On Sexism, Misogyny, and Self-Congratulatory Back-Patting

James Cameron made the headlines last week. He began production on 4 Avatar movies with a combined budget of $1 billion – a budget that could very well balloon to twice that or more in time. Perhaps we’ll talk about ridiculously supplying films that have little to no demand anymore (we may have been eager for an Avatar follow-up years ago, but my God we didn’t ask for FOUR), because in other news, James Cameron has decided to double down on his comments about Wonder Woman.

Never mind the fact that the film has just been released on Blu-ray and this might be an attempt to undercut the film’s runaway success (Wonder Woman is also poised to be the highest grossing solo superhero movie of all time), or the fact that another Terminator reboot has been announced and thus he’s trying to reinsert the franchise’s relevancy. Perhaps the timing of Cameron’s comments are purely coincidental:

“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided. She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit…”

And then him doubling down:

“Yes, I’ll stand by that. I mean, [Gadot] 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…

“So as much as I applaud Patty directing the film and Hollywood, uh, “letting” a woman direct a major action franchise, I didn’t think there was anything groundbreaking in Wonder Woman.”

As a fan of James Cameron, I’m disappointed (I think Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens are bona fide classics; both films shaped my childhood imagination and terror). It’s worth noting too that I am also an unabashed fan of Wonder Woman, so it’s difficult for me to be objective here.

Cameron, of course, is under no obligation to gush over the film. He is entitled to his own opinion. What I find problematic is that Cameron is unwilling to acknowledge how revolutionary Wonder Woman is in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, the film’s success a momentous occasion for both its star and director. He doesn’t need to like the film, but his refusal to even acknowledge this is worse because he’s essentially putting down the film’s significance. 

His comments aren’t just problematic, but ironic. He notes the ogling of Gal Gadot’s “busty” figure when he himself has directed scenes that deliberately ogled Jamie Lee Curtis and Kate Winslet. Why he feels the need to cite Sarah Connor, a character of his own creation is beyond me (and borderline masturbatory). Cameron seems too keenly fixated on Gadot’s appearance than her performance, her “drop-dead gorgeous” looks somehow precluding her from any kind of meaningful discussion (there is no mention of her portrayal, arc, story, etc.). And, the final nail in the coffin, Cameron undercuts Patty Jenkins’ directorial talent and resolve, as if the studio simply “let” her direct the project just because she was a woman.

I suppose Cameron’s thoughts stem from a curiosity as to why the film is so successful and his frustration as to why a “backwards” film, in his mind, could be so celebrated. Personal criticisms aside, there’s no denying Wonder Woman has earned its success. If films like Logan, Guardians Vol. 2, and Spiderman: Homecoming can boast of their rave reviews and box office receipts, Wonder Woman can surely have its day, too (I’m also quite sure DC Films didn’t mind the positive response). Wonder Woman is the first female-fronted superhero in this golden age of superheroes. Its success needs to be emphasized especially if we are going to push for more films with women at the helm. Frankly, James Cameron is wrong. Wonder Woman did break ground. It’s a start.

Cameron is so emboldened at this point in his career that he feels he can speak as to which traits are exclusively feminine, using his own work as a reference in a self-congratulatory back-patting way. Doubling down on his backhanded comments, he is unaware that he is standing on a privileged platform to express these views (he’s made 7 films, 11 after all is said and done with Avatar, while Wonder Woman was only Patty’s 2nd film). He, as Hollywood is wont to not let us forget, is the director of the highest grossing movie of all time (Titanic) and is now embarking on what might be the most expensive film production of all time.

He’s entitled and enabled to feel this sense of entitlement. He needs to know that his views are an example of the pervading sexism that he felt so compelled to speak out against. That’s not to say that a man can’t identify as a feminist. I know something needs to be said of me, a man commenting on the matter, but I strongly believe Cameron shouldn’t position himself as a leading voice on that front. Leave that to women.

“The downside of being attracted to independent women is that they don’t need you.” Cameron’s insecurity could serve as the basis for his contradictory views. (“Fortunately, I’m married now to a strong independent woman who does believe she needs me,” Cameron goes on to say). If his comments on Wonder Woman have proven anything, it’s that no matter how far you’ve come or how many glass ceilings you manage to break through, Wonder Woman is still subjected to mansplaining of what she ought to be (Be careful in the world of men, Diana). We live in a progressively and increasingly self-aware cinematic landscape, where audiences are demanding for strong female characters and the inclusion of women at the forefront of these big studio ventures. Perhaps we don’t need the likes of James Cameron anymore. 

3 thoughts on “On Sexism, Misogyny, and Self-Congratulatory Back-Patting

  1. Jade says:

    Great post, Adrian! I love how James Cameron says it, as though he believes that busty, gorgeous women do not exist. Female representation goes far beyond looks. Considering how John Connor was always posited the true hero of Terminator, I’m not too sure Sarah Connor ever truly qualified as a feminist heroine. After all, her character existed simply to birth a future resistance leader, and the plot largely centred on Kyle Reese saving her.

    As for “Hollywood letting a woman direct a major action franchise”, hadn’t Cameron just inadvertently acknowledged the industry’s problem? It’s incredible how he still thinks Jenkins at the helm wasn’t a huge deal. The lack of precedence is precisely why Wonder Woman deserves to be celebrated.

    He’s failed to see that only when we recognise the importance of representation, can more women be given the chance at the director’s chair. On a side note, I’m glad this all begins with the popular superhero(ine) genre, which makes progress more likely than ever.

    • adrianvstheworld says:

      It really bummed me out that Cameron doubled down on his comments. To each his own, to be sure, but it felt woefully misguided. He’s not even trying to engage in a constructive conversation. A more constructive way would have been to engage with Patty Jenkins. Instead, he lambasted her in a very sexist way. Even more troubling, he doesn’t even realize it.

      This wasn’t something I planned to comment on (I’m aware of the double standard of me weighing in on the topic), but for Cameron to reassert his opinions like he’s the conscience of women? No, no, no. It’s so embarrassingly privileged of him to do and downright disappointing. Your assessment of Sarah Connor, which I didn’t even think about until now, captures exactly what’s wrong with Cameron using her as an example, and him congratulating himself for doing so. He speaks as if Wonder Woman somehow needed to retool its heroine. Maybe James Cameron should retool his.

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