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Joss Whedon responds to Justice League accusations for the first time

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‘We’re talking about a bad actor in both senses’

Comic-Con International 2018 - “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along” Blog Reunion Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

After being called out by a number of former collaborators for misbehavior on various sets, filmmaker Joss Whedon has resurfaced in a new interview to respond and clarify to accusations. Specifically, he denies claims actors Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot, made across several social posts in 2020 and 2021, about Whedon’s misogynistic and racist actions on the set of Justice League . Anonymous associates charge that the movie’s former director Zack Snyder could be at the heart of Whedon’s troubles, and that fans of Snyder’s became incensed by tribalism.

“The beginning of the internet raised me up, and the modern internet pulled me down,” Whedon says in the story. “The perfect symmetry is not lost on me.”

The cover story in the latest issue of New York Magazine describes Whedon’s journey from growing up in a “palazzo-style apartment” on the Upper West Side, to British boarding schools and Wesleyan, to writing the original Buffy script, to taking Web 1.0 by storm as Buffy’s cast and crew embedded within message boards. But the substance of the article deals with the wide variety of abuse allegations now thrown at Whedon.

These allegations span just about every TV show in which Whedon has been involved — Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Agents of SHIELD, which Joss co-created with his half-brother and half-brother’s wife. In some cases, Whedon reportedly abused power dynamics to start dating women on these shows. In others, he humiliated female writers, and got physical by grabbing a number of women by the arms. An unnamed writer on Firefly recalls in the New York story a time when Whedon called a staff meeting for an impromptu lecture to mock a female staffer’s script. “I’ve had my share of shitty showrunners, but the intent to hurt — that’s the thing that stands out for me now.” Whedon admits to some wrongful behavior, mostly attributed to being a young person in a position of power, and denies others.

Interestingly, anonymous members of Whedon’s inner circle have an origin story for where these allegations start: the set of Justice League.

Comic-Con International 2017 - “Justice League” Autograph Signing Ray Fisher
The cast of Justice League at Comic-Con 2017. Fisher, furthest left, wears a shirt meant to read “I Heart Zack Sndyer.”
Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Perhaps no movie of the 2010s was as plagued with turmoil as Justice League, a movie re-litigated to the extent that a new edit came out last year. The common story goes that Whedon was tapped to direct after Zack Snyder’s daughter’s tragic death by suicide, though Whedon objects to the narrative. According to the filmmaker, Warner Bros. tapped him to take over when an early screening made executives lose faith in the Snyder’s cut. “They asked me to fix it, and I thought I could help,” Whedon says. The profile describes his gun-for-hire gig as “one of the biggest regrets of his life.”

Where did things go wrong, in Whedon’s telling? Everywhere. He was asked by Warner to deliver 40 days of reshoots, and it became clear to him that Snyder ran sets very differently. Snyder encouraged his actors to ad-lib through their scenes and asked for their input. Whedon, who had made his name as a writer, wanted them to read his words exactly as he had written them.

“That didn’t go down well at all,” an unnamed crew member recalls.

This fundamental difference in approach appears to have colored every interaction Whedon had with the actors of Justice League. For Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg — notably, the first Black superhero in a DC movie — the differences became personal. Snyder had asked for Fisher’s help in crafting Cyborg, to the extent that New York Magazine writer Lila Shapiro describes Fisher as a “writing partner” of Snyder’s and screenwriter Chris Terrio.

“With a white writer and white director, we both thought having the perspective of an actor of color was really important,” Terrio told The Hollywood Reporter in 2021.

A large part of Fisher’s perspective was a tragic backstory for Cyborg involving his parents, “two genius-level Black people,” Fisher told The Hollywood Reporter. According to the actor, when Whedon took over the director’s chair, these scenes were cut. On a conference call Fisher says he mourned the loss but was prepared to move on, but Whedon reportedly cut him off. “It feels like I’m taking notes right now,” Fisher claims Whedon said, “and I don’t like taking notes from anybody — not even Robert Downey Jr.”

Fisher isn’t the only actor who has spoken out about Whedon’s treatment on set, with Gal Gadot also accusing the director of threatening her career. But Fisher’s many accusations, which include being pressured into reciting catchphrases and using color correction to alter his skin tone, have clearly stuck with Whedon.

Whedon says the color correction Fisher suggests was used to brighten the color of his skin was applied to the whole movie, where everything was made brighter in post-production. Cyborg’s cut storyline “logically made no sense,” Whedon says now, and Fisher’s character tested terribly with audiences. The two talked a lot about the characters, in fact, and were friendly. In Whedon’s world, the problem lies with Fisher’s functionality in the movie. “We’re talking about a malevolent force,” he tells New York. “We’re talking about a bad actor in both senses.”

The New York Magazine article quotes a number of unnamed allies of Whedon, who have “proposed a theory: What if Fisher had been doing Snyder’s bidding? Without furnishing proof, they speculated that Snyder had tricked Fisher into thinking Whedon was racist.” Under this theory, which Whedon declines to endorse or denounce, Snyder’s manipulation of Fisher “poisoned [Charisma Carpenter of Buffy] against Whedon, causing her to see the complicated story of their relationship as a simplistic narrative of abuse.”

There is no evidence of a conspiracy between Snyder and Fisher, nor is there evidence that Charisma Carpenter doesn’t understand her own relationship with Whedon. Whedon sticks to his own legacy by the end of the story. “I think I’m one of the nicer showrunners that’s ever been,” he says.

Fisher, who reportedly declined several requests by New York Magazine to speak for the article, responded to the profile with a tweet saying that it “looks like Joss Whedon got to direct an endgame after all…,” while declining to address “all of the lies and buffoonery,” instead preferring to celebrate the work of Martin Luther King on his birthday.

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