Tarnished: The Rise and Fall of Joss Whedon


A subject I’d once considered writing about earlier in the year, but unfortunately forgot about till now, is what’s become of Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a scriptwriter who’d worked on at least a few comic books in the past 2 decades before directing movies based on them by extension. Well, here’s a whole article by the very left-wing New York magazine’s Vulture department, published last January, where the status of the equally leftist TV and film producer was reported on, some time after he’d been mostly kicked to the curb by Hollywood over his adultery, and ill-treatment of at least a few performers on some of his past productions:


It wasn’t just scholars who worshipped him in those days. He was a celebrity showrunner before anyone cared who ran shows. In 2005, the comic-book artist Scott R. Kurtz designed a T-shirt that gestured at Whedon’s stature in popular culture at the time: JOSS WHEDON IS MY MASTER NOW. Marvel later put him in charge of its biggest franchise, hiring him to write and direct 2012’s The Avengers and its sequel Age of Ultron, two of the highest-grossing films of all time. His fans thought of him as a feminist ally, an impression bolstered by his fund-raising efforts for progressive causes. But in recent years, the good-guy image has been tarnished by a series of accusations, each more damaging than the last. In 2017, his ex-wife, Kai Cole, published a sensational open letter about him on the movie blog The Wrap. She condemned him as a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals” and accused him of cheating on her throughout their marriage, including with actresses on the set of Buffy. Then, beginning in the summer of 2020, the actors Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot, who had starred in a superhero film directed by Whedon, claimed he’d mistreated them, with Fisher describing his behavior as “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.”

They were soon joined by Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia on Buffy and its spinoff series, Angel. In a long Twitter post, she wrote that Whedon had a “history of being casually cruel.” After she became pregnant, heading into Angel’s fourth season, he called her “fat” to colleagues and summoned her into his office to ask, as she recalled, if she was “going to keep it.” She claimed he had mocked her religious beliefs, accused her of sabotaging the show, and fired her a season later, once she had given birth. All the joy of new motherhood had been “sucked right out,” she wrote. “And Joss was the vampire.”

Carpenter’s comments threw the fandom into a crisis. Fan organizations debated changing their names; people on discussion sites wrote anguished posts as Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played the titular Slayer, and other Buffy stars offered words of support for Carpenter online. The community’s sense of shock and betrayal could be seen in part as an indictment of the culture of fandom itself. “As fans, we have a bad habit of deifying those whose work we respect,” Kurtz, the comic-book artist, told me. “When you build these people up so big they have nowhere to go but down, I don’t know why we’re surprised when they turn out to be fallible humans who fall.”



This was written months before the recent reversal of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court, but there’s surely an oxymoron here that a left-wing news outlet would highlight a case of humiliating a woman over being pregnant, and being religious (let’s also note one of the Buffy comics by Dark Horse depicted her seeking abortion). This is pretty much a rarity these days for far-leftists to ostensibly be siding with somebody like a mother and an adherent to Christianity. What makes Whedon’s abuse of Carpenter additionally offensive is that in the early 90s, when Carpenter had just barely begun practicing as an actress, she had been attacked by a rapist in San Diego. And then Whedon added insult to injury? Shameful. The worst part is, such abuse is not only bound to continue in Hollywood, they’ve practically blacklisted anybody with a viewpoint like Carpenter’s for even longer than we think.


Back when he was still a god, the kind that is contractually obligated to promote network-television shows at press junkets, Whedon was asked over and over to explain why he wrote stories about strong women. For years, he would answer by talking about his mother. Lee Stearns, who died in 1991, was an activist and unpublished novelist who taught history at an elite private school in the Bronx. One of her students, Jessica Neuwirth, went on to become a co-founder of Equality Now, an organization that promotes women’s rights. Neuwirth, who has cited Stearns as an inspiration, described her to me as “a visionary feminist.” In 2006, Equality Now presented Whedon with an award at an evening dedicated to honoring “men on the front lines” of feminism. In his speech, Whedon referred to his mother as “extraordinary, inspirational, tough, cool,” and “sexy.”

Sitting in his living room, he told me he sees a different side of her now. “She was a remarkable woman and an inspiring person,” he said, “but sometimes those are hard people to be raised by.”


Ah, so does that mean his previous descriptions were exaggerations? Well that figures. And could probably explain his hypocrisy with women – he saw it as revenge for a hard childhood, and to some extent, he blamed the fairer sex for all his hardships. Such an approach only runs the gauntlet of damaging society even further.


