THE WEEK IN WOMEN news roundup: ‘Wonder Woman’ keeps winning, Gabriela Cowperthwaite on ‘Megan Leavey,’ Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey on making an effort for inclusion

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Gal Gadot stars in "Wonder Woman." Warner Bros. photo

Gal Gadot stars in “Wonder Woman.” Warner Bros. photo

Wonder Woman is proving even more wonderful in her second weekend in theaters.

The best-reviewed in the DC Comics movie universe to date, director Patty Jenkins’ superhero origin story looks to earn $57.2 million from 4,165 theaters by the end of this weekend, putting it solidly in first place. Variety reports that’s only a 45 percent drop from its opening weekend, giving the film an estimated $205 million domestically in two weekends.

Starring Gal Gadot as the fearless Amazon princess, “Wonder Woman” is making more during its second frame than did both “Suicide Squad” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” despite those films having larger opening weekends than “Wonder Woman” ($133.7 million for “Suicide Squad” and $166 million for “Batman v Superman”). Plus, Jenkins’ record-setting film boasts a 93 percent “Fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregate site, which bodes well for its staying power.

“It’s an extraordinary hold for an extraordinary film,” Jeff Goldstein, the distribution chief at Warner Bros., told Variety. “When you open up at this high level, to have only a 45 percent drop, you just don’t see it.”

He added, “There’s something unique about this character, and there’s something special about the movie Patty Jenkins made.”

As previously reported, “Wonder Woman’s” more than $100 million opening last weekend powered Jenkins to set a new record for biggest opening ever for a female director. The previous record holder, director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” brought in $85.2 million in 2015.

As I noted in my “Wonder Woman” review, it’s been 76 years since the fearless Amazon princess made her bow in DC Comics, and the character is just making her feature film debut. Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man” ushered in the current golden age of comic-book movies nine years ago, and “Wonder Woman” is the first to showcase a female lead. The last female superhero vehicle to charge into cinemas was the dismal “Elektra” in 2005, which incidentally debuted two years after Jenkins’ last feature, “Monster,” which only won Charlize Theron an Oscar.

So, for women who love movies, especially movies made by women and about women, the stakes for “Wonder Woman” were high. Happily, Diana Prince’s film debut clears those high stakes with the same impressive ease that the sword-and-shield-wielding superhero leaps tall towers. Under Jenkins’ direction, “Wonder Woman” offers the requisite rousing fight sequences, clever quips and even the rare comic-book movie romance that actually gets sparks flying. But it also manages to inspire on more than one occasion.

As Alissa Wilkinson points out in her excellent analysis for Vox, the expectation-exceeding blockbuster success for “Wonder Woman” is defying outdated Hollywood expectations about what filmgoers want to see and who will show up to see what movies.

Since 50 percent of the audience for “Wonder Woman’s” opening weekend identified as female, that means a full 48 percent didn’t, challenging the notion that only women – and not men — go to see movies starring women. Plus, it gets an audience in the door that might not otherwise show up for a comic book movie.

She points to the horror smash “Get Out,” which made Jordan Peele the first black writer-director in cinematic history to make more than $100 million with his debut film, as well as the Oscar-nominated biopic “Hidden Figures,” which made $169 million in the U.S. alone with a story about black women mathematicians, as other films that are defying “conventional wisdom” and rewarding diversity. These movies are bolstering the box office at a time when favored Hollywood fare like the “Baywatch” reboot, the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie and the frenetic epic “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” have failed to live up to expectations.

‘Mummy’ stumbles in domestic debut

Which brings us to Universal’s reboot of the “The Mummy,” which stars Tom Cruise as a treasure hunter and Sofia Boutella as the supernatural princess he inadvertently resurrects, stumbled into second place domestically, collecting about $32.2 million from 4,035 locations.

But Variety reports that “The Mummy” has gained a greater following overseas, especially in China where it’s expected to amass a $52.5 million opening weekend, and is debuting with about $174 worldwide.

With “The Mummy’s” help, the studio crossed Sunday the $3 billion mark at the global box office, with more than $2 billion coming from international grosses. The global total was met for the fifth time in the studio’s history, but the $3 billion mark was crossed three days faster than last year. And the overseas milestone beat the previous record by five days, according to Variety. Of course, that milestone has more to do with the box-office might of “The Fate of the Furious” and “Get Out” than it does with the Tom Cruise-starring creature feature.

