Consider This from NPR : NPR



AILSA CHANG, HOST:

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”…

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”)

SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR: (As Buffy Summers) First of all, I’m a vampire slayer. And secondly, I’m retired.

CHANG: …Space Western “Firefly”…

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “FIREFLY”)

GINA TORRES: (As Zoe Washburne) Big damn heroes, sir.

NATHAN FILLION: (As Mal Reynolds) Ain’t we just?

CHANG: …And Marvel’s “The Avengers”…

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “THE AVENGERS”)

ROBERT DOWNEY JR: (As Tony Star/Iron Man) It’s sort of like a team – Earth’s mightiest heroes type thing.

CHANG: …They all have one big thing in common, and that is Joss Whedon.

GITA JACKSON: It’s almost impossible to escape the sort of mark he has left on genre fiction in particular.

CHANG: Gita Jackson is a staff writer at Motherboard.

JACKSON: Joss Whedon’s style of dialogue has become incredibly popular across genre fiction, I think, especially because he wrote-directed Marvel’s “Avengers” movie – the first one.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “THE AVENGERS”)

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow) They’re basically gods.

CHRIS EVANS: (As Steve Rogers/Captain America) There’s only one God, ma’am. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.

CHANG: They say Whedon was ahead of the curve in plotting story arcs that unfold, not just episode by episode but over an entire 26-episode season.

JACKSON: Russell T. Davies, the first showrunner for the modern reboot of “Doctor Who,” mentioned Whedon specifically as an inspiration.

CHANG: In recent years, allegations about Whedon have surfaced. They range from inappropriate behavior around young actresses to bullying on set. And they span much of Whedon’s career, from his work on 2017’s “Justice League” all the way back to “Buffy.”

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: Consider this – the entertainment industry continues to grapple with abuses of power and holding powerful accountable figures. We’ll look at the allegations against Joss Whedon and speak to fans reckoning with his impact on their lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: From NPR, I’m Ailsa Chang. It’s Tuesday, January 25.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: IT’S CONSIDERED THIS FROM NPR. Lila Shapiro is a senior reporter for New York Magazine.

LILA SHAPIRO: I didn’t necessarily know why he decided he wanted to talk to me.

CHANG: She spoke to Joss Whedon about the allegations of misconduct.

SHAPIRO: Initially, I wondered if he wanted to talk because he wanted to acknowledge in some way the things that people were saying about him.

CHANG: I spoke with Shapiro the other day, and we started with what actors Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot had to say about their experiences with him on the set of “Justice League.”

SHAPIRO: Ray Fisher, who’s a young Black actor, had been cast as Cyborg. And essentially, when Joss Whedon came in to reshoot “Justice League,” he cut back Ray’s role, and there was tension on the set. This came to the surface in the summer of 2020, you know, in the midst of this national racial reckoning. And Ray said on Twitter that he – you know, he described his onset behavior as gross, abusive, unprofessional and completely unacceptable. Later on that year, Gal gave an interview in which she said that she’d had some kind of altercation with Whedon and that he had threatened her. She didn’t go into specifics about what had happened, but sort of reports came out that they had had a disagreement about a scene. So that’s – you know, that’s kind of the beginning of actors sharing stories about their behavior.

CHANG: Right. And just to give it some context, I mean, this was a famously troubled production, right? Joss Whedon was called in to help with script revisions, reshoots because studio executives disapproved of director Zack Snyder’s vision. And you wrote, quote, “he now regards this decision as one of the biggest regrets of his life.” Tell us, how did Whedon address Fisher’s and Gadot’s accusations?

SHAPIRO: From his perspective, what he said to me was, you know, he didn’t feel that he had behaved badly. I mean, I have acknowledged that it was a tense situation, clearly. It was. I mean, a movie was made that Zack Snyder made. As you said, executives weren’t happy with it. And now a new director is brought in, and the vision couldn’t have been more different. They had signed on to one project. Now they were making another project. So clearly, it was tense for a variety of reasons. You know, I felt that it wasn’t true. You know, he said he never threatened Gal. He acknowledged that he, you know, cut back Ray’s storyline, but he said that he felt he’d been respectful.

CHANG: Well, these were just some of the more recent allegations against Whedon. We can step back into the past a little more. Actor Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” spoke up in support of Ray Fisher. She said that in her time working with Whedon, she had, quote, “a history of being casually cruel.” What examples did Carpenter give for that?

SHAPIRO: She described, you know, primarily what happened to her after she became pregnant heading into the fourth season on “Angel.”

CHANG: Yeah, “Angel,” that’s a spinoff from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.”

SHAPIRO: Yes, that’s right. She said, you know, that he, you know, called her fat to colleagues, that he summoned her into his office and asked her if she was going to keep it and felt that there was a pattern of retaliatory behavior against her afterwards, you know, that she was asked to go to shoots in the middle of the night and eventually led to her, you know, being written off the show.

CHANG: Do you think that was the beginning of what you call Whedon’s undoing?

