After first making a splash in 2003 with the Oscar winning true life serial killer drama Monster, director Patty Jenkins had a brush with the superhero world when she came close to helming Marvel Studios’ Thor: The Dark World, but left due to creative differences. “I was very upset, because she’s a wonderful woman,” the film’s star, Natalie Portman, told FilmInk. “She’s so talented, and she can do anything. I was excited to work with her, but I understood why she chose to leave.” Marvel’s loss, however, was DC’s gain, as Jenkins was eventually tapped to direct 2017’s Wonder Woman. Inheriting Zack Snyder’s expert choice of Gal Gadot for the title role (the Israeli actress first appeared in the director’s 2016 universe kick-starter, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice), the director delivered a fun but thoughtful game-changer that shifted the dial when it came to movies headlined by female superheroes. Now Patty Jenkins is back with the 1980s-set sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, which comes complete with two new villains (Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal), a returning Chris Pine, and another blazing opportunity for large scale female empowerment.
Why did you pick the 1980s for the film’s setting?
“Wonder Woman is very synonymous with the 1980s because of the TV show, and I wanted to jump forward far enough that she’s now full blown Wonder Woman in the world. She’s been doing it for a long time. She’s on top of her game. Also, a lot of the world that we’re living in now was born in the ’80s. It was a struggle up to the ’80s to get to such opulence. The ’80s was like ‘This is it, this is who we are, and this is how we live.’ Now we’re living in the results of a lot of that. It was an interesting way to see mankind at their best, and what we still aspire to be before we knew any of the price. The villains are very much born from that, so it ends up being a way to talk about now without having to be literally now.”
With the last film, you mentioned that you were trying to not include feminism too much in the film…how about this time?
“It’s not that I don’t try to include it, it’s that I think that the most powerful thing is to be a feminist who’s just making movies about female characters. I don’t think you have to talk about it to be doing it. That’s what my theory has been. My son doesn’t really care that much that, yes, I’m the director of Wonder Woman, but when I see that he genuinely plays with the Wonder Woman dolls in exactly the same way that he does with any others, that’s great. In the bathtub right now, it’s all Wonder Woman dolls. That’s how we’re doing it. You make things that inspire people to identify with a character who happens to be a woman and a villain who happens to be a woman. Then you’re doing it. You can only tackle so many things at the same time. It’s just people doing things. That’s what I believe in.”
Can you tell us about Kristen Wiig…she brings such great humour to the film…
“She’s amazing. She’s a genius. She’s so smart and talented, you cannot believe it. She’s also one of the most sweet and sensitive people that I’ve ever known. She loses sleep over anybody not being treated right, and worrying about other people being sick or whatever. Both Gal and I love her. We were like super fans of hers, and as the character evolved of what version of Barbara Minerva we were doing, she was just a no brainer of who could play your best friend, who’s a girl that you really love and you think she’s so great, but she’s so hard on herself all the time. Inside that is brewing a resentment, which is dangerous, and then she can get all the way there. Kristen was perfect.”
Were you surprised by all the discussion around the first film? What the character should and shouldn’t be as a woman? All of that stuff?
“I’m not surprised by it, but I find it so aggravating. Listen, I can’t tell what’s true because on the internet, one person will say something and it gets so amplified. In the last movie, one person, no joke, made a comment about thinking that Wonder Woman’s underarm had been bleached. Right. One person. That made headlines and I refused to comment it. She wears tanning lotion and it wore off. We didn’t bleach her underarms. Why would we do that? That’s so dumb. Her self-tanner came off. But when I followed that whole story, only one person had said it in the first place, so it’s super hard to tell what’s real and what’s not real nowadays, in terms of what people are actually talking about. I don’t really know what’s a controversy and what’s not a controversy anymore, but I definitely know that as soon as it’s a female superhero, it seems very concerned with what she shouldn’t have in order to prove that she’s strong. And I’m not interested in that. The male superheroes have love interests, and they wear ridiculous costumes to make their bodies look perfect. They have – which are impractical – all those things. Well, this is my Wonder Woman. This is my fantasy. She’s all those things for me. And why would you not have love? Everybody else has love. Why would I take love away from her? It’s great for there to be movies about female characters without a love interest. That’s great, but she’s like Superman. Superman had Lois Lane, Wonder Woman had Steve Trevor. Why would I take that away from her? Because I’m afraid? I’m not afraid. I definitely notice that stuff, but I just try to tune it out and hope that it’s not actually all that real.”
Do you think that comes because she was the first one? Now we’re getting more female superheroes, in part thanks to Wonder Woman. Do you think the conversation can be more varied now?
