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Beginning her career as a painter at the Cooper Union in New York City, Jenkins later progressed to filmmaking, spending eight years as an assistant cameraperson on several commercials and music videos. After attending the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, she wrote and directed the film Monster, which was her directorial debut, gaining her attention especially through Charlize Theron’s performance for which she won an Oscar in 2003. She later directed the pilot episode of the drama The Killing, receiving a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series and winning the Directors Guild of America award for Outstanding Directing in Dramatic Series.
Jenkins had also signed on 2011 to direct the sequel to Marvel’s Thor but wound up leaving the project due to creative differences. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she discussed that she was grateful for recognizing that the project was not for her.
“I did not believe that I could make a good movie out of the script that they were planning on doing. I think it would have been a huge deal—it would have looked like it was my fault. It would’ve looked like, ‘Oh my God, this woman directed it and she missed all these things.’ That was the one time in my career where I really felt like, do this with [another director] and it’s not going to be a big deal. And maybe they’ll understand it and love it more than I do.”
Wonder Woman’s Success, After Saying No to Thor
Thor: The Dark World indeed wound up being one of Marvel’s most notorious flops. “You can’t do movies you don’t believe in,” Jenkins said. “The only reason to do it would be to prove to people that I could. But it wouldn’t have proved anything if I didn’t succeed. I don’t think that I would have gotten another chance. And so, I’m super grateful.”
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This only emphasizes the precariousness of being a female director, as Jenkins firmly believed that if she had been known for botching that movie, it may have been her last shot in terms of directing a high profile movie, while men would likely be given more chances despite potential failures.
Thankfully, this was not the case, as her work that she is most hailed for is of course her directing of the 2017 blockbuster Wonder Woman. The female superhero film earned her extraordinary amounts of success as it greatly exceeded box office expectations, earning over $800 million worldwide and became the highest-grossing film of summer 2017. As a female director, Jenkins skyrocketed to the top, as no woman had ever directed a live-action film as successful as Wonder Woman. Jenkins broke the record for Biggest Grossing Live-Action Film Directed by a Woman, Domestic and Worldwide, and was named runner-up for TIME Person of the Year in 2017.
Patty Jenkins’ Resounding Impact
While Wonder Woman of course led to a significant amount of monetary and commercial success thanks to Jenkins’ stellar directing, it also brought about a renewal of a cultural icon in the form of the superhero Wonder Woman herself. Jenkins brought to life a strong, empowering female character who is admired but is also down-to-earth, creating a role model and idol who is by name a superhero, but is also human enough for audiences to be able to relate to.
“There’s been such fear that a female character…couldn’t be vulnerable and they couldn’t be funny and they couldn’t have love,” Jenkins said. “There’s this list of things they can’t have, to prove [that they’re strong]. I’m like, well, that’s not a main character. You have to be able to have all these things. You can’t be afraid.”
Discussing the character’s impact on herself, Jenkins noted the attributes that struck a chord with her. “She was an inspiration and no part of her made me feel that I couldn’t also be a woman, and also be a mother, and also be a wife or a girlfriend or a partner,” Jenkins said. “She’s a whole-bodied hero who stands for goodness, but also love and compassion and kindness. That’s where it was the most challenging—the world not thinking a female superhero could be powerful.”
As the first female-led comic book movie in over a dozen years, the film successfully depicted a world full of strong and powerful women of which Wonder Woman is the ambassador, resulting in fans looking up to the superhero and adorning themselves with the character’s iconic regalia.
“I think the legacy of ‘Wonder Woman’ is a different kind of hero, one that hits the same marks but also really is about love and empowerment in a slightly different way,” Jenkins said. “I think that’s why I love that people wear her outfit. People who are struggling in some sort of way or don’t identify with the world they live in can often find themselves in Wonder Woman.”
The Struggles of Female Directors in Hollywood
Jenkins has become an icon within the film industry for the way that she has paved a way for herself, overcoming multiple obstacles and challenges of which most are a direct product of being a woman. In the case of Wonder Woman, she had to fight to negotiate a deal that would ensure she received the same salary that a male director would have gotten for the movie, and she definitely succeeded. Gal Gadot, who played Wonder Woman herself, commented on Jenkins’ tenacity in terms of this.
“She is definitely paving the way for so many other female directors,” said Gadot. “I think it was very important that she fought to get the best deal. You got to walk the walk and talk the talk.”
Before her Wonder Woman gig, Jenkins struggled with being taken seriously as a rising female director, citing interactions with higher-ups that are unfortunately still largely prevalent in Hollywood. “The second I wanted to be a director, there were constant flirtations and inappropriate overtures and requests to have meetings in weird places,” Jenkins said.
In combination with those unacceptable circumstances, the industry also still has a dismal record of hiring women directors overall, especially for projects such as a high-budget superhero movie.
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Female directors in 2020
However, Patty Jenkins has led the way for female directors in that five blockbuster films of 2020 were directed by women – Birds of Prey, directed by Cathy Yan, Mulan, directed by Niki Caro, Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland,The Eternals, directed by Chloé Zhao, and of course the second much-awaited Jenkins installment, Wonder Woman: 1984. This is a definite step up from past years and hopefully is one of many more strides to come that will ensure a more even playing field in regards to women being directors of high-profile movies.
With the Oscars additionally snubbing female directors in this year’s nominations that resulted in an outcry all over social media, this inequality has once more been brought to light as a prevalent issue that must be remedied in both hiring and nominating practices.
Thankfully, Patty Jenkins has been vocal about the issue when speaking about her experiences in the directing role and continues to do so among her unequivocalsuccess that led to her signing on to direct Wonder Woman 1984. “Being a filmmaker is being a filmmaker,” she said in regards to the gender disparity and having to brush aside any criticisms from or comparisons to her male counterparts.
The progress she has spearheaded and the success she has achieved herself is certainly remarkable and is only a part of what makes her such an inspiring role model – one that is most definitely equivalent to the powerful character she brought to the big screen.
We, at Hollywood Insider, will continue to champion you, Patty Jenkins!
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Christine Feeley is a writer for Hollywood Insider and as a fan of all things film and television, she is very passionate about gender equality within the entertainment industry as well as how it can be used to promote social change. She hopes to bring an enriched perspective to the world of entertainment through her alignment with Hollywood Insider’s mission to share meaningful and positive content with audiences.