Warner Bros. turns to the women as comic book and sci-fi films pick up steam

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Feb 26, 2020, 3:48 PM EST (Updated)

The number of women who are allowed to direct Hollywood films is appallingly low, even in 2018, and the number of women who are handed the reins to a big budget tentpole film is even lower. It’s a frequent chorus for those interested in the changing (or unchanging) demographics of the biggest storytellers in the country. But a change could be on the horizon, and it might, however slowly, be coming from an unlikely source. Following their most recent series of announcements, it looks as though Warner Bros. might actually be finding their saving grace in female filmmakers.

The new influx of female talent behind the camera was first noted by Deadline and comes on the heels of the studio’s big win with 2017’s Wonder Woman, the first major studio superhero film to be directed by a woman with Patty Jenkins. Wonder Woman made big numbers at the box office for Warner Bros. and received a great deal of critical and fan acclaim, so it’s no surprise the studio would be looking to duplicate that formula. While they have had similar box office success with films like Justice League, Suicide Squad and the like, the widespread positive reaction to those movies as a whole has not been as present.

Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment tapped Jenkins to direct the sequel shortly after the original film’s success, and Wonder Woman 84 is currently in the process of filming, but they haven’t stopped at just one token director for a token project. Over the last few months, Warner and DC have built up an impressive slate of female-fronted films to add to the expanding DCEU, and so far all will be directed by women.

Among those projects is the long-planned Birds of Prey, which will be produced by Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie (who will also reprise her role as Harley Quinn in the film). Birds of Prey will reportedly feature some of DC’s less visible female heroes, including Black Canary, Batgirl (the Cassandra Cain version), and Renee Montoya. Cathy Yan will take the director’s chair, becoming the first Asian woman to helm a superhero movie, while the script will be penned by Christina Hodson. Hodson has also been hired by DC to write the script to the upcoming Batgirl film, which does not yet have a director.

In addition to Yan and Jenkins, no less than Ava DuVernay will also lend her talents behind the camera of some of DC’s mightiest heroes. The studio announced that the Wrinkle in Time director will take the reins of New Gods in the feature film debut of the classic Jack Kirby characters. In the comics, the New Gods include a large roster of heroes and villains hailing from the planet Apokalips, home to Darkseid, one of DC’s greatest villains. While Darkseid, Apokalips, and the New Gods have made appearances (however briefly) in previous DCEU installments (Steppenwolf is one of the New Gods), there is not yet any word on whether DuVernay’s film will play into the same story.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. and DC have also recently announced a Supergirl film to join their slate. The announcement is still fresh, though, so there is not yet even a rumor as to who might direct, though, given the current trend it stands to reason they would seek out another female director.

Superhero films aren’t the only area where Warner Bros. has been diversifying their roster. Jennifer Yuh Nelson has been hired to direct The Juliet, a sci-fi crime thriller that has languished in development hell, bouncing from its original studio, Sony, where Rupert Sanders was slated to take the helm. The project is described as “Bonnie and Clyde in space.”

And Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver is working on a project called Survive the Night, a “music-themed horror thriller” that will be based on a YA novel also by Oliver. That project, according to Deadline, is “a Halloween run-for-you-life-all-night story” about a group of female college students trapped in a rave.

While five (potentially six) female directors is still a depressingly small number in today’s film industry, it is still a step in the right direction. According to a recent study from the Director’s Guild of America, only 12% of top-grossing films in 2017 were directed by women, even fewer by women of color at just 4%. A long-term investigation by the EEOC, meanwhile, found systematic discrimination against female directors by Hollywood studios, and with men still possessing the majority of the top jobs in Hollywood, it will take intentional action by studios like Warner Bros. to turn those numbers around.

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