“I do hope so. But you know what I think is changing the world? Video games. I really do think that they’re changing the world. They’re going to have such a profound effect, because that’s where the struggle has come from: can you be feminine and strong? There was always some chip on your shoulder that you needed to prove something, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute! Women were having kids in covered wagons with a broken hip! Don’t worry about it! They’ve been strong forever!’ But why can’t they be feminine and bad ass? Of course they can. I think that’s going away now. The video games often have a female character. My son and his friends all play the video games and they are all women. Half the time I look at Fortnite, they’re all a female team. That’s mind-blowing, man! It’s actually mind-blowing to think that they’re in there fighting in these sexy outfits as women, and it’s not even occurring to them! What an incredible thing. That’s what we have to embrace: the idea that you can be super feminine and be a contender.”
The Olympics scenes on Themyscira in the film almost look like Ninja Warrior. Were you inspired by that?
“It’s funny you would say that because one of the stunt people on the film is Jessie Graff, who’s the champion of American Ninja Warrior. She is incredible. In the history of the Wonder Woman comic books, there was always an Olympics, and in the original film, it was in the origin story. I felt really upset cutting it out of the original movie, but to tell the whole story, we couldn’t tell all the chapters. So we ended up having the beach battle instead, which was important to the movie instead of the competition. So this time, I was like, ‘I want the competition and now!’ Once we had the Olympics, we asked ourselves what a women’s Olympics would be like. It’s all about different movements, like jumping and swinging and flipping. I loved the idea of there being a race that incorporates horse riding, swimming, acrobatics, and all of these different things.”
There are still so few, if hardly any, female directors celebrated at the Oscars. Do you feel frustrated?
“I have a more depressing answer than that, which is that I’ve given up on this whole situation. I hope it changes but I’m not surprised by it anymore. As long as 99% of your voting body is older men, it’s not going to change. I know that they’re working on it, and they’re trying, but they can only do so much. I understand that they’re trying really hard, but we have a long way to go in society before what all groups celebrate are seen as the main one. Because everything that we celebrate all over the place is still being defined. The history of Western civilisation has had this problem forever. The history books tell the story from this very narrow point of view with no acknowledgement of the other side or the nuances. And that’s the history we all learn. We don’t learn the other side of the history. And so, we have that same thing when it comes to the history of movies. The movies that are celebrated right now, it’s still what a very small slant of people deem as important. It has very little to do with what I like, and have always liked. I don’t get that caught up in it because I just try to make my movies and not think about it or I would be too frustrated. But I hope it could change. I wish the Oscars meant something to me. They don’t mean as much as they could.”
Do you fear that there is push back because of the progress of women?
“There’s lots of pushback. It’s great news that we’re aware of how unrepresentative they are of great things that are going on, and has been with every culture, with women’s films, with African American films, with international films. They’ve all been seen as niche, so you could have the greatest success in the whole wide world, but it doesn’t count. We’ve got a long way to go before we’re really talking about the best picture of the year. But I see huge progress in the films that are starting to be made since when I went into Wonder Woman to even now. The idea that other people’s stories can make money and succeed is actually arriving, which is so great. The idea that you can make a massive movie with a different structure of leadership and cast is great, and that will change a lot.”
We’ve now had Captain Marvel and Birds Of Prey, and we’re about to have Black Widow. Would they have happened without Wonder Woman?
“I don’t know…I can’t pull outside of my own point of view well enough to know. I’m just too deep in my own thing, making the movies. But I certainly hope that we played a role in making things better. It definitely would’ve had a negative impact if Wonder Woman hadn’t been a success, that much I know. In the past, one setback for a women’s film is a major setback for everybody. I’ve talked about that before with my career, how I’ve been aware of moments in my career that I was like, ‘Ooh, I can’t roll the dice like this or it’s going to be bad for a lot of people if it fails.’”
Wonder Woman is very pure and decent, and is really a fine role model, which is not the case with all superheroes. Why do you think that appeals to audiences today?
“All these superheroes are important for different reasons. This kind of superhero is more important than ever because we have been in a very jaded time that is beholden to irony, snarkiness, and jokiness. We’ve gotten very far from what the origin of superheroes is about, which is inspiring the audience. If you were a hero and you had powers, what could you do? That’s so intrinsic to it. I get that there was a period of time when that got played out and everybody wanted to do a commentary. What if you hated things? What if you didn’t want to do it? These are all interesting stories to tell, but we need to be inspiring the youth of today and ourselves to find our better selves, no matter who you are. We need to tackle the same things that Wonder Woman tackles by being someone who is truly good. She’s flawed, but she’s trying to be a hero in this world. I love that about her, and I love that she’s a God. Her mission is to make us all better, but she’s not succeeding at that all the time. This is an important thing for our youth of today to identify with: finding the Wonder Woman inside of them.”
Wonder Woman 1984 is released in cinemas on December 26. Click here for our interview with Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig. Click here for our interview with Pedro Pascal. Click here for our interview with Chris Pine.