Whedon had been thinking a lot about his childhood. He had been in therapy for the past few years, ever since he checked himself into an addiction-treatment center in Florida for a monthlong stay. As a younger man, he had channeled his pain into his work, but he was never particularly interested in picking apart the stories he always told himself about his past. Now, he didn’t have much else to do. The allegations against him had led friends to stop calling. He was out of work and wasn’t writing. What story could he even tell? There were things about his life he was only beginning to understand. “Not the things being said in the press, necessarily, but things I’m not comfortable with,” he told me. “I’m like, I have nothing going on. I can do some work on me.”

[…] Whedon was the youngest of three boys. Soft and slight and anxious, he had long red hair that caused people to mistake him for a girl, which he says he didn’t mind. He identified with “the feminine” — a testament, maybe, to his connection with his mother. She was “capricious and withholding,” but she frightened him less than his father and, especially, his brothers — “admirable monsters” who “bullied the shit” out of him. On weekends and in summers, he would pass his mornings pacing the long driveway of the family’s second home, a farmhouse near Schenectady, “making up science-fiction universes or plotting elaborate revenges on my brothers.”


His identification with “the feminine” sounds peculiarly reminiscent of some of the problems we see in motion today, when you have men pretending to be women using transsexuality as the excuse, and worse, to supplant women in almost every way possible. If Whedon entered the business today, he’d probably put significant emphasis on that, even in his comics work.


Like those women’s pictures Basinger had written about, the show invited a multiplicity of interpretations. You could view it as a story of female empowerment or as the opposite — the titillating tale of a woman in leather pants who is brutalized by monsters. When it came out, critics mostly read it as the former. It was the late ’90s, after all. In 1998, shortly after Buffy’s second season aired, Time published an infamous cover asking, “Is Feminism Dead?” As the story’s author, Ginia Bellafante, noted, the protests of the ’60s and ’70s were long over, Gloria Steinem was defending Bill Clinton in the New York Times, and the struggles for equal pay and child care had been subsumed by the corporate pageantry of “girl power,” the glib spectacle of powerful women on TV. Buffy was actually far more complex than most of the other examples of this phenomenon. As in so much of Whedon’s work, the lines between good and evil were blurred. The good guys sometimes did monstrous things, and the monsters could occasionally do good. But the media likes a story with a clear-cut hero, and Whedon wasn’t above playing the part. “I just got tired of seeing women be the victims,” he told the L.A. Times in 2000. “I needed to see women taking control.”



But his degradation of Carpenter contradicts that. This article does make clear Steinem was – or became – an extremely bad lot, if she took the side of Clinton, despite his own alarming record of sexual misconduct in past decades, for which the left never fully rejected him. And look how, in over a dozen years or so, “girl power” is no longer celebrated in an era where transsexual men have damaged women and children’s status.


In those early days of the internet, before nerd culture swallowed the world, fans flocked to a message board set up by the WB to analyze Buffy with the obsessive zeal of Talmudic scholars. Whedon knew how to talk to these people — he was one of them. He would visit the board at all hours to complain about his grueling schedule or to argue with fans about their interpretations of his work. Back then, as he pointed out to me, the internet was “a friendly place,” and he, the quick-witted prince of nerds, “had the advantage of it.” At one point, fans became convinced Buffy and another Slayer, Faith, were romantically entwined. After Whedon shot down the theory, accusing its proponents of seeing a “lesbian subtext behind every corner,” one of the posters (Buffynerd) sent him a link to her website, where she had published a meticulous exegesis of the relationship. He returned to the message board to applaud her, sort of. “By God, I think she’s right!” he declared. Dropping the facetious tone, he conceded she had made some good points. “I say B.Y.O. Subtext,” he proclaimed, coining a phrase that fans would recite like scripture.


The web was an abusive, vulgar place even then, and it’s galling he’d whitewash it. That aside, it’s funny how Buffy viewers decided, based on interpretations alone, that Buffy and Faith could be lesbian. Just so silly.


A high-level member of the Buffy production team recalled Whedon’s habit of “writing really nasty notes,” but that wasn’t what disturbed her most about working with him. Whedon was rumored to be having affairs with two young actresses on the show. One day, he and one of the actresses came into her office while she was working. She heard a noise behind her. They were rolling around on the floor, making out. “They would bang into my chair,” she said. “How can you concentrate? It was gross.” This happened more than once, she said. “These actions proved he had no respect for me and my work.” She quit the show even though she had no other job lined up.

