Ray Fisher, who starred as Cyborg in Justice League, first accused Joss Whedon of “abusive, unprofessional” behavior in June of 2020 following a long and frustrating internal investigation with WarnerMedia, now fully detailed in a new profile from The Hollywood Reporter.
The article is worth reading in full as Fisher details his issues with not just Whedon, but the executives he alleges protected him, including former DC Films head Geoff Johns.
Zack Snyder stepped down from the 2017 Justice League film after his family’s personal tragedy with Whedon stepping in to finish production. While Cyborg was originally supposed to be the centerpiece of the story, with Whedon on board, that soon changed. According to The Hollywood Reporter:
…in a call with Whedon, Fisher says he had barely started to talk when the filmmaker cut him off. “It feels like I’m taking notes right now, and I don’t like taking notes from anybody — not even Robert Downey Jr.,” he said. Other sources on the project say Whedon was similarly dismissive of Gadot and Momoa when they questioned new lines.
WarnerMedia has launched a successful and predictable racist counterattack, portraying Fisher as a difficult to work with “angry Black man” while ignoring Fisher’s legitimate critiques of his character as the only Black man on the production.
Similarly, Whedon is reported to have bullied freshly minted Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, threatening her career and belittling her relationship with director Patty Jenkins. According to The Hollywood Reporter:
…Whedon pushed Gadot to record lines she didn’t like…a witness on the production who later spoke to investigators says that after one clash, “Joss was bragging that he’s had it out with Gal. He told her he’s the writer and she’s going to shut up and say the lines and he can make her look incredibly stupid in this movie.”
Ray Fisher isn’t the first to have issues with Joss Whedon
In the wake of Fisher’s allegations, other actors who worked with Whedon came forward to share their support and own stories of abuse and harassment, most notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Charisma Carpenter.
Carpenter, who played Cordelia Chase on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, was allegedly fired for her pregnancy by Whedon, a fact long suspected by Buffy and Angel fans but never publicly discussed by Carpenter until recently.
Others have called attention to Whedon’s behavior or echoed the sentiments expressed by Fisher and Carpenter including Buffy stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Trachtenberg, and Whedon’s ex-wife and producing partner Kai Cole.
In the wake of the Whedon allegations and the release of the Snyder Cut, it’s clear that, regardless of motive, Whedon cut basically all of Cyborg’s story from his version of the movie, reducing him from a prominent character with a full and complete backstory to a barely realized background character. It’s understandable that Fisher would be upset and troubled.
As a result, ardent fans and supporters of Zack Snyder, Ray Fisher, Charisma Carpenter, and others have been inclined to declare the Whedon cut of Justice League, and everything else he’s ever touched, as garbage because it’s harder to sit with a more uncomfortable truth: very often, bad people make good art.
Ray Fisher story shines light on complicated truth about Hollywood and art
And therein lies the complicated truth about Joss Whedon: he has talent as a writer and filmmaker and has created valuable and important works of art. There are several important disclaimers to make here. First, no piece of art is worth any amount of abuse or harassment.
Second, I’m a lifelong fan of Joss Whedon and a literal scholar of his work (I’ve presented research on his work at conferences around the country). Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite television show of all time, and I’m aware I’ve taken far too long to gather my thoughts on Whedon’s abusive behavior.
Many Whedon fans like myself are ardent admirers of his entire canon and have been in denial about the extent to what is true about his abuse for decades. As a reminder, the man was heralded as a feminist icon by none other than Gloria Steinem. It can take time to shift your hero worship ideals of someone into the reality of who they are as a person.
This is doubly true when their work is as seminal as a show like Buffy. Buffy is by no means perfect (particularly in terms of race, which rings doubly true today in light of Fisher’s allegations), but it was representative and pivotal for many young women and queer people who had never seen themselves depicted on screen as strong and complex figures before.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Joss Whedon is solely responsible for the art he’s known for. Women like Jane Espenson, Marti Noxon, and Maurissa Tancharoen are as important to the crafting and shaping of Whedon’s worlds as he is.
It’s a complex issue and my feelings may be completely different tomorrow. However, I think it’s important to critically engage with art, good and bad. Whedon isn’t the only person who worked on his television shows or films. To “cancel” his work would also be to cancel the work of Charisma Carpenter and Kai Cole among others.
Ultimately, that what’s most important: the survivors at the center of the “Whedonverse.” As for Fisher, while his future as Cyborg is murky, he will star in the upcoming series Women of the Movement as Gene Mobley and doesn’t appear ready to back down from the fight anytime soon.
Fisher, per The Hollywood Reporter said:
“…I’ve been underestimated at every turn during this process and that is what has led us to this point….I’m not so indebted to Hollywood that I haven’t been willing to put myself out there.”
It’s safe to say we won’t underestimate Fisher again.
Ray Fisher will keep pushing for equity and justice, and his fans will, too.