Editorial: James Cameron Criticism of Wonder Woman is Misguided

Robert argues that the director's views are simplistic and damaging.

By Robert Marrujo:: I enjoyed Wonder Woman. The Gal Gadot-starring film brought DC's resident Amazonian goddess to life with a lot of action, levity, and more importantly, heart. That's not to say the film is perfect, of course. It didn't break any ground from a narrative standpoint. In terms of superhero films is was a lot like Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger, even mirroring it as a period piece. Heck, Wonder Woman also suffered the typical final act woes that superhero films are notorious for.

What is important about Wonder Woman, however, is the fact that it took a summer blockbuster of the sort that's usually reserved for male stars and flipped it on its ear. A woman star and a woman director vying for the attention of a universal audience, not just men in their teens to late thirties. Gal Gadot is presented as a powerful figure with a strong will, incredible drive, and fighting skills on par with any male superhero yet seen on the silver screen.

Wonder Woman is an uncanny achievement for women in genre films... unless you're talking to James Cameron.

The director has been highly vocal about his displeasure with Wonder Woman as a vehicle for female empowerment. He's gone as far as to say that the movie is "a step backwards" for women in Hollywood. Speaking recently with The Hollywood Reporter, Cameron further elaborated on his views:

"I mean, she was Miss Israel, and she was wearing a kind of bustier costume that was very form-fitting. She's absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. To me, that's not breaking ground,"

In defense of her film, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins has said this in response to Cameron's criticisms:

"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."

"There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman. And the massive female audience who made the film a hit it is, can surely choose and judge their own icons of progress,"

To his credit, Cameron seems to be well-intentioned, citing Linda Hamilton's portrayal of Sarah Conner in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (which he directed) as what he perceives to be the true prototypical representation of a tough woman in a Hollywood picture. Cameron had this to say about Hamilton:

"Linda looked great. She just wasn't treated as a sex object. There was nothing sexual about her character. It was about angst, it was about will, it was about determination. She was crazy, she was complicated. … She wasn't there to be liked or ogled, but she was central, and the audience loved her by the end of the film."

While I wouldn't say I disagree that Linda Hamilton's turn as Sarah Conner was a major step forward for women in action roles, I will argue that she isn't the mold from which all others must be cast. Sarah Conner in T2 is a strong character, but she's also the end result of some very specific abuse. She comes out of the end of The Terminator shaken to her core and determined to prevent the armageddon that she knows is barreling towards humanity. Sarah has strength, but it comes from a decidedly dark source.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of gritty females out there who are very much cut from the same cloth as a Sarah Conner. What I am saying is that tough women, including those portrayed in our cinemas, don't all have to be like Linda Hamilton in T2. Gal Gadot indeed was Miss Israel (note: Israel, as in not America, which is another boon to this film and Gadot's casting) and is also drop-dead gorgeous. But that's the point. Wonder Woman is supposed to be an imposing, statuesque beauty.

What Patty Jenkins did was take the character of Wonder Woman from the pages of the comics and plant her in real life on film for the world to see. As Jenkins herself attested, much like I'm arguing, there is no singular take on a "powerful woman" action star. That Gadot is beautiful doesn't take away from her as a symbol of the strength of women.

I'm not ignorant, of course, to the blatant sexism that can occur in Tinseltown. If there's anything that Hollywood has an overabundance of, it's super model-calibre actresses strutting around on set. It's a lot easier in the film industry to be a Seth Rogan than it is to be a Melissa McCarthy, and even she is still a pretty woman regardless of her weight.

In an effort to promote equality, though, people have gone to the extremes now of chastising and belittling women who are, well, beautiful. Thin. Attractive. Qualities that are now treated as signals to insult and mock. "She clearly needs to eat more", people say, or "she only got that role because she's pretty." Whereas once upon a time it was common for people to fat-shame, now we have open thin-shaming running rampant across social media and elsewhere.

Which brings us to people such as Cameron who feel justified in lambasting an actress like Gadot for, frankly, being a beautiful woman. Insinuating that her looks are the beginning and end of anything that she or her director have to say about women in popcorn superhero films. Which in itself is an insult; after all, Wonder Woman doesn't spend any time pontificating the virtues of being a woman. Outside of some playful banter about sex with star Chris Pine (who I might add is the only character stripped down to a hand over his genitals), Wonder Woman is a superhero film not unlike any of the countless others that star men. Wonder Woman's actions define her, not just her gender.

Diana is a hero and she kicks the living daylights out of bad guys. Unless Cameron watched a different film, I didn't see anything there worth throwing a fit over.

Furthermore, I don't know what stands to be gained from belittling all that this film has accomplished. Gal Gadot smashing tanks might not be eliminating the glass ceiling for women in the workplace, but it does show people, in particular the boys and young men that watched Wonder Woman in theaters, that any woman can be the equal of any man. It shouldn't take a borderline psychotic like Sarah Conner for audiences to think of a woman as being tough or capable. Wonder Woman demonstrated exactly why the character has persevered for decades and continues to inspire people all over the world.

Before I sign off, I'd also like to point out that though Cameron talks big, let's not forget that he certainly has no problem stripping down female actresses in his films when it suits his purposes. Gratuitous nudity is a far cry from Wonder Woman's costume which, despite being a so-called bustier, really doesn't show much skin, I might add. I'd also be remiss to not point out Neytiri in Avatar is also quite sexualized with her microscopic attire and svelte body—rather convenient how she doesn't look like an alien where it "counts." I guess we're supposed to ignore all that because of T2 and Aliens. Avatar came out after those films, by the way; how's that for a step backwards?

Ultimately, while I don't identify as a "feminist", I do try to push common sense when and where that I can. As such, I think Jenkins said it best when she argued that if anyone is going to make the case for who is or isn't a role model for women, it's other women. If Wonder Woman's take home at the box office is anything to go off of, there are a lot of them who think Gal Gadot is a damn good one.

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