Then there were the alleged incidents two Buffy actresses wrote about on social media last year. Michelle Trachtenberg, who’d played Buffy’s younger sister, claimed there had been a rule forbidding Whedon from being alone in a room with her on set. Whedon told me he had no idea what she was talking about, and Trachtenberg didn’t want to elaborate. One person who worked closely with her on Buffy told me an informal rule did exist, though it was possible Whedon was not aware of it. During the seventh season, when Trachtenberg was 16, Whedon called her into his office for a closed-door meeting. The person does not know what happened, but recalled Trachtenberg was “shaken” afterward. An adult in Trachtenberg’s circle created the rule in response.

The story of Whedon’s conflict with Carpenter is less obscure. The actress has been talking about it with fans and reporters for more than a decade. The tensions with Whedon developed well before her pregnancy. By her own account, she suffered from extreme anxiety and struggled to hit her marks and memorize her lines; Whedon, obsessed with word-perfect dialogue, was not always patient. After she moved over to Angel, she got a tattoo of a rosary on her wrist even though her character was working for a vampire, a creature repelled by crosses. Another time, she chopped off her long hair in the middle of filming an episode. In her Twitter post, Carpenter seemed to blame Whedon for her performance problems. She wrote that his cruelty intensified her anxiety. She got the tattoo, she explained, to help her feel “spiritually grounded” in a volatile work environment.

Whedon acknowledged he was not as “civilized” back then. “I was young,” he said. “I yelled, and sometimes you had to yell. This was a very young cast, and it was easy for everything to turn into a cocktail party.” He said he would never intentionally humiliate anyone. “If I am upsetting somebody, it will be a problem for me.” The costume designer who said he’d grabbed her arm? “I don’t believe that,” he said, shaking his head. “I know I would get angry, but I was never physical with people.” Had he made out with an actress on the floor of someone’s office? “That seems false. I don’t understand that story even a little bit.” He removed his glasses and rubbed his face. “I should run to the loo.” When he came back, he said the story didn’t make sense to him because he “lived in terror” of his affairs being discovered.

He had some regrets about how he spoke with Carpenter after learning she was pregnant. “I was not mannerly,” he said. Still, he was bewildered by her account of their relationship. “Most of my experiences with Charisma were delightful and charming. She struggled sometimes with her lines, but nobody could hit a punch line harder than her.” I asked if he had called her fat when she was pregnant. “I did not call her fat,” he quickly replied. “Of course I didn’t.”

But he did call other pregnant women fat. Rebecca X, as she asked to be called, was known as Rebecca Rand Kirshner when she wrote for the last three seasons of Buffy; since then, she has dropped her “patriarchal last name.” She saw Whedon at a photo shoot a few years after the show ended, when she was weeks away from giving birth. “I was happy to see Joss, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘Oh, you’re fat,’” she told me. She knew he was joking, but she didn’t find it very funny. “Did it hurt me? Yes. Did I say, ‘Hey, I got a baby in here, what’s your excuse?’ In so many unsaid words, yes. But I think he was actually slim at that point. My point is, it was a dick move. But I wouldn’t call it abuse.”

One day, I took a walk with Rebecca X around the Huntington Botanical Gardens near Pasadena. She wore dark glasses and an Hermès scarf tied around her dark-gold hair and spoke with an inflection that called to mind the mid-Atlantic accent of an old-fashioned Hollywood star. I had reached out to her after hearing Whedon had made her cry in the writers’ room. In the months leading up to our meeting, she had sent me a series of probing emails, excavations of long-buried memories. Once she was in the middle of pitching an idea when Whedon placed his hands on the back of her chair. “Keep going,” he told her, as he tilted the chair backward and lowered her to the ground. “Is that a toxic environment?” she asked me. “I don’t know. What is normal behavior and what isn’t?”


This is also surely ironic, when you consider all the propaganda going around now promoting “plus size” women as though it were inherently healthy. Maybe the most angering part of this is Whedon gave obesity advocates something to laugh about.


Whedon’s experience of seeing Richard III coincided with his own coronation of a kind. He had just directed Marvel’s Avengers, a commercial juggernaut featuring an all-star cast led by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson. In a profile pegged to its release, GQ hailed Whedon as “the most inventive pop storyteller of his generation.” By then, he had influenced an entire generation of TV creators. His delight in quirky language, his playful subversion of genre conventions, his affinity for powerful female protagonists — you could observe these hallmarks reflected in any number of shows that arrived in Buffy’s wake, from Veronica Mars to Battlestar Galactica and Lost.

But as the culture around him continued to change, certain fans began to see Whedon’s work through a more critical lens, discerning an attitude toward women that seemed unenlightened by the standards of the female-centered shows and movies his success had in some cases helped spawn. In 2017, the same year Cole published her letter, an old Wonder Woman screenplay he had written surfaced online. Compared with the Wonder Woman movie Patty Jenkins had recently directed, his version struck some readers as creepy and sexist, with passages that seemed to linger gratuitously on the Amazon’s sex appeal. “You cannot tell me Joss Whedon didn’t write the original Wonder Woman script while furiously cranking his hog,” one woman tweeted.


