Director Patty Jenkins gives a response to James Cameron’s issue of Wonder Woman not having a strong protagonist—and it’s correct on many levels.
As Wonder Woman breaks box-office records around the globe, a certain person has taken issue with the titular hero’s status as an icon. This person is Terminator and Avatar director James Cameron, who thinks the DC Extended Universe film is undeserving of all the praise. In response to his complaints, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins took to Twitter and defined the importance of the film’s hero as a role model and, most importantly, the ability for women to choose who they want as an icon.
Earlier this week, in an interview with The Guardian, Cameron stated that Wonder Woman is “a step backwards.” He took issue with the film’s protagonist—Diana of Themyscira—being beautiful. He went on to define what a “strong” female should be and used a character of his own creation as an example—Sarah Connor of the Terminator films.
“… 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. And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”
Jenkins responded to Cameron in this tweet:
— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) August 25, 2017
Jenkins is completely correct in her response. In fact, Cameron’s initial rant has problems in multiple arenas. First, he thinks only damaged characters are interesting. Second, he has a very shallow understanding of comic books and their characters. Lastly, he’s defining his ideal of a strong female character—as if this is the only way a woman can exhibit a multi-dimensional personality.
Now, before I start, I want to say that I think Cameron is one of the greatest modern filmmakers. His Terminator films are iconic and he has a great story sense. However, like what he’s shown here, he’s definitely not perfect, and, like a normal human being, will make mistakes in his perception of the world.
Can characters not be troubled and still grab the audience’s attention? Of course they can. Look at Superman. Yes, people say he’s boring. However, that’s a cliched response by our modern cynical society. We only need to look at history and data. If Superman is so boring, how can he endure almost 80 years of existence in the public consciousness. Is that saying troubled characters aren’t great? Absolutely not. Batman is probably the most troubled of all of DC’s characters. His parents were murdered in front of his eyes in a dark alley. If that doesn’t require years of therapy, I don’t know what will.
As much as Cameron is great at world-building, he still needs to understand other literary universes. Wonder Woman is a superhero who comes from the comics. Like Superman, Batman, the Flash, (and a myriad of these godly, bigger than life beings), Wonder Woman is an unattainable level of perfection. Her myth is something we all strive for. Of course she’s not going to be troubled or have past demons. A perfect person won’t have these issues. They would be optimistic. This is how the comics presented her, and the film did a great job juxtaposing her loving and stoic nature against the pessimism and violence of World War I.
And finally, Cameron seems to have a cookie-cutter version of how a female protagonist should be written. If you look at male characters, are they all Martin Riggs from the first Lethal Weapon—alcoholic and on the verge of suicide? No. We have great characters like Wikus from District 9 (2009), James Bond, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Steve Rogers / Captain America (one of the most clean-cut characters mind you), and countless others. The characters span a spectrum ranging from perfect to completely dysfunctional. Why can’t female characters be the same way? What Cameron has done is created a stereotype.
As a man, I will never purport to be a feminist because I will never be able to truly feel the hardships that women face. However, I am a writer and using that perspective, I can say Cameron has a very flawed notion of what a strong character is or isn’t. Also, as a writer, it’s your duty to take any character, regardless of his or her personality and create challenges and conflicts to make the story interesting—which is what Wonder Woman has wonderfully (pun intended) done. Jenkins presents an ideal hero whose arc is knowing the world isn’t perfect, but still worth saving.
Cameron needs to understand that—regardless of gender—characters are interesting because of how they react to a situation. And if we do take gender into account, women like men (news flash) have different personalities and characteristics. Every person is interesting in his or her own way. It’s how that personality reacts to its surroundings that makes a story compelling.