Thank goodness James Cameron told us what to think about “Wonder Woman,” said no one ever.
In interviews with The Guardian on Aug. 24 and The Hollywood Reporter on Sept. 27, Cameron criticized the summer’s No. 1 film at the box office, dismissing it as “a step backwards” and deeming the film’s hype as misguided “self-congratulatory back patting” because it objectifies its heroine while masquerading as a revolutionary film for women.
Cameron’s statements are fundamentally deluded because they rely on age-old stereotypes about women in media, including the notion that women exist within strict binaries of categorization – either beautiful or powerful but never both. In a society that should be moving forward in terms of gender equality and female representation, Cameron drags the conversation backward by expressing his antiquated notions to the movie-going public.
When asked for his opinion on “Wonder Woman,” Cameron responded by calling the film’s protagonist, Diana, another product of “male Hollywood,” despite the film’s female director. He also compared Diana to his own character, Sarah Connor of “The Terminator” franchise, toting Connor as the ideal female character for film.
Media and public backlash to his comments was swift, with internet users pointing to Cameron’s past treatment of women both on and off set. Cameron’s own biases and history are important to consider in unpacking his statement, especially because of his reputation as being controlling and demeaning – for example, he reportedly called “Titanic” actress Kate Winslet “Kate Weighs-a-Lot.”
Even “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins dipped into the fray, tweeting “There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman.” But after a few days, the hubbub died down and everyone moved on with their lives.
Last week, Cameron doubled down on his comments in a new interview, once again bringing up Sarah Connor as the ideal female character while calling Diana and “Wonder Woman” actress Gal Gadot hypersexualized beauty queens in an action movie.
Gadot is certainly beautiful, but her appearance shouldn’t automatically discount the characters she plays. Beauty and femininity are frequently weaponized to undercut female achievement – for example, nearly 40 years ago, actress Helen Mirren was seriously asked by a reporter if her figure might make others take her less seriously as an actress.
Here, undermining Diana because of her appearance highlights Cameron’s finite notions about women. Too often, the prerequisite for a strong female character is an embodiment of more homogeneous masculine traits, evidenced by characters such as Ellen Ripley of the “Alien” franchise and Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Their more masculine characterization is not inherently bad, and I happen to love both Ripley and Furiosa, but the constant use of masculine traits becomes burdensome when it is the only way in which strong women are represented.
Diana does not fit the stereotypes that have become the standard for strong female characters in film – she is portrayed as loving, compassionate and naive rather than damaged, emotionless and jaded. It is important to recognize that female strength has many forms. Characters don’t have to complete a certain checklist in order to deserve the moniker of a strong female lead.
Through his comments, Cameron glorified the tortured, tough heroine and pitted her image against the heroine that Diana embodies – a strong woman who is simultaneously emotional and compassionate. Her alternative traits stray from the norm and should not be treated as pitfalls, but rather accepted as alternatives to the tough, stoic archetype.
“Wonder Woman” was one of the first times I saw a truly strong woman on screen, fighting battles without being forced to compromise her femininity. She is a heroine who is free of the limitations society places on women and who embodies the complexities that exist within many of the women I know. I resent being told that my love of the film is misplaced, especially by someone who has never struggled to see himself represented on screen.
The film was also the highest grossing film of the summer and widely beloved by critics, maintaining a 92 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Cameron’s remarks are inflammatory and unsophisticated, but they reveal no deep truths about the movie-going public.
And while Cameron’s words may have no impact on the popularity or profitability of “Wonder Woman,” they are frustrating reminders that no matter how much women accomplish, there is still more work to be done.