Now viewed in the context of Whedon’s poor treatment of women behind the scenes at the studios sets, his vision for the WW screenplay can be troubling. Yet they’d do well to consider that despite what they tell here, WW was built on sex appeal and symbolism when she first debuted in the Golden Age, even if artwork at the time wasn’t the most elaborate when her adventures began. What’s actually disturbing, but not clearly mentioned in this report, is that Whedon’s screenplay allegedly featured moments where vulgar profanity was employed like the B-word that rhymes with “witch”. Again, viewed in context of his contempt for women in real life, that’s why it’s very tasteless he’d put that in his script.


At first, the studio executives told Whedon his role would be restricted to writing and advising, but soon it became clear to Whedon they had lost faith in Snyder’s vision and wanted him to take full control. (A representative from Warner Bros. denied this. Snyder has publicly stated he left the project to spend time with his family; his daughter had died by suicide two months earlier.) Whedon, now installed in the director’s chair, oversaw nearly 40 days of reshoots, a complicated and laborious undertaking. From the start, things were tense between him and the stars. It wasn’t just that he wanted to impose a whole new vision on their work; he introduced an entirely different style of management. Snyder had given the actors exceptional license with the script, encouraging them to ad-lib dialogue. Whedon expected them to say their lines exactly as he’d written them. “That didn’t go down well at all,” one crew member told me. Some actors criticized his writing. By Whedon’s account, Gal Gadot, who played Wonder Woman, suggested that he, the director of the highest-grossing superhero movie at the time, didn’t understand how superhero movies worked. At one point, Whedon paused the shoot and, according to the crew member, announced that he had never worked with “a ruder group of people.” The actors fell silent.

The actors, at least some of them, felt Whedon had been rude, too. Ray Fisher, a young Black actor, played Cyborg; it was his first major role. Snyder had centered the film on his character — the first Black superhero in a DC movie — and he’d treated Fisher as a writing partner, soliciting his opinions on the film’s representations of Black people. Whedon downsized Cyborg’s role, cutting scenes that, in Fisher’s view, challenged stereotypes. When Fisher raised his concerns about the revisions in a phone call, Whedon cut him off. “It feels like I’m taking notes right now,” Whedon told him, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “and I don’t like taking notes from anybody — not even Robert Downey Jr.”

Gadot didn’t care for Whedon’s style either. Last year, she told reporters Whedon “threatened” her and said he would make her “career miserable.” Whedon told me he did no such thing: “I don’t threaten people. Who does that?” He concluded she had misunderstood him. “English is not her first language, and I tend to be annoyingly flowery in my speech.” He recalled arguing over a scene she wanted to cut. He told her jokingly that if she wanted to get rid of it, she would have to tie him to a railroad track and do it over his dead body. “Then I was told that I had said something about her dead body and tying her to the railroad track,” he said. (Gadot did not agree with Whedon’s version of events. “I understood perfectly,” she told New York in an email.)

As for Whedon’s claim that he doesn’t threaten people, an actress on Angel told me that hadn’t been true back when she knew him. After her agent pushed for her to get a raise, she claims Whedon called her at home and said she was “never going to work for him, or 20th Century Fox, again.” Reading Gadot’s quote, she thought, “Wow, he’s still using that line.” (Whedon denied this too.)

Justice League premiered in the fall of 2017. It was a critical and commercial debacle. Snyder’s fans blamed Whedon for its failures, accusing him, as one tweet put it, of turning Snyder’s godlike heroes into clowns. The power of fandom, a force Whedon had done so much to cultivate at the start of his career, was now wielded against him. The fans launched an elaborate campaign pressuring Warner Bros. to release the version Snyder had originally planned, chartering a plane to fly a banner over Warner Studios. Just as Whedon had once used message boards to bond with Buffy obsessives, Snyder used the social-media platform Vero to rally his followers, sharing pictures of his morning workouts alongside images that appeared to be derived from his cut of the film. Several months into the pandemic, the studio, desperate for content, announced that his cut would air on HBO Max. At an online fan event celebrating the upcoming release, Snyder declared he would set the movie on fire before using a single frame he had not filmed himself. “Our lord and savior Zack Snyder!!!” someone wrote in the comments below the livestream.

