Watch CBS News

Patty Jenkins wants to be a great director -- not a great female director

One of the most anticipated releases of the summer movie season is superhero tale "Wonder Woman."

The movie is also the work of another strong woman -- one who battled the forces of Hollywood for the chance to run the big-budget feature. "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Alex Wagner spoke with the film's director Patty Jenkins about the barriers she's faced and how she wants to be a great director -- not a great female director.

"The thing about 'Wonder Woman,' which is very feminine and definitely different, is that her objective is to bring love and truth to mankind. It's not to stop any specific villain and it's not to fight and it's not to stop crime. She'll do all of those things in such a bad-ass way you can't believe it to defend you. And so it's an interesting other thing that brings that moral perspective into it," Jenkins said of the difference between male and female superheros. 

The immortal Wonder Woman 06:17

Morality and femininity are issues that Jenkins has explored before. "Monster," the 2003 film she wrote and directed about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, earned Charlize Theron the Oscar for Best Actress. It ultimately put Jenkins in the running for her dream project.

"I grew up very inspired by Superman one and by kind of the promise of the genre of what a superhero origin story can do. And so, when Hollywood started asking me what I wanted to do, I couldn't believe nobody had made 'Wonder Woman,'" Jenkins said. 

Nearly a decade passed before the film was hers to make.

Of how she felt once that door finally opened, Jenkins said, "It's two things. It's a little bit like once you have thought about something for so long it feels strangely normal on the one hand. On the other hand, the surreality of, 'I can't believe we're getting to make Wonder Woman' and also, 'Oh my God, we have to make the greatest Wonder Woman of all time.'" 

The future superhero, known as Diana, is born into a tribe of female warriors.  As daughter of their queen, she is groomed for battle under the watchful eye of her aunt.

"There were moments where I was standing on a beach and 150 women were about on come on horses and fight on a beach and I did have moments of saying, 'My God,' also because we've hand-picked like the most bad-ass, interesting women from around the world. So it was wild," Jenkins said of filming the movie.  

Diana leaves the island in search of Ares, the God of War, led by an American spy working for British intelligence in the middle of World War I. Chris Pine portrays the spy.

"Yeah, he's definitely playing the reverse role of not the one leading the story necessarily," Jenkins said of Pine's character. "But then [it's] also cool because he is playing such a heroic role, to watch that become so subtle and beautiful because in a way, it's more heroic and it's not unlike like an Indiana Jones or something. It's like, 'Look, this is all I have. I've got human skills.' If you can do that, I am gonna get over my sexism right now, say, 'Why don't you go do that?'" 

Inspired by the feminist movement, writer William Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941.  The character has been featured in comic books and a live action TV show starring Lynda Carter, but she has not been without controversy.

Wagner asked Jenkins to address the criticism by some that a supposed feminist icon like Wonder Woman can't also wear a sexy, skimpy outfit.

"I think that that's sexist. I think it's sexist to say you can't have both. I have to ask myself what I would apply to any other superhero. This is fantasy and it's not for anyone other than the person having the fantasy. I, as a little girl, like took a huge amount of delight in the idea that for my power and my ability to stop that bully on that playground, I could also look like Lynda Carter while I was doing it," Jenkins said.

Like her heroine, Jenkins has faced significant barriers: She's only the third woman to direct a film with a budget of at least $100 million and the first woman to direct a superhero film. But she hasn't let the pressure distract her. 

"I'm too busy looking at the more important duty that got handed to me, which is to make the best 'Wonder Woman' film and are you the right director who thinks to try, sure, OK, go. I definitely feel pressure. I just couldn't, you can't think about all the variable trickle-down effect that it's also representing," explained Jenkins. 

Still, Jenkins knows that Hollywood is watching 'Wonder Woman's' box office performance with extra scrutiny.

While women directors are often judged by the performance of other women directors, men usually are not. Why?

"Because we're still in the very place that this movie is trying to work against. I want to make a great superhero film, not a great woman superhero film," Jenkins said. "Similarly, I want to be a great director, not a great woman director, but at the moment the world is still preoccupied with the fact that I'm a woman director. That's the struggle."

Jenkins says she really doesn't know if the industry is changing.

"I feel interestingly that the director in me wants this film that I made to succeed. But the person who's not me at all, who lives outside of me has like heard people say for many years, 'Oh, nobody will go see a female superhero film. Women don't like action,' all those things. That part of me is watching, saying, 'Let's prove them wrong.'"

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.