James Cameron photo by Gage Skidmore
Wonder Woman is undoubtedly a critical and box office success. It’s drawn praise for giving young girls a strong, positive role model and is the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman. Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron, however, wasn’t exactly impressed by the depiction of its female protagonist.
“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided,” he told the Guardian in an interview published Thursday. “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards.”
Unsurprisingly, Cameron cited one of his own characters as a better example of a strong female character: Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day protagonist Sarah Connor.
“Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon,” Cameron explained. “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!”
It’s not exactly clear what Cameron’s getting at here. Yes, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is gorgeous, but that’s not what defines her as a character. If anything, Diana Prince’s beauty works against her in the World War I setting of the film because she has to work twice as hard to prove her capabilities. And what’s grittier than a superhero charging through a battlefield and taking on an entire battalion of guns equipped with little more than her shield?
Beyond the movie itself, Wonder Woman’s societal impact speaks greater volumes, as director Patty Jenkins can attest. “Even at some early test screenings, women were coming to me afterward and saying, ‘I feel like you made a movie for me!'” Jenkins told Rolling Stone in their recent Gadot cover story. “But it wasn’t until the second week that the movement started, people going multiple times and taking girlfriends and grandmothers, and pictures sent to me from 90-year-old women who were wheeled in. All of that was absolutely stunning to see.”
On Thursday night, Jenkins responded directly to Cameron’s comments in an open letter posted to Twitter. “James Cameron’s inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands for, to women all over the world is unsurprising as, though he is a great filmmaker, he is not a woman,” wrote Jenkins. “Strong women are great. His praise for my film Monster, and our portrayal of a strong yet damaged woman was so appreciated. But if women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren’t free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far have we,” she wrote. “I believe women can and should be EVERYTHING just like male lead characters should be. There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman. And the massive female audience who made the film a hit it is, can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress.”
Cameron has a chance to put his money where his mouth is with the four planned Avatar sequels that are scheduled for release beginning in 2020. Meanwhile, Gal Gadot will return as Wonder Woman in the forthcoming Justice League movie on November 17th. The Wonder Woman sequel is set for release on December 13th, 2019.