Around the same time, amid worldwide protests against racism, Fisher posted a series of tweets accusing Whedon of abusing his power and charging studio executives with “enabling” the director. In a Forbes interview, Fisher said he’d been told Whedon had used color correction to change an actor of color’s complexion because he didn’t like the actor’s skin tone. “Man, with everything 2020’s been, that was the tipping point for me,” Fisher said. (Fisher did not respond to multiple interview requests.)


Some could argue very validly that, a man capable of sexism is only a step away from racism, and vice versa, based on Fisher’s accusations. It’s rather odd they’re describing the cast of character as “godlike”, since that would risk making them look immortal, which most moviegoers don’t consider an ideal way to portray the heroes. In any event, as the Ezra Miller scandal makes clear, the whole Justice League movie, produced as it was without even America present in its title, was never anything to crow over, seeing how PC permeated the whole production.


The article also says:


When Snyder’s four-hour cut was finally unveiled, it was critically acclaimed. His fans pored through both films to analyze the differences. Some seized on a belief, first put forth by Fisher, that Whedon had intentionally erased people of color from the film. A remarkable reversal had taken place. Fifteen years earlier, Snyder’s work was widely seen as the epitome of problematic cinema. His breakout effort, 300, a sword-and-sandal epic about the Persian Wars, was “so overtly racist” in the view of the U.N. delegation from Iran that it threatened to incite “a clash of civilizations.” Now, the internet had recast Snyder as a progressive hero while branding Whedon, its progressive hero of yesterday, as a villain and bigot. “The beginning of the internet raised me up, and the modern internet pulled me down,” Whedon said. “The perfect symmetry is not lost on me.”


Since 300 came up, which is adapted from one of Frank Miller’s GNs, it wouldn’t be shocking if today, they’d be far less likely to produce such a film, since leftists considered it a slight to Islam. And Miller, lest we forget, disappointed only so many when he went woke himself a few years ago, proving in addition he wasn’t willing to abandon liberalism.


At the end of the article:


At Whedon’s house, his wife, Horton, would occasionally come into the living room bearing tea and dark chocolates. When I asked where they’d met, she said, “Right here.” A mutual friend introduced them in the winter of 2019, after learning Whedon had bought several of Horton’s paintings, including a self-portrait. She was greeted by an image of herself when she walked into his home.

By then, Whedon had begun seeking treatment for sex and love addiction, along with other addictive tendencies. James Franco, Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein have all taken similar paths. Was he using a page out of some crisis-management playbook? Whedon says he’s genuinely committed to the work. “I decided to take control of my life — or try,” he told me. “The first thing I did with Heather was tell her my patterns, which was not my M.O. I couldn’t shut up because I finally found somebody I found more important than me.”

Life was good and also bad. Having overcome the isolation and ridicule of his childhood, he found himself in the role of social outcast once more. He still had an agent, but it seemed like no one wanted to work with him. At Fisher’s urging, Warner had conducted a series of investigations into the Justice League production. The studio won’t disclose its findings, but in late 2020, it announced “remedial action” had been taken. A few weeks earlier, HBO had revealed Whedon would no longer serve as showrunner of The Nevers, his science-fiction series about women with supernatural powers. The network scrubbed his name from the show’s marketing materials.

Over the last year, some of his fans have tried to scrub him out too, erasing him from their narratives about what made Buffy great. In posts and essays, they have downplayed his role in the show’s development, pointing out that many people, including many women, were critically important to its success. It may be hard to accept that Whedon could have understood the pain of a character like Buffy, a woman who endures infidelity, attempted rape, and endless violence. But the belief that her story was something other than a projection of his psyche is ultimately just another fantasy. Whedon did understand pain — his own. Some of that pain, as he once put it to me, “spilled over” into the people around him. And some of it was channeled into his art.


So today, Whedon’s been mostly shunned by Hollywood, and likely won’t be writing any more comics soon either. If he’d just been philandering, that would’ve been disappointing, but not the worst thing that could happen. His ill-treatment of women on the set, along with Black guys like Fisher, however, is exactly what makes this whole affair truly awful. His fans may be distancing themselves from him now, but they should’ve noticed something was wrong when he wrote the introduction for one of the trade collection editions of Identity Crisis in the late 2000s. And, when Brad Meltzer wrote an issue of Buffy in turn.


Why, even his onetime associations with “feminists” like Anita Sarkeesian should’ve raised eyebrows. Presumably, he’s washed out in showbusiness today, and won’t be returning. And if not, it’s for the best. He really was one of the biggest phonies among “progressives”. There was once a time when I watched Buffy. Not anymore. Nor will I be buying any of his comics and other books after all the embarrassment he caused.


Originally published here.

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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1