The towering “Me, Too” wave in October 2017 crashed across several industries — most notably entertainment, media and politics — washing away careers when ugly revelations of sexual harassment, assault and abuse of power surfaced.
January was dominated by the Women’s March, when more than 3.2 million people took to the streets in more than 400 marches across the United States. They advocated for legislation and policies on human rights and a wide range of other issues.
The events bookended a tumultuous year of whiplash media coverage, with stories about Russia, North Korea, taxes and all things President Donald Trump. For women, however, a common theme emerged in those bookends: empowerment.
In Hollywood, one movie spoke to the movement: “Wonder Woman.” With a budget of $149 million, it was just the second movie with a budget topping $100 million to be directed by a woman — and the first superhero film. The result: $822 million at the box office and rave reviews from film critics.
The woman at the helm was Patty Jenkins, who lived in Lawrence from kindergarten through her junior year of high school. She’s The Topeka Capital-Journal’s 2017 Kansan of the Year.
Jenkins spoke to Variety about when she realized the film had captured the cultural zeitgeist.
“I knew I was speaking about something that felt pertinent to me in this period of time. I assumed it would be seen as just a superhero film,” Jenkins said. “I wasn’t even thinking about me being woman and a female director and how Gal (Gadot) being a female lead was going to be as much a conversation as it was.”
Then audiences responded to the film, and dialogues began.
“It feels like we’re standing in this crossroads of a conversation that wants to happen,” Jenkins told Variety. “They want to talk about all kinds of things as it related to equality, to women, to female power, to female leadership, their ability to be successful without being defined by men, all kinds of things.”
Jenkins said she was conscientious during filming that young girls would want to see “Wonder Woman.”
“Seeing the young girls dressed up in costume is and was one of the most powerful things about making this film, because recently these superhero films have had very adult audiences,” Jenkins said. “Watching this next generation not only embrace the character that I love but embrace this message that she stands for into their soul is so incredible. Knowing that we might have touched them and the way they think about the world is kind of stunning.”
As a young girl growing up in Lawrence, Jenkins responded to a different superhero, one with Kansas roots of his own, she told Bloomberg.
“Superman rocked my world,” Jenkins said. “He remains to this day a favorite.”
With a father who was an Air Force captain — and a mother who was an environmental scientist — Jenkins also grew up in California, Thailand and Germany, she told the Hollywood Reporter.
After obtaining her undergraduate degree from Cooper Union in New York City, Jenkins worked for several years as an assistant camera person on commercials and music videos before attending the American Film Institute’s directing program in Los Angeles.
Jenkins soon wrote and directed “Monster,” a biopic about serial killer Aileen Wuornos that won Charlize Theron an Academy Award for best actress in 2004 and the film numerous “top 10” citations from film critics.
Married to travel writer Sam Sheridan and raising a young son, Jenkins spent several years directing such television shows as “The Killing” and “Arrested Development.”
Then came “Wonder Woman.” In a Bloomberg story published earlier this year, Jenkins was asked about a San Diego State University’s Celluloid Ceiling report noting women made up just 7 percent of all directors on the top 250 films, a 2 percent decline from 2015.
“I’m sure there’s a long history of belief that certain jobs are masculine,” Jenkins said. “But why a director would fall into that (category) makes me very confused. Because it feels like a very natural job for a woman. It’s incredibly maternal in a way. You’re caretaking all of these sorts of things.”
Bloomberg asked Jenkins what it was like to be responsible for a film with a budget of $149 million, a record for a female director.
“People always want to know what it’s like to take on such a huge budget,” she said. “I still have 20 percent too little money and 20 percent too little time to do what I’m trying to do.”
In addition to the positive response to the film — it has a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes — Jenkins herself is collecting a handful of year-end honors, including being named to the Bloomberg 50, Variety’s Power of Women, Glamour Women of the Year Award for The Changemaker and one of the year’s breakthrough entertainers by The Associated Press. She also was a runner-up for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, which was awarded to the Silence Breakers.
The awards are resulting in rewards.
Jenkins will co-write and direct “Wonder Woman 2,” which is scheduled for release in December 2019. The Hollywood Reporter announced the deal would be “in the $7 million to $9 million range,” as well part of the profits from the sequel. Jenkins made $1 million from the first movie.
Jenkins told Bloomberg she’s excited to be back at work on the franchise, which is in preproduction.
“I love Wonder Woman, and I believe in Wonder Woman,” she said, “and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this in the palm of my hand right now.”