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Where Are the White Men Calling Out Joss Whedon?

Your privilege is showing

joss whedon

Yesterday actress Charisma Carpenter spoke out against Buffy and Angel creator Joss Whedon. In a moving post, Carpenter outlined the sexist and abusive environment she says she experienced behind the scenes of shows that still remain touchstones in our geek landscape, calling it “hostile and toxic.” Following Carpenter’s statement, other women from the Buffy-verse spoke up about the behind the scenes toxicity on Buffy as well: Amber Benson, Michelle Trachtenberg, Clare Kramer, and, perhaps most damningly, Buffy herself: Sarah Michelle Gellar.

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All of this has come in the wake of Ray Fisher’s firing from the upcoming Flash movie after he accused Whedon of racism and abusive behavior on the set of Justice League. Not only has Fisher not received any kind of apology from Whedon or Warner Bros, the fact remains that Joss Whedon has a brand new series headed to HBO Max (despite the PR trying to scrub his name from it, The Nevers is Whedon’s project).

It’s both sad and inspiring to see women standing with Carpenter and Fisher. Inspiring because of the bravery it takes to stand in solidarity with others calling out someone they say abused them, and sad because that abuse happened.

But as the women stood with Carpenter and Fisher, there was a segment of those who have worked with Whedon that was noticeably silent: the white men who have benefited most from the Whedon brand and fandom.

We have to ask ourselves: why is it almost always women and people of color who have to speak up about abuse and sexism? Why was the internet loudly clamoring to hear more from Sarah Michelle Gellar, but not Angel star David Boreanaz? While Aquaman’s Jason Momoa publicly expressed support for Fisher, the rest of the Justice League remains silent. Why are these white guys given the luxury of silence? Even more importantly, will they examine that the extent to which their privilege and gender may have protected them and allowed them to be ignorant?

Take for instance the only male Buffy actor to speak on the subject of the hostility and trauma alleged by Carpenter and others: Anthony Stewart Head, who played Giles. Head spoke with the British talk show This Morning to say he never saw anything bad happen on set. He acknowledges that this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but he was able to remain in the dark.

Transcript by Digital Spy:

I’ve been up most of the night just running through my memories, thinking, ‘What did I miss?’ Because, and this is not a man saying: ‘I didn’t see it, so it didn’t happen …’ I am gutted, seriously gutted, because one of my memories, my fondest memory [from Buffy] is the fact it was so empowering. Not just in the words in the script, but the family feel of the show … I am really sad that if people went through these experiences – I was sort of like a father figure – I would hope that someone would come to me and say, ‘I’m struggling, I’ve just had a horrible conversation.’

What Head is saying here, though he sounds regretful of “what he missed,” is similar to what Alan Tudyk said this summer, when Fisher’s allegations against Whedon gained attention.

And yeah, of course, you guys didn’t see it and can’t imagine it. You’re straight white men. You are neither the target of racism or sexism, nor are you positioned to be hurt by it. Because of that, you don’t automatically recognize micro-(or macro) aggressions in your workplace. That’s a huge luxury and the very definition of white male privilege. So too is taking the mindset of “well this isn’t my experience, and that’s all that matters, so I’m not going to express support for the experiences of marginalized people.” Even if many men did not personally witness the behavior their costars allege, their vocal support matters. But there’s an almost resounding silence.

We have seen this over and over and over and over again in recent years. Even with Whedon, we’ve known about his allegedly shady antics for years, and because he’s a man who made some great (though imperfect things), many in the audience and in Hollywood kept letting it slide. Often because people didn’t speak up more, women and BIPOC people felt ashamed and traumatized and didn’t want to “hurt reputations,” but worse, the white men didn’t see or care. It’s also the awful truth that more often than not, people who speak up against powerful figures are the ones who find their careers and reputations ruined, and not the other way around.

The accusations around Joss Whedon have swirled and bubbled for years. Ever since Charisma Carpenter and her character Cordelia were treated so badly on the final seasons of Angel, we’ve all suspected something was up. In 2017, Whedon’s now ex-wife Kai Cole wrote for The Wrap about how Whedon changed in his time on Buffy and that his sudden power and renown were intoxicating to him. And how that position of power allowed him to engage in affairs with unnamed actresses on his shows.

Cole wrote:

… when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” But he did touch it. He said he understood, “I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,” but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, “would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.”

Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me.

It’s clear that Joss Whedon has been doing the same thing that he’s alleged to have done to Charisma Carpenter, Ray Fisher, and more for decades, and yet, none of his white male peers have fully called it out. James Marsters relayed how Joss yelled at him on the set of Buffy about how he wanted to kill his character, but not much else has emerged and that’s sad. Because until we have the full story here, not just from victims but from allies and others who worked with Whedon, we’ll never get the full story.

And I understand how hard it is. If these men speak out they will be speaking against someone who made their careers and possibly admitting their own complicity in these toxic environments and bad behavior. But it has to happen or men like Joss Whedon will just keep pulling this same crap because they think they’re geniuses who can get away with it.

We cannot only rely on victims to bring accountability. It has to come from everyone.

(images: Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.

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