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As Backlash Grows, the ‘Batgirl’ Test Audience Story Doesn’t Hold Water

Leslie Grace as Batgirl in HBO Max's 'Batgirl'.

Since the out-of-nowhere cancellation of Batgirl, and a slew of other canceled projects, the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery (under the new leadership of David Zaslav) has faced a growing backlash amongst consumers. Even at the Q2 investor’s call, the first question came from a representative from the Deutsche Bank asking why they would not release already completed works and referenced press coverage surrounding it. After talking around the question with some dog whistles around “quality,” Zaslav finally said, “we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it.”

Before the investor call, the supposed single screening of Batgirl (with unfinished VFX and score) got mixed positive reactions. The Hollywood Reporter noted that Batgirl got a number in the low 60s which is comparable to both money makers like It! (2017) and to the early scores of the upcoming Shazam! Fury of The Gods—a film they confirmed in the Q2 call would be released next year.

The New York Post (one of the publications that broke the story of the cancellation on August 2), however, had very different reporting. They, alongside The Rolling Stones and others on August 3, featured anonymous sources that echoed almost verbatim what Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery would say on August 4. Specifically, people in the test audience called it “not theatrical.” Which, by the way, is a weird comment considering the movie has been slated to be direct-to-streaming for over two years. This is in line with Zaslav’s vision of movies being released in theaters, or not at all. It’s not like nothing exists between direct-to-streaming and theatrical release (like, say, Video on Demand) that could be used.

Mid movies make money

(Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

As the head of Discovery, a network that’s most famously associated with exploitative and “unscripted” reality TV (see: the biggest, longest-running shows on TLC), calling something subpar is amusing. Even if Batgirl was a “mid” or okay movie, it still could have made money via sales (subscribers, rentals, or ticket sales) and merchandise. Many “just fine” movies, ones never really worth a second watch, rake in millions, if not billions, for the film and television industry. I’m avoiding naming titles because we can all name a few or just look at Rotten Tomatoes.

Many people online have pointed to the number of other projects hated by moviegoers and fans alike, such as Suicide Squad (2016), the Justice League (2017), and more. While this is fine to call out, for the ridiculous double standard, it’s also not really a criticism that directly relates to the new board. Zaslav, and the other leaders who weren’t there, don’t have to take the fall for that.

However, it is a continued tradition within media that the projects by people of color and women must be both beyond exceptional and appeal to a general audience. And when they say general audience, this is always coded as cis-white men, and means it must be as apolitical as possible to appeal to everyone, although our very existence as “other” is inherently political. Every decision before and since Zaslav heading Warner Bros. Discovery shows he will continue this tradition of devaluing our stories as fandoms and consumers leave him behind.

(featured image: HBO Max)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with an interest in art, politics, identity, and history—especially when they all come together. This Texan balances book-buying blurs with liberal Libby use.