So Joss Whedon’s move from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the DC Extended Universe looks to be over, for now at least. Whedon announced yesterday that he will no longer be directing the upcoming Batgirl solo film, citing a failure to come up with a story after a year working on the project. Reports are suggesting that the studio is looking for a female director to take over.
It’s easy to speculate that Whedon’s involvement with Justice League may also have played a part in his decision. It’s no secret that JL performed below expectations at the box office, and for some people, that might taint Whedon’s involvement in DC’s cinematic universe. At the very least, it probably didn’t strengthen his case, especially given the shake up at the top of Warner Brothers/DC following Justice League’s box office takings.
Some have also suggested that, as a male director, Joss Whedon would have been under greater scrutiny helming Batgirl, a film with a female lead character, than a woman directing the project would face. That this film would be coming out in the aftermath of the gender pay gap and Time’s Up debates that are ongoing in the film/TV industry, only makes this more likely.
It certainly raises some interesting questions, and for me, questions that go right to the heart of what diversity truly means. These questions are even more important now, given that they’re being asked against the backdrop of those aforementioned campaigns for gender equality.
Greater representation for women, both in front of and behind the camera, is an issue that certainly needs addressing, although it’s more than a little sobering that we’re still having this discussion in the 21st Century. It’s one of the reasons that this year’s Academy Awards nominations were so welcome, with nods for Greta Gerwig for directing and Rachel Morrison for cinematography (the first woman to be nominated in that category.)
Of course, the issue of diversity is complex, and a few award nominations, welcome though they are, don’t go anywhere near addressing all the problems women face in the industry. As the issue is so important, however, we must be clear about what diversity is. It might sound obvious, but it’s worth asking what we mean when we use that term, and call for more of it.
A male director making a film with a male lead character, or a woman director doing the same for a project with a female main character, might look diverse to some, in the sense that the woman director in question is making a film, filling a role in which women are still underrepresented. It would also have a female lead, which is also still a rarity.
I wonder, though, if this diversity might also be achieved by a different scenario. Imagine if WB/DC announces a sequel to Man of Steel, and that the director will be a woman. Maybe even that the screenplay will be written or co-written by a woman, or that there will be a woman in the role of DOP or editor.
There haven’t been many examples of women directing comic book films that have a male in the lead role (I can only think of one, Lexi Alexander, with The Punisher: War Zone. Please correct me below if you can think of any others), so this would be a long overdue and noteworthy thing to happen.
It would make it clear that gender is truly no barrier when it comes to hiring anyone in the industry, and that gender shouldn’t matter. Now I’m not suggesting that someone like Patty Jenkins was only hired to direct Wonder Woman because she’s female. What I am suggesting is that I don’t believe that there should be such a thing as a ‘man’s film’ or a ‘woman’s film.’ In fact, I think when a film like Wonder Woman comes out, or a notable release like Ladybird, then there’s every reason for men to see it, in the same way that it’s important for white people to see Black Panther.
This is because stories, in whatever form they take, are important, and the messages they carry should be heard by as many people as possible. As a filmmaker, you should also want to explore stories involving all people, and not just people like you. To me, that’s true diversity
This doesn’t mean I think Warners is wrong to replace Joss Whedon, or look for a woman to direct Batgirl. I just worry that, inadvertently, this actually makes the gender of the director more of an issue, when it shouldn’t be at all. Instead, it should be factors like their talent, their vision for the story, their enthusiasm for the project and their experience that matter.
There are many talented female writers and directors in mainstream and independent cinema and television who would be a fine addition to a franchise like the DCEU. Would they be a good fit for Batgirl or any of DC’s other female characters? Absolutely. But they’d also do a good job with one of DC’s male characters as well.
For example, Ava DuVernay has shown a strong political slant to her work, which would be perfect for the socially and politically conscious Green Arrow. Kathryn Bigelow’s talents would be perfect for the gritty tone that is a big part of the DCEU, whilst the futuristic world of Altered Carbon is a great showcase for Laeta Kalogridis’ talents for science fiction. Talents that could be well utilised for the upcoming Cyborg or Green Lantern Corps films. If anything like this were to happen, that would be a big story.
On second thoughts, maybe we’ll all know when gender and diversity are becoming less of an issue, and that progress is being made, that when this does happen, it isn’t a big story.
As always, please feel free to leave your comments below.