female superhero movie directors

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, and opinionated about something that makes us very happy…or fills us with indescribable rage. In this edition: will the existence of Wonder Woman count as a victory for all female filmmakers and fans…or just some of them?)

We’re less than a week away from one of the most important theatrical releases this year, Wonder Woman, and the excitement for it just shows the staggering level of dedication for the decades-old brand and the power of women audiences. But not just women audiences; male viewers who can’t resist watching comic book narratives on the big screen, and powerful, scantily clad women characters they can never get. I guess that’s what studios mean when they say that it’s got something for everyone.

Like most women-led movies, of the superhero persuasion or otherwise, there’s an urgency around the film. Gal Gadot will solidify her status as a bonafide action star after this, and Patty Jenkins has bragging rights for being the first woman director to helm a superhero film since Lexi Alexander directed Punisher: War Zone almost 10 years ago. The rhetoric is if we don’t support this achievement with our dollars, we may never see another women-centric film ever again. Jenkins will be forced to go on a 12-year “hiatus” from the industry, and Gadot may have to find a way to get her character from the Fast and Furious movies resurrected from the dead (which isn’t so unusual for that franchise). Basically, the stakes are high. It is women who’ve been leading this Wonder Woman march, demanding all of our support and activism around it. I, along with many other women from various walks of life, am more than eager to pick up our gear and step in line. Because, as we’ve been told countless times, a win for one woman is a win for all of us. Right?

Well yes, ideally speaking. But apparently not when a woman of color is behind the project. As it turns out, once we’ve rallied the masses until our voices are hoarse, created all the call-to-action social media hashtags, and emptied our entire wallets at the movie ticket counter, the film (hopefully) does well and the intersectional women collective is not asked to entertain another favor until the next major white woman-led release falls onto our shoulders again.

And there’s something really icky about that. We’re living at a time when there are non-white woman filmmakers and leading ladies that are making just as significant strides in an industry that has utterly ignored them for more than a century. They’re doing so alarmingly right under the noses of their white counterparts, and barely getting any recognition for it. As we all are encouraged to breathlessly wait for Wonder Woman to descend upon theaters, director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who’s recently been confirmed to helm the Spider-Man spin-off Silver and Black, has garnered little fanfare from mainstream critics and audiences. Yes, Prince-Bythewood, a black woman director, will helm a superhero movie about two badass woman superheroes.

This news deserves a parade. But where is all the urgency around supporting this film beginning today, a year away from its release? (It’s slated to hit theaters in 2018). In addition to championing films like Wonder Woman, women of color are also tasked with carrying the importance of Prince-Bythewood directing a woman superhero movie on their backs alone. Because women of color unfortunately can neither demand nor expect that same level of support from our counterparts. And that’s a problem.

Black Cat and Silver Sable

Silver and Black and Gina Prince-Bythewood

Let’s take a look at Silver and Black for a moment. First appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man in June 1985, Silver Sable (aka Silver Sablinova), downplayed as a side character in the series, is the silver-clad hero and boss of Silver Sable International who has made it her life work to avenge her mother’s murder and go after villains one-by-one.  While she has historically enlisted the assistance of male counterparts like Deadpool, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Spider-Man, she is more than up to the challenge of taking on her enemies with her own two hands. She’s the type of complex character for which we are always craving. And now we get to see her elevated to the forefront in her own movie.

Then there’s Black Cat (aka Felicia Hardy), a cunning antihero-type first introduced in the series in 1979, a self-trained cat burglar-turned-superhero and New York native. She, like Silver Sable, is fueled by revenge, for her stemming from a college rape.  While she’s occasionally joined forces with Spider-Man, was his on-again/off-again love interest pre-Mary Jane, and has even been compelled to save his life a few times, her relationship with the webbed one is best described as complicated. She’s proven herself to be a one-woman wrecking ball when it comes to those who try to step in front of her path.

I am not even a comic book reader, but a simple online search gave me enough information to understand the importance of these two characters getting their own movie, and — more amazingly — that movie being directed by a woman of color.

We’ve collectively talked endlessly about Wonder Woman leading up to this week’s release, strikingly more than the studio and our male counterparts have bothered to do. We’ve become the global marketing machine behind it. Even Alamo Drafthouse scheduled a series of all-women screenings of the film, which was unsurprisingly met with equal levels of support from women and disdain from men. But still, we persisted and properly dragged the whiny men who took issue with women creating a space for a comic book movie to which they are not invited.

But this asks an important question: When Silver and Black, directed by a woman of color, starts its path to theaters, will it receive the same level of support that Wonder Woman has? And if not, ask yourself why not.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Patty Jenkins was the first woman to direct a superhero movie. We have updated the text to mention Lexi Alexander.

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