Joss Whedon has stepped away from the Batgirl movie, citing the fact he just didn’t have a story to tell. It’s an interesting moment of honesty but, regardless of your overall opinion of him, Whedon doesn’t matter in this instance. What does matter is that one of DC’s most iconic characters is in need of a director and scriptwriter, and DC have a massive opportunity to use that need to signal a sea change in their approach.
It’s not concrete, not yet, but in the wake of Wonder Woman’s success, DC finally seems intent on bringing some variety to their movie universe. We’ll see for sure when the first stills from Shazam! hit—those are due any day now, apparently. Regardless, there’s a real sense—embodied within the movie universe itself by the return of Superman—of hope coming to the DCEU for the first time in a while. A major change, for sure, and a welcome one at that. Batgirl is the perfect character to be in this pivotal position: a fundamentally hopeful, pragmatic heroine with one yellow Doc Marten in noir and the other in action adventure.
In terms of writing the movie, two names instantly present themselves. Nicole Perlman is one of the invisible architects of the Marvel Universe, having written the Black Widow treatment that was at one point intended to premiere before Iron Man, as well as receiving a co-writing credit on the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Perlman is a key part of the upcoming Captain Marvel movie too, and I suspect she won’t want to cross the street to a DC project. If she did, though, this would be an utterly perfect fit for her wry sense of humour and fondness for hard-travelling heroes with no luck to speak of and buckets of charm.
The other choice that springs to mind is Gail Simone. Simone is one of the greatest comic writers working in the west, and her work has been defined, at least in part, by Batgirl. She wrote the character for close to a decade, and during that time she brought Barbara Gordon firmly out of her father’s shadow and into the light. She’d be a fantastic, left-field choice for scriptwriting and, even if she didn’t get the job, I’d be beyond surprised if her work wasn’t at least referenced heavily in the film.
Dee Rees would be equally out-of-left-field, and equally brilliant. Rees is riding high at the moment off the thoroughly well-deserved Best Adapted Picture nomination she’s picked up for Mudbound. A director with a profound understanding of character, and a writer with a unique eye for performances, she’d be a fantastic choice and one that, in the wake of that Oscar nomination, deserves to be in high demand.
Still, in the directing chair, Karyn Kusama wouldn’t just be a great choice, she’d be a decidedly resonant one. Like Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, Kusama’s career is defined by early critical success followed by years in the wilderness. Kusama’s first film, Girlfight, is not only one of the best boxing movies ever made, it’s one of the best movies about adolescence ever made. That combination means she could excel putting Barbara Gordon, especially the Barbara of Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, and Brenden Fletcher’s epochal run, on the screen. Plus Kusama’s genre credits, and her large body of TV work, speak both to her practicality as a director and her versatility.
Finally, if you wanted to gesture back towards the beautiful gothic nightmares of earlier Gotham City-centric movies, then Floria Sigismondi would be an amazing fit. Sigismondi is a photographer and sculptor as well as director, one whose work has been exhibited all over the world. She has an extraordinary eye for the careful, deceptively minimalist intricacies of good direction and her episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods stand as visual highlights of both seasons.
The chances of any of these women picking up the Batgirl job lie somewhere between “zero” and “perhaps?”—but there’s a larger reason why I’m writing about them, beyond the fun of fan-casting writer/directors. This opening represents a real opportunity for the DCEU and Warner Brothers to correct a perception that has dogged these movies since the start: that they’re exclusively white and (almost) exclusively male-centric. Whether you believe that is up to you. But the truth is that any one of these writers or directors would bring something new to the table, and any one of them is a more interesting and challenging choice than saying “…Get the Buffy guy.” These characters, this audience, deserve deeper, more creative thinking than that decision reflects. This departure gives them an opportunity to do something different and new, and Whedon did the right thing getting out of the project’s way.
More importantly, moments like this are a chance for us as fans, and as journalists, to try stretch our boundaries and open up to new perspectives. We’ve been conditioned to wear blinkers when we interact with popular culture, defaulting to the same names over and over again because they’re the only people anyone ever talks about, and because it’s easy—the path of least resistance. And because we expect those obvious names, then they get written about, almost automatically, and it becomes a self-perpetuating, fundamentally limiting cycle.
But it doesn’t have to be.
There are extraordinary writers and directors working at every level of the field today, and these creatives deserve more attention and respect than they get. So, the next time you want to try something new, read Simone’s Batgirl, go see Perlman’s upcoming Neil Armstrong biopic, First Man. Rent Girlfight, or The Invitation. Stream Mudbound, or The Handmaid’s Tale, or check out Sigismondi’s art. I can absolutely promise you won’t like all of it. But you will find things to like—and that will open vast fields of new culture for you to explore. And maybe in a couple of years you’ll see something familiar (but not too familiar!) on the big screen when Batgirl brings awesome yellow-booted justice to the streets of Burnside.
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cast of Wonders, and the magazine Mothership Zeta. He blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.