By JIM RUTENBERG
Something huge happened at the box office over the weekend.
“Wonder Woman” became the top-grossing movie in the United States, after having its official premiere on Friday.
There hasn’t been a classic, female-led, big-budget superhero movie in 12 years, even though Hollywood pumps out superhero movies the way Marvel licenses plastic action figurines with puffed pectorals.
The movie was directed by a woman. Her name is Patty Jenkins, and by the end of the weekend she had made history with the biggest domestic opening for a female director.
You could hear the champagne popping from coast to coast, along with the joyful cries that maybe Hollywood would finally realize it’s time to demolish the glass border crossing for women directors. The celebration was only picking up where it had left off in France after Sofia Coppola became the second woman to win the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival since its founding in 1939 — and the first in 56 years.
Now, I hate to stink up the party, but is it a little hard to fathom that we’re hitting these marks only now. These are indisputably signs of progress and, as such, something to toast. But that progress has come too slowly. None of it should have to be so surprising, special or rare in the year of our Lord 2017.
“It’s where we are in our culture,” said Sue Kroll, the president for marketing and distribution at Warner Bros., the studio behind “Wonder Woman.” “When things work on this kind of massive scale, people are surprised.”
Of course, she noted, they shouldn’t be.
Yet how could it be otherwise when, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, only 7 percent of the 250 top-grossing films in the United States last year had female directors? That was down slightly from 2015, when the actress Anjelica Huston told my New York Times colleague Maureen Dowd: “It’s kind of like the church. They don’t want us to be priests. They want us to be obedient nuns.”
That’s the way it has been for so long in Hollywood, where until relatively recently men almost exclusively called the shots, made the rules and rarely faced accountability for their behavior. Change seems to be coming, though haltingly.
It’s worth noting that the vaunted opening weekend for “Wonder Woman,” with its aura of female empowerment, will lead into the opening of Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial in Norristown, Pa., on Monday, with all its undertones of wanton sexism and disregard.
When the accusations against Mr. Cosby broke out of their societal lock box and resulted in full-bore criminal charges, it was a watershed moment in the (mis)treatment of women in this country. Protected by a phalanx of lawyers and agents — and, yes, by an all-too-fawning press (even his biographer mea culpa’d) — Mr. Cosby was able to remain a role model even though, dozens of women now say, he drugged and raped or sexually assaulted them.
Mr. Cosby will have his chance to dispute the charges in court. But the bigger deal is that an alleged victim — in this case, Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletics department staff member and Cosby mentee — will have her sexual assault charges heard in court.
Now, “there’s a large segment of the population, men and women, who have a raised consciousness about powerful men getting away with” sexual assault and “really abysmal patterns of many years of sexual harassment,” said Nancy Erika Smith, the lawyer for the former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, whose lawsuit accusing Roger Ailes of sexual harassment led to his ouster as the network’s chairman.
That raised consciousness — which has led to a so-called Cosby Effect, emboldening more women to step forward with allegations they were previously afraid to share — is another sign of progress to cheer.
Of course, it’s a low-bar celebration: “Hooray for us — we’re no longer ignoring women with serious claims of abuse or harassment.”
Even the success of “Wonder Woman” couldn’t come without a hitch. Look at what happened last week in Austin, Tex., where the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Ritz theater announced that it would celebrate “Wonder Woman” with a women-only screening this Tuesday.
Seemed innocent enough. The theater holds all sorts of specialty screenings, for veterans and active-duty military, for kids, for lesbians and gay people, for the hearing impaired.
But this one caused an international uproar. Suddenly, the lives of men the world over depended upon seeing “Wonder Woman” at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on the evening of June 6.
“You are now a sexist business and I will never set foot in your theater again,” one man wrote on the Drafthouse Facebook page.
Another man wrote, “If people can bring a lawsuit against a baker for not making homosexual couples a cake, this place should undoubtedly be receiving many lawsuits for gender discrimination.”
Some, like the Albany Law School professor Stephen Clark, argued, “The equality principle is fundamental.” He told The Washington Post that he was filing a formal discrimination complaint in Austin because barring any group from a screening was a start down an exclusionary slippery slope, and so “it’s the principle of the thing.”
That principle of the thing clashed with the point of the thing, which was, as the former “Wonder Woman” television star Lynda Carter put it on her Facebook page, “Not against men … but For Women!!!!!”
But other complaints were based on nothing less than pure misogyny, which Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, highlighted on Thursday by posting on his website an email that Richard A. Ameduri, a lawyer in St. Louis, had written to him.
“The notion of a woman hero is a fine example of women’s eagerness to accept the appearance of achievement without actual achievement,” the email read. “Achievements by the second-rate gender pale in comparison to virtually everything great in human history was accomplished by men, not women.”
The Austin dust-up carried whiffs of the row over the 2016 Sony Pictures remake of “Ghostbusters,” which cast women in the starring roles.
Even Donald J. Trump joined the backlash against it as some sort of sop to the politically correct crowd. “Now they’re making ‘Ghostbusters’ with only women?” he asked in a YouTube video. “What’s going on?”
The criticism got particularly nasty last summer as the alt-right internet hero Milo Yiannopoulos helped start a Twitter campaign against the “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones — who is black — that became a nauseating display of racism and sexism. Twitter barred Mr. Yiannopoulos, then a star editor at Breitbart News under the leadership of Stephen K. Bannon, for his role in it.
If the intent of the campaign — or, at least, of some of its participants — was to scare women off, it didn’t work. They persist.
Sharing the movie weekend with “Wonder Woman” was the independent film “Band Aid,” which had an entirely female crew, right down to the gaffer.
Here in New York, the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” is under production with a show runner, Melissa Rosenberg, who is hiring only female directors. I reached out to Ms. Rosenberg a few weeks ago to see how it was going and what she thought about progress and setbacks for women in film, television and culture in general.
But her publicist told me that it wasn’t the time, though maybe it would be down the line — apparently closer to its premiere. That, obviously, would better suit marketing imperatives.
It was a good reminder that the real currency in Hollywood is less principle than success.
And that’s why there’s so much hope attached to the “Wonder Woman” premiere — that its success with audiences of all genders and ages would bring the “knockout punch” persuading Hollywood to give more female directors a break, as MTV’s chief film critic, Amy Nicholson, told CNN.
That’s fitting. If real change is going to come for women in Hollywood, it may just take a superhero.