Just like many industries in America, Hollywood suffers from the existence of a gender wage gap – which is to say that female filmmakers are often disproportionately compensated for their work when compared to the earnings of their male colleagues. It's a serious issue that deserves a lot of consideration, and it turns out that Patty Jenkins' negotiations to be a part of Wonder Woman 1984 makes for a perfect case study. While it was widely reported back in September 2017 that she made a historic deal when she officially signed on for the sequel, what you probably don't know is that Jenkins came super close to walking away from the project due to what she felt was unfair treatment.
The director has been virtually everywhere (see what I did there?) this past month doing interviews in the runup to the release of Wonder Woman 1984, and it was during her episode as a guest on the Happy Sad Confused podcast that she discussed her personal experience negotiating her contract in the wake of the $821 million-hit that was 2017's Wonder Woman. According to the filmmaker, there was an actual point during the talks when she nearly walked away from the table completely, saying.
I totally did [come close to walking away]. I started to walk away. I was going to walk away. I even said, ‘I would be happy to go to another studio and make a quarter as much because it’s not a sequel, on principle. No problem.’
Prior to making Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins didn't have any experience in the world of blockbuster filmmaking, and as a result – in her own words – she never put a great deal of thought into how she was being compensated for her work. While directing the Oscar-winning film Monster, for example, she recognized that the whole endeavor wasn't about raking in millions upon millions in ticket sales, and so she was comfortable with the amount of money she was being paid.
Making a movie for the DC Extended Universe is a whole different deal, however, and while it created its own kind of unease for her personally, Patty Jenkins recognized in the run up to making Wonder Woman 1984 that she had to change her mentality and behavior when it came to her contract. She explained,
It was very uncomfortable to me that it was publicly being talked about. That part was very uncomfortable because I don't like talking about money. It was very uncomfortable to be asking for money. Because that's a weird thing to do. It’s interesting as someone who never made any profit in my career up until after Wonder Woman that I was always at peace with it. I was like, ‘Hey I get it.' But now I was like, ‘Listen, I never made any money in my career because you always had the leverage and I didn’t.’ But now the shoe is on the other foot, so it’s time to turn the tables.
It may have made her uncomfortable, but the reason why the negotiations were such a big focus of public discussion is because no woman had ever directed a film as financially successful as Wonder Woman before. Given the popularity of the origin movie, fans became invested in seeing Patty Jenkins get paid what she deserved to make the sequel – with the aforementioned gender wage gap firmly in mind.
Per the director, though, the negotiations for Wonder Woman 1984 weren't precisely smooth sailing. She was able to look into the deals that were struck by male filmmakers in her exact same position, and was upset to find that they were not only being offered richer sequel deals, but that they had been paid more than her when making the same jump from indies to blockbusters. But that research also wound up being kind of source of strength for the filmmaker. Said Jenkins,
It was easy to find that all of the men not just had quotes, they’d made an independent film and then a first [superhero] movie. They got paid seven times more than me for the first superhero movie. Then on the second one, they got paid more than me still. So it was an easy fight to say, ‘This can’t be. It super can’t be. And it really can’t be on Wonder Woman.' It was an interesting thing to do, but it was an easy thing to do in the fact I was dead serious that I was like, ‘If I can’t be victorious in this regard, then I’m letting everyone down.'
Thankfully, the story has a happy ending, as Warner Bros. and DC ultimately did see the writing on the wall. Per trade reports at the time of the deal, Patty Jenkins walked away from Wonder Woman 1984 negotiating table with between seven to nine times what she earned upfront in the making of the first movie.
With any luck Patty Jenkins' struggle through this situation will be one of the last of its kind, as the industry starts to evolve and pay female filmmakers what they are worth. Jenkins certainly earned every penny she was paid, as Wonder Woman 1984 is an absolute delight, and you'll be able to catch it in theaters and on HBO Max when it arrives this Friday, December 25.