Joss Whedon’s reign of terror may finally be coming to a close. For decades now, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator has perpetuated the abusive standards tolerated in the entertainment industry by verbally assaulting, coercing, manipulating, and generally abusing those he’s worked with, his actors in particular. Last year, actor Ray Fisher opened up about his experiences with Whedon on the set of the 2017 film Justice League. Since then, several actors, including most Buffy alumni, have come forward to echo these sentiments and support Fisher in speaking out, detailing the cruel and unusual behavior he inflicted upon them. Whedon isn’t the first man in the industry to use his talent and status to intimidate those around him, but his decline in status and reputation signals a sign of better times.
Hollywood is no stranger to power-based interpersonal violence. For decades, powerful men have reigned with minimal oversight and maximum control. Historically, consequences aren’t something white men in Hollywood have had to face. Now, however, we find ourselves in a time where power-based abuse is no longer being tolerated as it has been. Former Weinstein Company head Harvey Weinstein was not only fired from his production company and suspended or expelled from all the other accredited groups he was part of, but he was also locked behind bars after over a dozen women came forward in 2017 to share their experiences of sexual assault and rape. If a powerful mogul like Weinstein is no longer welcome in Hollywood, there is no longer room for anyone perpetuating abuse.
However, counterintuitively, it may be the smaller players like Whedon, those not quite on top of the world like Weinstein was, that prove to be trickier to drive out. Adam B. Vary and Elizabeth Wagmeister wrote in their Variety exclusive that Whedon’s shows “‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ aired in the late 1990s and early 2000s, long before the #MeToo movement, when the industry more freely abetted on-set misconduct to keep top talent happy and working.” They also echo that Whedon’s talent for writing dramatic and traumatic supernatural stories is evident, and pertinent to the excusal of his behavior over the years.
Whedon quickly established himself as a feminist with Buffy, a show centering around the spooky trials and ooky tribulations of a bubbly blonde teenage girl who has the super strength to battle vampires night after night, the brains expel demons back to hell, to travel through dimensions, and even come back from the dead herself. Despite his “girl power” mantra, Whedon consistently harassed the women of Buffy, playing mind games with the cast and crew to establish and maintain his idea of the pecking order. Charisma Carpenter detailed her experiences on the Buffy spinoff series Angel, divulging how Whedon was enraged to find out about Carpenter’s pregnancy, harassing her, and killing her character off the show in revenge. Following Carpenter’s brave and detailed post, other Whedonverse actors stepped up to show their support or share their experiences. Notably, Michele Trachtenberg, who was 14 years old at the start of her Buffy career, revealed that following an undisclosed incident, there was an on-set rule that Whedon wasn’t allowed to be alone with the 14-year-old actress any longer. The extent of his perversions is truly sickening and baffling — but it flew under the radar due to his success, his self-asserted and surface-level feminism, and his ability to mask his narcissism around higher-ups.
As a self-proclaimed Buffy fanatic, Whedon’s offenses weigh particularly heavy in my mind. It’s painful and difficult to reconcile the fact that a show that has been so empowering to so many girls and women was built on abuse and toxic masculinity. Whedon weaseled his way into feminist media during a time when women and girls weren’t often the main characters of an action television series, and he was regaled for it. Despite many harmful underlying ideas circulating in the plotlines of Buffy, it was ahead of its time in many ways and provided an oasis for girls in the middle of a male-dominated entertainment desert. It’s actually encouraging to imagine if Buffy was created new in today’s world; so much of it would be ripped to shreds online. While many feel that today’s society is too critical, picky, or “politically correct” in our discussion of media, the harsh scrutiny is serving a higher purpose. Too often have offensive, ignorant, and violent narratives been overlooked in television and film. The critical eye of today’s youth plays a crucial role in holding creators accountable for fallacies they may be perpetuating. People are sick of the abuse, on-screen and off-screen.
Watching Ray Fisher stick to his guns with his catchphrase “Accountability over Entertainment” and encourage all of these other actors to come forward to halt the spread of the “casual cruelty” exhibited by Whedon and men like him is simultaneously exhausting and inspiring. Uprooting systemic and traditionally accepted interpersonal power-based violence is not an easy task, but it’s obviously one that many of today’s stars are up for and impassioned by. Their courage is inspiring. As creators, administrators, heads-of-companies, and general industry cohorts, it’s all of our jobs to support those who speak out about industry abuse and to speak up ourselves if we come across these injustices firsthand. Abusive and power-hungry creators like Joss Whedon have always existed and will always exist — that doesn’t mean they have to exist within Hollywood. Thankfully, Whedon’s reputation is now marred, with no projects currently in the works and legal penalties potentially on the horizon. All that is left to do is to don our crucifixes, sharpen our stakes, and keep slaying the exploitative, power-hungry demons that emerge.