Joss Whedon Called Out By Cast Of ‘Buffy’ For Abuse Of Power
Olivia Garrett reports on the latest Hollywood creator to be cancelled, Joss Whedon.
At times like this the phrase ‘is nothing sacred?’ really comes to mind. With each director ousted, each talk-show host exposed, each celebrity cancelled, you would think it would become easier to accept the disappointment that is Hollywood’s toxic truth. Yet this one, I admit, really stings. When 90 per cent of your confidence, feminine pride and, dare I say it, fashion choices, come from the show you loved and idolised as a child, it cuts very deeply to find out that the showrunner could be another example of power-hungry cruelty dominating the director’s chair. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that espouses female strength without the trope of the emasculated boyfriend or humourless heroine, is a truly inspiring show, and yet now is sadly being undermined by the very man who created it: Joss Whedon.
The allegations began in July 2020 when Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg in the movie Justice League (2017), tweeted about Whedon’s on-set behaviour during the filming of the DC franchise-killer. With production already being under the microscope, due to Whedon’s replacement of Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder, Fisher claims that Whedon’s treatment of the cast and crew was ‘gross, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable’. He then went on to share a video of himself at Comicon calling Whedon a ‘great guy’ with the caption ‘I’d like to take a moment to forcefully retract every bit of this statement’.
From this came a lengthy Instagram statement from Charisma Carpenter with the tagline ‘#IStandWithRayFisher’. Carpenter, whose character Cordelia Chase (vacuous cheerleader turned psychic demon fighter) was part of three seasons of Buffy and five seasons of the spinoff Angel, before being unexpectedly written off the show. In her Instagram story, Carpenter wrote that ‘Joss Whedon abused his power on numerous occasions’ and claimed that he was ‘casually cruel’ on set, opting to ‘play favourites’ and ‘pit people against one another’. She went on to talk about his treatment of her pregnancy, stating that he ‘callously call[ed] her “fat” to colleagues’ and asked her if she was ‘going to keep it’ before he ‘proceeded to attack my character, mock my religious beliefs, accuse me of sabotaging the show’. She also attributed her pregnancy to his reason for her sudden departure and wrote that his treatment of her left her with a ‘chronic physical condition’.
The general support for the actor are an encouraging sign of the lack of tolerance TV now has for bullying and other toxic behaviours.
Carpenter’s allegation was met with a wave of support from other members of the Buffy and Angel cast, most notably from Buffy Summers herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. On her Instagram, she wrote: ‘while I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon’, she expressed a desire to left alone in the privacy of her family life but ultimately clarified that ‘I stand with all survivors of abuse’. This response is not wholly unexpected as rumours about the rocky relationship between star and showrunner have been circulating for years. The unpleasant power dynamic between them has been hinted at ever since Gellar talked about Whedon’s disparagement of her 1999 film Cruel Intentions where he called it a ‘porny’. In an interview with Premiere Magazine, she stated that his words were ‘unbelievably hurtful’ and that Whedon ‘owes her flowers’. Additionally, Gellar’s husband Freddie Prinze Jr has affirmed that she dealt with ‘a lot of nonsense’ when filming Buffy, nonsense that, due to Whedon’s prowess at fan interaction and publicity, has ultimately led to the conclusion that Gellar was to blame for any on-set disagreements.
Alongside Gellar’s response was a reposting from Michelle Trachtenberg with the comment ‘thankyou @Sarahmgellar for saying this. I am brave enough now as a 35-year-old woman… to repost this.’ Trachtenberg, who came onto the show at just 15 to play Dawn Summers, also went on to say that after an incident Whedon was not allowed to be alone in a room with her. Other posts came from the likes of Amber Benson (Tara Maclay) who said that ‘it was a toxic environment and it starts at the top’, Emma Caulfield (Anya), and Anthony Steward Head (Rupert Giles).
Carpenter went on to mention two responses in particular; she acknowledged the private help and support given by Angel co-star David Boreanaz amidst calls from fans to make a statement, and Elizabeth Dushku who wrote ‘CC my heart aches for you’. Dushku, who has been vocal about her own mental and sexual abuse on the set of True Bloods at age 12, then received an apology from Carpenter that she ‘never lent my voice to you privately nor publicly when you shared your truth’.
These interactions and the general support for the actor are an encouraging sign of the lack of tolerance TV now has for bullying and other toxic behaviours. However as this is just the latest in a long line of maddening discoveries, I can’t help but wonder: what’s next? What rose-tinted memory of a show will be ripped away from us and will that one be even more painful?