“The Mummy” is based on the classic 1932 Universal, which has already been reimagined by Stephen Sommers in 1999 with Brendan Fraser and the three other “Mummy” films that followed. It’s meant to be the first movie in Universal’s planned Dark Universe film series based on its classic monster titles; the next one planned is 2019’s “Bride of Frankenstein,” to be directed by “Beauty and the Beast” helmer Bill Condon.

Kate Mara stars in "Megan Leavey." Bleecker Street Media photo

Kate Mara stars in “Megan Leavey.” Bleecker Street Media photo

‘Megan Leavey’ director: Women to need to see themselves on the screen

Blackfish” documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite makes her feature film debut with “Megan Leavey,” which is based on the true story of a young Marine corporal (Kate Mara) and the bond she forms with her canine partner, Rex, during the Iraq War.

The movie is unusual in that it not only focuses on a woman in military combat but also in that it is directed by a woman and written by women (Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo). In a Q&A with AWFJ’s Nell Minow for RogerEbert.com, Cowperthwaite said it was important to her that the fact-based film didn’t boast a happily-ever-after romance.

“As women we have to look at these protagonists and these female characters and think to ourselves, ‘Oh yes, that’s me, that could be my friend, that could be a sister.’ It’s so often that this is just not the case. We just don’t find ourselves in these films even though there is a female character with a female name and she’s doing things in the movie. You just look at her and go, ‘That’s just not like anybody that I know or have ever known,’ and it’s because it wasn’t depicted by a woman; there wasn’t a female on the set for miles or a female in the writer’s room or a female who had final cut,” Cowperthwaite said.

“We have to recognize ourselves in films and that is what we wanted to do with ‘Megan Leavey,’ for the real Megan and for those of us who will see her story.

According to Box Office Mojo, “Megan Leavey” scored a strong “A” CinemaScore from opening day audiences, even if it didn’t deliver big-time box-office takes, finishing with an estimated $3.7 million from 1,956 theaters.

AWFJ selected “Megan Leavey” as the Movie of the Week (#MOTW) for June 9-16, 2017.

Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey talk about making the effort for inclusion

Finding women and people of color to work behind the scenes on films and TV project is hard work, but according to Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), it’s worth it to create a culture of inclusion.

“It takes effort to find [women and people of color] for your crew,” DuVernay said in a conversation with Oprah Winfrey and producer Bruce Cohen at the recent Producers Guild of America’s Produced By conference. “Department heads are used to working with their people.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, DuVernay became the first woman of color to direct a live-action movie budgeted at more than $100 million with her forthcoming $120 million adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.” She warned the heads of each department on her crew not to submit a homogeneous list of hires unless they could prove they had considered others. When one attempted to persuade the director that his list consisted of the best people for the job who also all happened to be white men, DuVernay was faced with a choice.

“Okay, this is a $120 million movie,” she told herself. “Do I accept?”

Instead, she told the department head, “I believe that you’re great. You’re the head, and I believe that you can come out with a great result with a different crew, and make them great, too.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, DuVernay credited her handling of the situation to the freedom she experienced on Queen Sugar, the drama series she has created, directed and executive produced for the Oprah Winfrey Network. To ensure a diverse crew, OWN greenlit more resources to bring in people who didn’t live locally, and in some cases the show helped others get into guilds and pay their membership dues.

“We’re in a space now where there’s awareness [of the need for inclusion],” DuVernay said. “Now the next level is execution.”

The extra work seems to be paying off for some of the talents she is making an effort to hire: DuVernay recruited an all-female directing roster from the first season of “Queen Sugar,” but said nearly none of them will be back for Season 2 because they’re booked on other projects. Despite having at least one feature under their belts, most of season one’s directors had trouble getting television work until the OWN drama came along, DuVernay said.

But DuVernay has found another set of female directors to helm every episode of the new season, premiering June 20. “Because we can,” said Winfrey.

DuVernay also is in post-production on her adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved book. “A Wrinkle in Time” is due in theaters March 9, 2018.

-BAM

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