Gal Gadot in "Wonder Woman."  (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
Gal Gadot in "Wonder Woman." (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

WASHINGTON - Women are flexing their muscles in Hollywood this summer with the female-directed film Wonder Woman soaring past $600 million at the box office worldwide and another woman-led production, The Beguiled, picking up the coveted Palm D’Or for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.

Women have always been an essential component of Hollywood as lead actresses in the romance genre, in comedy and drama. But they have had difficulty establishing themselves in roles traditionally claimed by male actors such as action heroes. 

Women have also found it difficult to secure directorial roles in the film industry, because studios are generally reluctant to put big budget films in the hands of female filmmakers.

Breaking barriers

However, this summer a big crack in that ceiling was made by women using their talents in front of and behind the camera to conjure up high earnings at the box office.

Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, has so far grossed $600 million and continues to draw audiences. Actress Gal Gadot portrays Wonder Woman, whose strength, courage and grace help end the war of all wars. Gadot plays Princess Diana of Themyscira, a Greek goddess, who decides to leave her utopian world to fight against Ares, the God of War, a thinly veiled metaphor for Nazi Germany in World War II. 

In real life, Gadot, an Israeli actress and model, once served as a combat trainer in the Israel Defense forces. She and American filmmaker Jenkins have achieved an impressive feat by breaking the box office record for a female director.

Jenkins doesn't focus on the gender issue. She believes her success is due to her love for Wonder Woman. As a filmmaker, she aspired to make the best Wonder Woman ever. 

“The fact that I’m a woman or she is a woman or we are all women or whatever, was a wonderful deep part of it, but you just tune it out completely because I’m just a filmmaker trying to make a film that I care about that much anyway,” she said.

Jenkins says she saw Wonder Woman as a superheroine who channels her raw power through empathy and compassion. 

“Being a hero is often not a proactive state of being, of going and punching somebody out and therefore things being over,” she said. “It ends up being so much more on an everyday scale about understanding and love and forgiveness and the complexity of life.”

Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in "Wonder Woman." (Warne
Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in "Wonder Woman." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Next to this great woman is good man, pilot Steve Trevor, played by actor Chris Pine. 

Gadot offers glowing reviews of her co-star, who, she says, made her laugh so often during filming that they had to repeat many takes of sequences to do them straight-faced. Gadot is grateful Jenkins had the same mindset about the film and the character as she did.

“I am so lucky that Patty was the one to direct me. Her vision for Diana was in line with mine,” she said.

The dynamic duo of Gadot and Jenkins is more proof that Hollywood studios can entrust big budget productions to women.

?Coppola and The Beguiled

Filmmaker Sofia Coppola recently received the coveted Palm D’Or for her remake period drama The Beguiled, a film first made in 1971 by Don Siegel, starring Clint Eastwood. 

“The original movie is from the male point of view, the soldier’s point of view of this woman’s world,” Coppola said, “and I thought, ‘Oh, it would be so interesting to go back and find the book and tell the same premise but from the women characters point of view.'”

Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, writer/director Sofia
Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, writer/director Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst seen at the U.S. premiere of "The Beguiled" after-party at Sunset Tower, June 12, 2017, in Los Angeles.

The film offers poetic cinematography and an all-star female cast. Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst play the lead roles as teachers in charge of an upper-class boarding school for women, fending for themselves during the U.S. Civil War. Their orderly life is disrupted by a handsome wounded Union soldier who seeks refuge at the school and sows discord and jealousy among the women.

Coppola is only the second woman to win best director at Cannes in 71 years, opening her road to the Oscars. Although many would argue she has an advantage in the industry coming from the Coppola filmmaking dynasty, her talent is undeniable. 

During the Cannes Film Festival, actress Nicole Kidman noted the gender gap among Hollywood filmmakers. “Still only 4 percent of women directed, I think, the major motion pictures of 2016,” she said.

Wonder Woman’s box office triumph and The Beguiled’s artistic recognition are opening the door for more female auteurs in mainstream Hollywood.

Other films directed and headlined by women that are out this summer include Gabriela’s Cowperthwaite’s war drama Megan Leavey, Eleanor Coppola’s Paris Can Wait, and Lucia Aniello's Rough Night starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon and Zoe Kravitz.