Ricky Church on why James Cameron is wrong about Wonder Woman…
James Cameron has been making a lot of headlines recently, but probably not for the reasons he’d like. He’s currently starting production on Avatar 2 and his ambitious sequels, as well as rebooting Terminator with Tim Miller directing returning stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, but he’s also getting caught up in his criticism of one of the year’s biggest films: Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.
Last month, Cameron stated in an interview that he felt Wonder Woman was “a step backwards” for portrayals of women in film and that Wonder Woman was “an objectified icon”. He went further by likening the differences to his creation, Sarah Connor, and how she was not a beauty icon but someone filled with flaws who he felt the audience could relate to.
Cameron faced a lot of flack for his comments and he recently did what many people do when cornered with a lot of criticism: he doubled down. “She was Miss Israel, and she was wearing a kind of bustier costume that was very form-fitting,” Cameron explained. “She’s absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. To me, that’s not breaking ground. They had Raquel Welch doing stuff like that in the ’60s… as much as I applaud Patty Jenkins 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. I thought it was a good film. Period.”
I can almost see the point he’s trying to make, but there are several misguided notions in Cameron’s assessment of Wonder Woman. First off, the fact that Gal Gadot was crowned Miss Isreal (over a decade ago I should add) should really have nothing to do with her portrayal as Diana. By focusing on her “form-fitting” appearance, Cameron is reducing the significance of the character’s motivations and arc throughout the film. I’ll get to his comparison with Sarah Connor later, but it’s clear from the film that Diana is more than the sum of her parts.
Maybe Cameron takes issue with the fact that several of the men in Wonder Woman, notably Said Taghmaoui’s Sameer, ogle her a lot, but Diana’s beauty has always been a part of her character from the very beginning. As for the ‘bustier costume’, that is also something that has been around since Wonder Woman’s creation in 1941, only updated in this film to more closely resemble actual Amazonian garb than the comics did. More than that, though, is that the men come to see her as a vital part of their group and for more than just her looks.
His arguments to how Wonder Woman is a step backwards for female portrayals is frankly beyond me. One needs only to look at the representation women have had in the superhero genre alone to see the trend; for several years, women have either been relegated to a romantic/damsel-in-distress role or a sidekick that is not quite as skilled as the main male hero.
That includes many of the Marvel films, where Black Widow was somewhat forced into a romance with The Hulk and Marvel refused to allow Rebecca Hall’s Iron Man 3 character to be the main villain because they thought the decision wouldn’t sell toys. And let’s not mention how, for decades, studios believed female superheroes wouldn’t sell and we got subpar to downright bad female superhero films like Elektra and Catwoman because of their disinterest.
Diana was the hero of her own story. She began the film naïve, believing the childhood stories she grew up on, but by the end accepted mankind’s complexities and became a hero on her own. She never needed anyone to say “Come with me if you want to live” to her. Rather, she actively pursues saving the world and inspires the other characters to do so as well, becoming better people along the way.
Just look at Charlie, who looks down on her and is severely stricken with PTSD, but becomes much less so towards the end of the film thanks her. It is also worth noting that Diana didn’t think much of Charlie either, but still acted compassionately towards him in his PTSD-influenced nightmare.
One of Cameron’s biggest points on contention was comparing Diana to Sarah Connor, which came more across as ‘I made a kick-ass female hero first!’ rather than a valid criticism. Cameron said “Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.” Now don’t get me wrong, Connor is a great character and one of the best action movie heroines of all time. But to point comparisons between the two creates a false equivalence because both are completely different characters due to their circumstances.
In the beginning, Sarah Connor was rather meek, getting stepped on by several people throughout the film. Her transformation into a warrior didn’t begin until the end of Terminator. When T2: Judgement Day begins, years have passed and Connor is a fully-fledged, no nonsense fighter. She had to be hardened into that, though, what with an unstoppable killer robot after you and your unborn son while everyone else thinks you’re crazy.
Diana was surrounded by a loving community that encouraged her to become a warrior, earning a great amount of confidence in her abilities along the way. Cameron said Connor was “about angst, it was about will, it was about determination. She was crazy, she was complicated,” but I think he’s confusing being dark, edgy and complicated as the only type of qualities a female hero can have. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons audiences gravitated so much towards Wonder Woman as opposed to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.
Maybe Wonder Woman will prove to be not as groundbreaking as people believe or hope. Time will tell for that, but what is clear is studios are finally recognizing the potential of these characters as they’re now making Captain Marvel, Gotham City Sirens and Batgirl. One need only look at the massive response from fans and young girls to see the impact Wonder Woman has had. Despite Cameron’s assertion that he “likes” Wonder Woman, his thoughts on the film and its central hero are wrong.