DIVERSITY SELLS

With Ava DuVernay Directing ‘New Gods,’ the Future of Superhero Films Is Here

Why directors like the ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ helmer—and not some unknown white guy, for once—present the clearest, most engaging path forward in a time of superhero fatigue.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Ava DuVernay will direct DC Comics' New Gods for Warner Bros.

The film adaptation of Jack Kirby’s comic-book series aims to create a new universe for DC, in addition to the properties that already have films like Wonder Woman, Batman v Superman, and Justice League. After the lackluster response to Justice League, it seems like DC and Warner Bros. are ready to try something new and that involves banking on DuVernay.

And why not? DC's last success was Wonder Woman, a tentpole film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. It earned critical and audience acclaim and went on to gross nearly $1 billion worldwide. Jenkins introduced audiences to Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons, and DuVernay will give audiences a new world as well. The New Gods hail from the planets New Genesis, a utopian planet ruled by the Highfather, and Apokolips, a ruined dystopia filled with machinery and fire pits ruled by the tyrant Darkseid. Darkseid ultimately becomes a frequent villain of Superman and the Justice League and, seeing as how Wonder Woman dispatched with the universe's “old gods,” it seems right that Warner Bros. wants to quickly usher in New Gods.

Why DuVernay? Because she recently directed A Wrinkle in Time, which makes her the first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget of $100 million in Hollywood. Because the space- and time-bending A Wrinkle in Time is reminiscent of the trippy, out-there New Gods. And thankfully, Jack Kirby's New Gods is a bit easier to adapt than Madeleine L’Engle’s novel. Though A Wrinkle in Time debuted at No. 2 last weekend, behind Disney's behemoth Black Panther, it was still a success story and made the top two highest-grossing films of the weekend big budget studio films from black directors.

There's been some critical backlash to A Wrinkle in Time, but what's beautiful is that despite that, DuVernay already has her next high-profile film on lock. It's reminiscent of the critically divisive yet successful Jurassic World, which was helmed by Colin Trevorrow. After that film, he was gifted the keys to the Star Wars kingdom, entrusted to direct Episode IX. Because white men in Hollywood get to make box office failures or critically divisive films and still work.

A few kinks in that Hollywood system occurred last year though, when Trevorrow was fired from his Star Wars directing duties. Admittedly, he was always an odd choice to direct Episode IX and his hiring didn’t generate the kind of fan fervor that announcing Rian Johnson as director of The Last Jedi did. Lucasfilm plucked Trevorrow out of relative obscurity after he won the Waldo Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival for his low-budget indie Safety Not Guaranteed, which he then followed up with the critically panned Jurassic World. Then, amidst muted anticipation for his Star Wars movie, his disaster third film The Book of Henry was not only roundly mocked, but also commercially bombed.

In this day and age, when stars can't guarantee big box office returns and brands are kings, it makes sense to bet on DuVernay over a relatively unknown white guy this time. DuVernay has a proven fan base and the announcement that she would be directing New Gods was met with excitement on social media, as opposed to the disappointment that would have been inevitable had DC Comics just gone with Zack Snyder or someone else already in their wheelhouse. Diversity isn't just a fad, it's proving that it sells at the box office in spades and it's also useful in getting fans to eagerly discuss franchise films in a time where superhero fatigue runs rampant. There may be dissenting voices, but women and people of color are making their voices louder.

Perhaps this is the new route. Directors like DuVernay have built successful brands by engaging fans online and committing to diverse storytelling and hiring practices, like the abundance of female directors on her OWN series Queen Sugar. Not to be cynical, but if studios want fans to do the marketing for them when it comes to their new films, they would do well to start looking for the next DuVernay rather than the next Trevorrow.