Yesterday, women all over the world breathed a sigh of relief at the news that Patty Jenkins had been tapped to direct Wonder Woman 2, once again starring Gal Gadot. It's a sad fact that this was ever in question at all, given the success of the first film, but what else is new?
Let's get something straight right off the bat: Patty Jenkins is a remarkable director who deserves all the acclaim she has been getting for her work on Wonder Woman, and more. Her success is an inspiration, and I'm overjoyed that she will be directing the sequel. This is is no way an indictment of Jenkins, who should of course try to get paid as much as humanly possible. But it would be wrong to say that this is a win for women in Hollywood. In fact, it might make things worse for them.
According to a 2017 report by the Annenberg School at USC’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, which analyzed gender and diversity statistics in a cross-section of 1,000 popular films of the last 10 years, women made up only 4% of directors. This translates into a ratio of 23.8 male directors for every one female director.
Women also made fewer films, with only 2.9% reaching the three film benchmark, as opposed to 13.5% of male directors. And there are even deeper disparities for women of color, who have to fight an uphill battle on two fronts. Ava DuVernay, for example, remains the only female director of color to be handling a major studio tentpole movie (Disney's A Wrinkle in Time).
So, yes, it is a huge achievement for Jenkins to be granted the opportunity to direct the sequel for such a monumental and wide-reaching franchise. But it's also a double-edged sword. A situation in which one woman is making so much more than the others in the same industry gives wage-gap deniers the opportunity to deny there is a problem. What's to stop detractors from claiming "Oh, the Hollywood wage gap is a thing of the past — look at Patty Jenkins."
If you don't believe that this is a thing, might I direct your attention to one Gavin Polone, a producer whose credits include Curb Your Enthusiasm, Zombieland and Gilmore Girls, who, when mansplaining the wage gap in The Hollywood Reporter, blamed it on women's poor negotiating skills.
"With women, I'm more likely to advise that they should push harder for a better deal," he wrote. "My anecdotal experience tells me that women don't express as much confidence in negotiations and/or are less willing to be confrontational in the face of a low offer." "
One thing Polone completely fails to mention is that one reason women aren't pushing for more is because they face an industry that is hostile to them. Jennifer Lawrence acknowledged this in her 2015 Lenny Letter essay in which she famously called out being paid less than her male American Hustle co-stars, as did Natalie Portman, who was paid three times less than Ashton Kutcher despite being billed first on No Strings Attached.
Behind the camera, things are even more difficult. Unlike first-time male directors, women have to prove themselves before their value is recognized, and even then, their success isn't guaranteed.
Writing this kind of piece is a challenge because as a woman, I recognize that I can't have my cake and eat it too. It's hard to demand that women get better pay, only to complain when one does because it makes it harder for the rest of us. But that's why Patty Jenkins' success is so bittersweet. Her accomplishment highlights how far we still have to go, and how arduous the journey will be. Good thing we'll have Wonder Woman 2 to guide us on the way.
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