To hear Patty Jenkins tell her journey of arriving in the director’s chair for Wonder Woman, it took almost a decade. After her 2003 film Monster, for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar, she pitched a Wonder Woman film to Warner Bros. The prospect never materialized, but she did get her dream of directing a superhero film when she was assigned to direct Thor 2 for Marvel.
As someone for whom Richard Donner’s Superman was a huge influence, Jenkins wanted to tell a similar story with Thor 2. Jenkins told BuzzFeed’s Susan Cheng, “I pitched them that I wanted to do Romeo and Juliet. I wanted Jane to be stuck on Earth and Thor to be stuck where he is. And Thor to be forbidden to come and save Jane because Earth doesn't matter. And then by coming to save her ... they end up discovering that Malekith is hiding the dark energy inside of Earth because he knows that Odin doesn't care about Earth, and so he's using Odin's disinterest in Earth to trick him. And so it was like, I wanted it to be a grand [movie] based on Romeo and Juliet ... a war between the gods and the earthlings, and Thor saves the day and ends up saving Earth.”
She eventually departed the project over creative differences and continued to work in television until she found her way back to Warner Bros, pitching Wonder Woman. Using her sense of romance and a love of sweeping heroic stories, she pitched what would ultimately become one of the most successful superhero films ever. All of this is to say that for a woman, even one as accomplished as Jenkins, it was a struggle to get into the action movie business after her successful turn with Monster.
Enter Joss Whedon. Full disclosure, I find Buffy the Vampire Slayer the most important television show that’s aired in my lifetime. As a storyteller on that show, I find Whedon unparalleled. But then there are his superhero films. Avengers was fantastic. Avengers: Age of Ultron was met with a poor critical response and Whedon himself discussed being broken down by the Marvel machine. Even so he was brought on to direct DC’s live-action adaptation of Batgirl—without a pitch, as we’ve now learned. During the period he filled in for Zack Snyder on Justice League after the director suffered a personal tragedy, he still had no story for Batgirl.
It was announced Thursday that Whedon has exited Batgirl. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, he said, “Batgirl is such an exciting project, and Warners/DC such collaborative and supportive partners, that it took me months to realize I really didn’t have a story. I’m grateful to Geoff [Johns, DC President] and Toby [Emmerich, Warner Bros Picture Group President] and everyone who was so welcoming when I arrived, and so understanding when I…uh, is there a sexier word for ‘failed’?”
The statement is amusing enough but it highlights the fact that Whedon was brought on without a story just because he is Joss Whedon. It calls into question how much DC actually cares about Batgirl in general if they weren’t meticulous about finding a story they liked, or didn’t put Whedon through at least several rounds of story pitches. Once the heat turned up after Wonder Woman’s success and presumably after Black Panther, it appears that studios may be realizing that hiring a cool straight white male to direct a big-budget action movie is perhaps falling out of vogue. Was Whedon’s exit due in equal part to his not having a story and also DC not wanting extra scrutiny from the public if a man’s adaptation of a woman-led story failed?
Either way, according to Tracking Board, Warner Bros. plans to hire a female director should the film go forward. Which seems like a no brainer. It’s not to say a man couldn’t crack the code to a successful Batgirl film, but Wonder Woman and Black Panther have shown that allowing directors to depict their own cultures onscreen equals box-office success. Warner Bros. would be a fool to turn that down.
While there is a vast number of women directors who would gladly jump into the fray, there’s at least one who wants to write Batgirl in Whedon’s absence: feminist author Roxane Gay. She tweeted, “Hey @DCComics, I can write your batgirl movie, no prob.” Michele Wells, VP of DC Entertainment, responded to her, writing, “If you’re serious... contact me.” Sounds like DC may finally be serious about putting more women behind the camera.