There's no lack of female heroines in comic books, and yet it seems that it's a lot easier for studios to greenlight a superhero flick if it's a man who will be in tights. Fortunately, the tide is shifting a teensy bit. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, one of the few good things about Batman v Superman, is getting her own solo flick, and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn will lead a film about the lawbreaking ladies of the DC universe. On the surface, the newly announced Batgirl movie should also be a win for women — but there's one thing about the reveal that I can't help but be bugged about.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Joss Whedon has signed on to write and direct a film based on Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, whose turn as Batgirl was put on temporary hold after the Joker delivered a paralyzing gunshot to her spine. (That incident is the subject of acclaimed comic The Killing Joke, which became a feature-length animated film last year.) Whedon will follow the "New 52" version, which shows Barbara having recovered physically from the Joker's attack — but emotionally, she's not quite there. It's for that reason that I have a hard time swallowing Whedon as the one to write and direct this feature.
For the record: I think Whedon is the absolute shit. He knows how to write action heroines that are complex in addition to being total badasses — I mean, does Buffy ring a bell? Whedon was once asked why he continues to write "strong women," to which he famously responded with "Because you're still asking me that question." There's no question that Whedon is woke, talented, and capable of helming a huge superhero flick. (Umm, The Avengers.) But there's one thing that he's not, and, sorry, it kind of matters: He's not a woman.
It's not that I don't think men can direct films starring a female protagonist — lord knows that there would be almost no movies starring ladies if that was the case, considering how infrequently Hollywood employs women as directors. It's this particular story. Barbara is a woman dealing with the aftermath of a brutal crime. She was, essentially, paralyzed in order for The Joker to exact revenge on her father and Batman. She is stripped of her agency and used as a pawn in a man's evil scheme. I can't help but wonder if a woman would be more inherently sensitive to Barbara's plight, and how it reflects not only her experience, but that of many women stripped of their power.
It's true that the DC Universe could have done a lot worse than Whedon — he has a great track record, and like, have you seen Cabin In The Woods? Oh my God, it's brilliant. However, he also could have elevated pretty much any other superhero film — why not allow Barbara's story to be told by a capable woman director who could speak to the darker nuances of the female experience?