Joss Whedon wrote a script for a feature length Wonder Woman film that has many fans worried about how he’ll treat his heroine in the upcoming Batgirl movie.
Update (February 22, 2018): Joss Whedon has exited DC’s Batgirl. He said in a statement to THR:
“Batgirl is such an exciting project, and Warners/DC such collaborative and supportive partners, that it took me months to realize I really didn’t have a story,” Whedon told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. Referring to DC president Geoff Johns and Warners Picture Group president Toby Emmerich, Whedon added, “I’m grateful to [DC president Geoff Johns and Warners Picture Group president Toby Emmerich] and everyone who was so welcoming when I arrived, and so understanding when I… uh, is there a sexier word for ‘failed’?”
Tracking Board adds that WB will now look for a female director to helm the movie.
Back to the drawing board for WB/DC! In the mean time, check out why we didn’t think this was working for Joss in the first place…
Original Feature (March 2017): Joss Whedon, best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has recently become a household name once again thanks to his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, first with The Avengers (2012) and again with The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
It should come as no surprise then that Whedon is being tapped to join the DC Extended Universe. He’s always been a comic book junkie and clearly has a rabid fanbase that will watch anything he puts out. Instead of being tapped to write the next Batman movie or take on a Justice League film, Whedon was hired to write Batgirl.
Those who have become disenchanted with Whedon recently thanks to his decisions regarding certain characters in the MCU were not too happy with this news. Neither were those who felt as though a female director should be given the chance to tell the female superhero’s origin stories. Patty Jenkins was hired to tell Wonder Woman’s, so why couldn’t Batgirl get the same treatment?
All of that aside, the biggest disruption recently came when Whedon’s Wonder Woman script from 2007 was leaked. Originally, the filmmaker was hired to write and direct the movie, but ultimately he and the studio parted ways due to creative differences, with Whedon citing “it was a waste of my time.”
The leaked script has been causing quite a stir on Twitter recently, with some fans slamming him for his treatment of the female superhero. As much as I agree with the commentary about the script itself and how problematic it is, I’m not here to talk about Wonder Woman (as much as I want to praise Jenkins for getting so much more of it right). I’m here to talk about Batgirl.
I’ve read Whedon’s Wonder Woman script from start to finish and have come to the same conclusion as nearly anyone else: it’s not good. I don’t hate him. I love Buffy and The Avengers. I have found fewer problems with his filmmaking and feminist stances than others, but I can’t deny that his Wonder Woman script has raised more than a few red flags for me regarding the upcoming Batgirl film.
First and foremost, his version of Wonder Woman is about Steve Trevor, despite the name of the movie. It opens on Steve and for the most part it is told from Steve’s perspective. Jenkins’ film showed us Diana growing up, from a young child to warrior princess, as told from the perspective of the women around her. Whedon’s film would’ve shown us a fully-grown Diana from a man’s point of view.
We don’t yet know what version of Batgirl we’ll be seeing from Whedon (though Barbara Gordon is certainly the most likely), but no matter who it is, it’s imperative that this is treated as her story. The reason why Jenkins’ Wonder Woman worked so well was because it lacked many of the elements that have cause female-led superheroes to crash and burn in the past. Diana Prince became a universal hero that both men and women could look up to because of her strength and purity of heart, not because of her gender or her skimpy outfit.
This is yet another red flag that popped up throughout Whedon’s script. Steve Trevor is introduced as being 30 years old, having kind eyes, and being a workingman. There is nothing in there about his size or his clothes or his ravishing good looks.
In contrast, Diana has a much longer introduction that revels in such details. We are told that she is beyond beautiful: natural and wild. We learn the exact way her curls fall around her shoulders. She is curvaceous and taught. More than one sentence is dedicated to explaining the detail of the “archaic white shift” she is wearing.
An argument could be made that, as the titular character, she deserves ample description. The problem comes when the words being used to describe her are clearly focused on her femininity, unequal to the time spent on the other main character of the movie, Steve Trevor. Diana’s outfits change several times and I can remember, in detail, how they were described. But what was Steve wearing throughout the script? I hardly know.
There will need to be time spent on Batgirl’s costume, at the very least. Whenever a superhero movie is made, whether it stars a male or female protagonist, fans will want to know which version of the suit they’ll be adapting and how closely it falls to what is seen in the comics. But there is a way to approach such details without objectifying the heroine.
It’s my hope that whichever suit they land on for Batgirl, it is treated in the same way both Superman and Batman have been treated. All of these costumes are tight, putting our society’s version of the perfect human form on full display, but whereas male costumes tend to lean more toward the practical, the female costumes tend to show off more of their figure or more of their skin.
I cannot claim to be the origin of such sentiments, but I have heard something floating around the internet that I think best describes what is going on in Joss Whedon’s head right now: he was progressive when he did Buffy, but now his idea of feminism is 20 years old. If you happen to have the time and patience (and willpower) to read through his Wonder Woman script, you will see how negative and antagonistic both Diana and Steve are throughout the movie (until the inevitable kiss at the end).
And it’s not just the heroes. Hephestia and Diana have a rivalry that is not all in good fun; it is borderline cruel. Jenkins’ version of the story is uplifting. Steve is in awe of Diana. She is pure of heart. She is not driven by a desire to prove herself but by a desire to help those around her.
But even more so, she is shown as a universal hero, regardless of her gender. We’ve seen women combat sexism time and time again. Audiences today want to see their heroines treated equally. All heroes must prove themselves, but if a man doesn’t need to do so because he is a man, why would a woman need to do so just because she is a woman?
Whedon’s script does not feel empowering, even when it tries to be. He talks about the Amazons praying for a man to fall from the sky. He talks about manhood as if it is the epitome of strength and character. Women are pitted against each other instead of used to help lift each other up. Diana is feared in his script rather than worshiped, like in the movie. On more than one occasion the characters refer to Diana as scantily clad and there is a completely unnecessary dance sequence that, as far as I can tell, is used to show, once again, how sexy Diana is.
Batgirl will have a lot to live up to. Right now, Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is representing the entire DC comic book universe as the most prominent female on screen. There are other female superheroes and anti-heroes, namely Harley Quinn, who offer up some support, but Batgirl will certainly have the ability stand next to Diana in much the same capacity, given she will have her own solo film.
I hope Whedon can understand how the landscape has changed from 20 years ago. Buffy was progressive for 1997, but that doesn’t mean she is still progressive today (our ReWatchable podcast has had this discussion many times over). Batgirl’s representation matters in a world where female-led superhero films are so few and far between. I have faith Whedon can be better than his Wonder Woman script. The question is — will he try to be?