James Cameron, the director of a number of highly grossing blockbuster films such as “The Terminator,” sci-fi spectacle “Avatar” and “Titanic,” isn’t “the king of the world” this week. After hurling a trio of insults at Patty Jenkins, the director of the summer mega-hit “Wonder Woman,” Cameron is finding himself the target of feminist ire.
It’s well deserved.
In an interview with the Guardian, Cameron said the movie was a “step backwards” for women, even calling the superhero an “objectified woman.” And in a stunningly rude move, he dismissed the praise the film’s actors and director have received as only “self-congratulatory back-patting.”
While some might dismiss Cameron’s statement as the normal and legitimate criticism one director offers another in the industry, many women will view his comments more negatively (even reminiscent of that of that harmless yet petty ex-boyfriend annoyed by a former girlfriend’s success — ahem . . . Kathryn Bigelow). Or worse for Cameron’s brand, women may view his callous insults as evidence that he’s utterly confused about what women want to see in movies. You know, simple things: thoughtful plot lines, character developments and relationships between men and women that don’t come off as high school-level love triangles on a sinking ship.
Of course, a careful read of the Guardian interview reveals a more basic motivation behind his spiteful reaction to the movie: Narcissism. Explaining his reaction to the Wonder Woman character, Cameron made clear he has trouble reconciling the fact that modern female superheroes look different from the fictional female protagonists he developed for Terminator and Terminator II.
According to Cameron, Sara Connor — the main female character in the early Terminator franchise — was a far better female icon, because, despite being stunningly beautiful and possessing a Crossfit-champion level of physical fitness, Connor “wasn’t a beauty icon.” Cameron also suggests Conner is a better representation of a woman because she was “troubled” and was “a terrible mother.”
Perhaps Cameron is trying to make the case for complexity and against what he sees as cultural standards of female heroism, both physical and intellectual. But here’s how it actually sounds: The marks of a real woman, to Cameron are homeliness, troubled minds and crappy parenting skills. Is anyone surprised James Cameron’s been married five times?
Cameron’s correct that actress Gal Gadot’s version of Wonder Woman is different than most female movie versions of superheroes. Gadot plays Wonder Woman not just as a feminist but also as genuinely feminine, softhearted and nurturing. Her Wonder Woman is even motherly — quick to coo over babies, likable, unfailingly kind and even emotionally atuned to the pain of children.
These traits, the politically incorrect would say, are womanly characteristics, and entirely inconsistent with what Cameron views as a tough female role model and superhero for the 21st century.
In a statement responding to Cameron’s jibes, Jenkins rejects those notions as well as Cameron’s suggestion that softness and femininity are barriers to superhero-club status. One can almost see Jenkins slow-walking Cameron through Women 101, writing, “If women always have to 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?”
The happy news is that women have come far — from the days where women were expected to only serve certain roles and from the one-dimensional depictions provided for years on TV and in the movies. Jenkins understands women’s true progress — a concept lost on Cameron and, sadly, many Hollywood executives who continue to refuse women the directorships of major studio productions.
We should forgive Cameron’s sloppy yammering about women — clearly a subject he finds confusing. But he would be wise to learn from his this situation and recognize that tactless and mean-spirited comments like those he made about Wonder Women don’t go unnoticed — particularly among women he might someday want to purchase movie tickets.
Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.