by mentioning the most recent additions to the canon: Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey, which broke records on Valentine’s Day weekend two months ago, and the upcoming comic-book-adaptation Wonder Woman, which has been surrounded by a lot of hype not only because it will be the first Marvel action film to feature a female protagonist but also because of the buzz surrounding its attached director, Michelle MacLaren. MacLaren cut her teeth on such critically-acclaimed and popular TV shows as “The X-Files,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” “NCIS,” “Game of Thrones” and “Better Call Saul.” Wonder Woman was scheduled to be MacLaren’s feature film debut, in addition to being the first Marvel film directed by a woman.
Imagine, then, my surprise and disappoint to find out early this morning that MacLaren has stepped away from the project, citing “creative differences” with the studio, Warner Bros. This development is reminiscent of what happened with Patty Jenkins, the director of the Oscar-winning drama Monster (2003). Jenkins was supposed to direct Thor: The Dark World before she was fired and subsequently replaced by Alan Taylor. In the twelve years since Monster, Jenkins has not succeeded in directing any other feature films; her only work has been sporadic jobs for TV – an episode of “Arrested Development” here, an arc on “Entourage” there. Even though Jenkins won an Emmy for her direction of the pilot of AMC’s “The Killing” in 2011, her most recent work in the years since then is another pilot, a drama called “Exposed” which ABC has not picked up and which may not see the light of day.
Because Warner Bros. went out of its way to hire a female director for Wonder Woman, my hope is that the studio can find a replacement with an equally impressive résumé who also happens to be a woman. Anyone who saw The Babadook last year knows that Jennifer Kent is more than capable of delivering thrills as well as nuanced direction of actors, while more seasoned directors like Mimi Leder (of the thriller The Peacemaker and the big-budget apocalypse blockbuster Deep Impact – though the flop Pay It Forward completely derailed her fifteen years ago), Catherine Hardwicke (she found tremendous box-office success with the first Twilight movie) and Karyn Kusama (the boxing drama Girlfight, the live-action film version of the animated MTV series Æon Flux and the horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body all had female protagonists) could do well too.
Lexi Alexander has actually directed a comic-book movie in 2008, Punisher: War Zone, so her name should be thrown in the ring as well, even though the film failed at the box office (likely the reason her career has slowed down since then). A newcomer to directing, Anna Foerster, has done cinematography and special effects for action films including Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, Kusama’s Æon Flux and White Down House and she is now attached to direct two action films, Source Code 2 and Secret Hunter. One might also look to the upcoming film XX, an anthology which will feature segments all directed by women, including Karyn Kusama, Mary Harron (American Psycho) and Jennifer Chambers Lynch (a Razzie winner for 1993’s Boxing Helena who has since shown skills in the thriller and horror genres with Surveillance and Chained in 2008 and 2012, respectively).
Male directors get all kinds of chances to direct big-budget blockbusters, no matter how small-scale their initial output was; female directors have to work much harder at “convincing” both the studios and the audiences as to why they would be right for the same assignments. (There is widespread agreement now that Kathryn Bigelow is a great director of action and suspense films, but the thought was only officially accepted after her Oscar win for The Hurt Locker “legitimized” this notion, and it always comes with the disclaimer of greatness for a woman in a man’s profession.) There is no reason why a woman director cannot be just as, if not more, qualified to direct a Marvel superhero film that any man, but it remains to be seen if Warner Bros. will do right by their original commitment to telling this particular narrative from a woman’s unique point of view.