Every awards season has its heroes, but they are almost never wearing capes. Though the comic-book genre dominates Hollywood commercially, superhero movies are rarely represented in major categories on Oscar night.
So Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins has been pleasantly surprised watching her superhero blockbuster collect accolades in recent weeks, including a Producers Guild of America nomination for best picture last week.
“I know that superhero movies have had a very hard time,” Jenkins told Vanity Fair.“I know that women directors have had a very hard time being acknowledged. I know that superhero lead actors don’t get acknowledged. It is what it is . . . So to have my peers acknowledge [Wonder Woman] in this way and celebrate it in this way is a huge honor.”
Jenkins’s film won over audiences and critics months ago. Wonder Woman has collected $821.8 million worldwide since Warner Bros. released it last June, and earned a 92-percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. More recently, the movie received an Art Directors Guild nomination for its production designer, Aline Bonetto, a National Board of Review spotlight for Jenkins and her star, Gal Gadot, and a place on New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis’s top-10 list for the year.
As a female-directed, big-budget superhero movie built around a female protagonist, Wonder Woman is in a category of one. In a year when Hollywood women are declaring “Time’s Up” on the gender gap in myriad ways, that achievement has taken on a new relevance.
“When I went into making this film, the mere idea [of] a woman-led film with a female lead was a massive question and really felt like a long shot,” Jenkins said. “I can even remember myself saying, don’t they keep putting out data saying that women are the majority of the audience now? I don’t understand why this is so hard for everybody to see how lucrative that could, and should, be.”
Though Jenkins’s film was an unqualified hit, and the issue of women behind the camera has received increased attention, statistics indicate not much is changing. In the same week that Wonder Woman collected its P.G.A. nomination, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative published research finding that just 4.3 percent of directors across 11 years and 1,100 films—including 2017—were female. And as Natalie Portman noted in her zinger of an introduction to the category at the Golden Globes, all the directing nominees at that awards show this year were male.
Asked if she thought the recent Time’s Up campaign would make a difference in the industry, Jenkins was optimistic. “It’s making a very loud splash,” she said during our interview, which took place on the Friday before the Golden Globes. “The conversation getting to the volume that it is, it’s hard for anybody to ignore it or not take it very seriously. It’s the first time it has ever really felt that way. It kind of felt like . . . a lovely thing to say before, where I think there is accountability now in a way that there never has been before.”
Jenkins’s first feature, the 2003 indie crime drama Monster, earned Charlize Theron an Oscar for her performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. But at the time of that awards season, Jenkins said, the movie was considered a long shot, given Academy members’ tastes. “At that time, it was considered too small and gritty and indie, and though those movies are winning awards now, they weren’t as much then,” Jenkins said. Now the tide has turned, and awards voters increasingly embrace smaller films like last year’s best-picture winner, Moonlight. “A great film is a great film, and many of my favorite ones have been comedies or animated films or all kinds of things. So I never understood and I’ve always had a kind of knee-jerk reaction against one kind of film being better than another.”
Jenkins has little time to think about Oscar voters’ tastes right now. She is deep in pre-production on her Wonder Woman sequel, working out details of the script, locations, and designs for the film, which Warner Bros. currently has slated for a November 2019 release. Among the elements from the first film she intends to match, Jenkins said, is its tone—a mixture of heroism and humor that the director considered among the trickiest aspects to nail in the first film. “I was obsessed with the tone,” Jenkins said. “It was the hardest thing. Particularly because the story we were talking about could so easily skew another way with any of the chapters. You start in a fantasy world of women in costume, and then you go to real life, World War I England . . . and then you end up in the supernatural . . . and then you have a love story. So I brought in all of my [department heads] every week. I would sit and hammer home . . . we have to be so careful that we don’t veer from one movie to another movie, first of all, and, second, that anywhere that she walks out in a Wonder Woman suit, it just doesn’t look ridiculous.”