With a filmography full of characters like Aliens’ Ellen Ripley and The Terminator’s Sarah Connor, James Cameron is often credited with making movies that feature strong female leads. When recently asked about the tremendous success of Wonder Woman, however, his response came off as rather dismissive.
In an interview with The Guardian, he said, amidst a long and confusing conversation about “strong, independent women” in film and his personal life, that he did not care for the film or its reception. “All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided,” he said. “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.”
He continued without explaining how Patty Jenkins counts as a member of “male Hollywood,” and next pointed out the key difference between Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and what he considered a more appropriate heroine — the one he wrote in his 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day: “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!”
In a tweeted note, Jenkins responded, “Strong women are great... 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.”
Obviously there’s no need for Patty Jenkins to respond to any of these comments, as her movie was beloved by audiences and critics and many of her peers. It is the top-grossing blockbuster ever directed by a woman, and it outgrossed the debut films for Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. Women made up 52 percent of the opening weekend audience for Wonder Woman, while most superhero movies see them making up 40 percent or less. But since Jenkins did respond, it’s worth noting that her arguments are spot-on.
To suggest that women don’t know how to decide for themselves whether a character represents them, or whether a film is worth spending their money on, is to argue that women do not have brains. As Jenkins wrote, “The massive female audience who made the film [the] hit it is, can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress.” James Cameron’s assertion that he knows more about what matters to women who are looking to see more of themselves on screen than the women do themselves is so ridiculous I don’t even really know how to begin arguing against it, so I’m glad Jenkins found the succinct rebuttal for me: “He is not a woman.”
Asked in the same interview to explain why, in his mind, representation of women in film is still so bad, Cameron said “I don’t — I don’t know. There are many women in power in Hollywood and they do get to guide and shape what films get made. I think — no, I can’t account for it.”
Uh, hi James. I can!
Update August 25th, 2:32PM: Added additional information about James Cameron’s filmography.