SUN VALLEY, IDAHO - JULY 05: David Zaslav, President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery talks to the media as he arrives at the Sun Valley Resort for the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 05, 2022 in Sun Valley, Idaho. The world's most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, and technology will converge at the Sun Valley Resort this week for the exclusive conference. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

New Head of DC Films Allegedly Required to Report Directly to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav

In the apparent overhaul of DC movies (again), filmgoers and comic book readers have basically been assured to trust the process and that they (newly merged parent company Warner Bros. Discovery) will do the immense catalog of stories and characters justice. In the company’s Q2 investor call, new WBD CEO David Zaslav confirmed the months of rumors when he stated the DCEU would be “similar to the structure that Alan Horn and Bob Iger put together very effectively with [Marvel Studios chief] Kevin Feige at Disney.”

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Just a few weeks later, news broke that The Lego Movie director Dan Lin was in talks to head up that effort. With that news came a more alarming note in The Hollywood Reporters scoop:

The role would encompass overseeing not just film but television as well, with Lin reporting directly to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, according to sources.

Anyone even halfway paying attention to Zaslav’s leadership over the last few months should be very concerned. Before getting into the nitty-gritty, let’s just look at the last few months setting back for a moment.

From the top level down, Zaslav has made terrible decisions and signaled he’s squirming to make it worse. By cutting a basically complete solo movie for one of the most recognizable women in comics (Batgirl) and a number of other projects at various stages of development to save a few million dollars in pandemic-related tax write-offs, they’ve lost tens of millions more in market value. To cut costs in paying the animation workforce residuals and health insurance, they’ve removed a slew of animated content, including at least one DC project.

For fans of a particular multi-DC-project director like Zack Snyder or James Gunn, things aren’t looking peachy for them, either. While Batgirl was directed by Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi, it was technically part of the Synderverse due to J.K. Simmons’ James Gordon making an appearance. Also, when documentary filmmaker Leslie Iwerks asked WBD to license clips from the 2021 Justice League (a.k.a. The Synder Cut), she was told that the only Justice League that exists came out in 2017. In the Q2 call, they also stressed big IP, when James Gunn will do the opposite whether in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or DC Extended Universe.

Decisions like these, on top of a not-great year for the box office overall (yes, there were standouts, of course) caused further delays in WBD projects. The mega studio is only releasing Black Adam and Don’t Worry Darling this year. The reports as to “why” are conflicting as to whether this is for changes to upcoming films, a budgetary issue, or a combination of the two. Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom and Shazam! Fury of the Gods are now pushed back further into 2023, the same year as the dreaded Flash movie.

Another attempt in replicating Marvel

There’s a sect of DCEU fans excited about these changes and a “strong man” approach to these poor decisions by Zaslav. Sure, some of that is just because the people who were mad that DC was starting to include more women and people of color are now happy about Batgirl’s cancellation, but I don’t think this is most people. (Contrary to popular belief, I don’t equate everything I disagree with to racism!)

Instead, I feel like this willingness to believe that this time company leadership will get things right for fans just comes down to rooting for any changes that might help your “team” when things aren’t going so well. For over a decade, people who chose the DC camp—when you don’t need to take any camp in a battle between massive corporations—have taken L after L. There have been some highlights, but it’s been a mess compared to the MCU, despite that the MCU is far from perfect itself.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a former colleague present when Zaslav took over Discovery in 2006 commented that his favorite phrase was “command and control” and that he demand immediate results. Under his leadership (in which 20% of the staff was immediately cut), TLC’s image as an education network transformed into a reality TV-fueled one where you can gawk and say, “Thank God that’s not me.” Shows about strange addictions, severe health issues, people’s weight, child beauty pageants, Romani people (named with slurs, though), and super-large families—many of which would include sex crimes hidden by the network—dominated.

Law student Ada from Ada on Demand discussed this at the end of her video on TLC’s Hot & Heavy:

This belief that this single, bold man will fix everything, yes, is modeled after Marvel and has really whitewashed the many mini battles Kevin Feige and others had to wage against Marvel’s Ike Perlmutter and others for creative freedom, but it’s also a microcosm of collective anxiety in many countries around the world about masculinity in a time of decades of gender equity. This anxiety can be expressed in a much worse way (see the “manosphere” and its most recent inductee, Andrew Tate), such as the rise of global fascism in the past decade. What better medium to dig your heels in than comics and like-minded movie franchises that largely fulfill temporary fantasies?

This is what we’re working with

Some of this is “normal,” unchecked (looking at you, Department of Justice and others who are supposed to prevent monopolies) anti-competitive behavior and what happens in many, many mergers.

However, this feels especially horrendous because WBD reps have made microaggressive statements at every point of defense and because Zaslav has a long public history with terrible people, the highlights of which include a tight relationship with how-are-you-this-racist Clint Eastwood. Because of the “report directly to me” leadership style, it’s likely that he gave CNN head Chris Licht the go-ahead to hire NYPD’s decades-long expert (among many things) on unjustly surveilling Muslims, John Miller, as a law enforcement analyst.

These last two should be surprising as even before the news of all the cut movies and projects started to emerge and the trend was very clear, Zaslav has made some pretty clear statements about whose voices and stories he thinks have value—monetary or humanity. Instead of allowing creatives to tell stories and support the voices of talent, Zaslav and the company are shifting values (similarly to Netflix) to appeal to viewers upset about diversity who see young people and people of color as whiners.

While (pre-merger) Warner Bros. had been working to diversify all parts of their staff and stories, the Discovery network was half as ethnically diverse. As is often the case in mergers, lots of people are getting fired, and while there’s no headcount as to what these numbers look like for the average employee of the new WBD, at the top level, it’s been a bloodbath for people of color—especially women. This has caught the attention of lawmakers, advocacy groups, shareholders, and subscribers.

(via The Hollywood Reporter, featured image: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.