When James Cameron called Wonder Woman heroine Diana Prince "an objectified icon," legions of fans quickly took to the internet to defend the movie, which has been widely heralded as a rare achievement for feminists in Hollywood.
"She's an objectified icon, and it's just male Hollywood doing the same old thing," said Cameron, who won a "best director" Oscar in 1998 for Titanic.
"I'm not saying I didn't like the movie but, to me, it's a step backwards" he told the Guardian.
Late Thursday, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins responded to Cameron's comments on Twitter, calling him a great filmmaker but asserted he couldn't understand her movie because "he is not a woman." She also said Cameron's notion that strong women must be hardened and gritty was a narrow view.
"I believe women can and should be EVERYTHING just like male lead character should be," Jenkins tweeted late Thursday night. "There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman."
And, besides, it should be the "massive female audience who made the film a hit" – not Cameron – who get to "choose and judge their own icons of progress," she added.
The back-and-forth between the directors is part of a larger conversation about enduring sexism in Hollywood and the role that one sword-wielding, lasso-throwing heroine, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, can have in beginning to change the traditional blockbuster narrative that relegates women to roles as damsels in distress or sex objects.
Cameron has put tough female characters in his movies, from Lindsey Brigman in the The Abyss to Sarah Connor in the Terminator series. In the Guardian interview, he implied that characters like Connor, who develops from a victim to a hardened warrior over the course of the series, are better role models for women than the heroine in Wonder Woman.
Connor, he told the Guardian, "was not a beauty icon" but "earned the respect of the audience through pure grit."
But Jenkins said in her response that there isn't – or shouldn't be – one ideal type of heroine in films.
"If women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren't free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven't come very far," she wrote.
The tweet took off on social media, with nearly 19,000 retweets and more than 45,000 likes as of early Friday morning.