SHAPIRO: I think it really began when his ex-wife published her letter about him in The Wrap. She had written this open letter to fans, you know, accusing him of being a hypocrite preaching feminist ideals, saying that he had, you know, used their marriage as a shield to present a certain image of himself and used his work also as a shield. He was known as this, you know, great feminist hero, and I think that it was really a first, like, puncturing of that reputation.

CHANG: How does Whedon respond to all of this? Like, when you spoke to him at length, how did he defend himself?

SHAPIRO: You know, I mean, there were many hours of conversation. And he told me, you know, that he never called Charisma fat, for instance. And, you know, now I have talked to another woman who worked for him, who told me that when she was in her third trimester of pregnancy, he called her fat to her face. You know, he would say that he wasn’t perfect on set, that he was learning, you know, especially when he was young. He was a young showrunner. He’d never run a show before. So he did – he talked about how he wasn’t always mannerly, he was unpolished. Those are the kinds of things, you know, he reflects back on his on-set behavior. But I think essentially he felt that he’d been wrongly accused, and he wanted to share his belief, which was that he felt that he’d done the best he could and felt that he was being now unfairly painted as this sort of monster when it was more complicated than that.

CHANG: Well, I mean, a lot of Joss Whedon’s work has these deeply devoted fandoms, right? Like, whole fan communities have sprung up around “Buffy” (ph) and “Firefly.” How have his fans reacted to all these allegations?

SHAPIRO: I think that there’s a real urge to try to write him out of the narrative, specifically, like, looking at “Buffy,” you know? And I’m a fan of “Buffy.” I mean that – it was a very important show to me, and that’s why I was interested in writing this piece to begin with. When he was sort of cast by us as this feminist hero, we were thinking that like, oh, he brought “Buffy” to life, he gave us “Buffy,” you know, and not necessarily thinking, well, he also showed us that the world is full of monsters, and most of those monsters are men, and most of those monsters want to destroy Buffy, kill her, try to rape her, endlessly brutalize her. I mean, that’s in your brain, too, you know? So to me, this show is really a reflection of him. And it’s just a fantasy to think any other way. Like, to think, oh, it could have been made without him or it was made in spite of him, you know, that’s his psyche that we were all watching projected on the screen.

CHANG: Yeah. Lila Shapiro is a senior reporter for New York Magazine. Thank you very much for joining us today.

SHAPIRO: Thank you so much for having me. This was a pleasure.

CHANG: Now, obviously Joss Whedon is not the first Hollywood figure to be accused of wrongdoing, but the allegations against him are notable because, for one thing, he has a particularly passionate fan base.

JACKSON: Every time you went to any convention, you would see at least one person, but usually dozens and dozens of people wearing that T-shirt, the Joss Whedon is my master now T-shirt.

CHANG: Gita Jackson is a staff writer at Motherboard.

JACKSON: They considered him to be the absolute master of writing genre fiction, and they also considered him to be completely untouchable and without criticism.

CHANG: See, when “Buffy” was airing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, comic books were mostly for the nerds.

JACKSON: At the time that Joss Whedon was coming up, the things that he liked and the things that the fans of him liked were pretty obscure and pretty ostracized by culture. He becomes – you know, to support Joss Whedon means you support the rise of all nerdy things.

CHANG: Jackson says this fandom surrounding Joss Whedon and his shows can obscure criticism of the workplaces he seems to create.

JACKSON: You see a lot of mythologizing of leadership in such a way that is incredibly detrimental to the people that are doing a lot of the manual labor and a lot of labor to create the art that you so revere.

CHANG: Jackson points to a story in Lila Shapiro’s article, where Whedon was remembered belittling a colleague for a script he didn’t like in front of the entire writing staff.

JACKSON: That is workplace abuse. That is not acceptable. And if you think that that is leadership, I’m, like, terrified of you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: Freelance TV critic Robyn Bahr was once a fan who revered Whedon. She had one of those Joss Whedon T-shirts, and she says listening to his comments on “Buffy” DVDs helped her understand that she wanted to be a pop culture critic.

ROBYN BAHR: He put a human face on it for me and made me feel like this is something I could do. So sometimes it’s painful to think about the influence that he had on me as a consumer and an evaluator of popular culture.

CHANG: Bahr says she can’t recommend “Buffy” to people anymore, nor does she think she will ever rewatch the show again.

BAHR: I don’t want to revisit every episode or rewatch every piece of dialogue or rethink the relationships that I watched knowing what was going behind the scenes because that will tarnish my view of the show.

CHANG: And she has some thoughts for people who might be struggling with the tension between their fandom and the claims about Joss Whedon’s behavior.

BAHR: Like a friend that sort of slips out of your life, those are artists and art that brought joy to your life at one period or another, and you can sometimes leave it at that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: For Bahr, it’s a subjective boundary – one that’s easier than ever to maintain.

BAHR: How many scripted TV shows on television right now? Like, 500 scripted TV shows. Like, there’s a lot out there if you’re looking for well-crafted art. You know, you have a lot of options. We didn’t have a lot of options 22 years ago.

CHANG: You’re listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I’m Ailsa Chang.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.