We’ve Got To Talk About Joss Whedon
The #MeToo movement means that allegations against men like Whedon are less likely to be written off, but I’m cynical about lasting change in the entertainment industry.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the star of every sleepover I had as a teenager. We’d pick a season and stay up the whole night, watching the entire thing straight through. We’d find ourselves bleary-eyed and exhausted as the sun rose, but sleep wasn’t on the table. Watching Buffy was a ritual, a night of worship of our favorite demon-slaying cheerleader. We could quote the best moments and endlessly debate the usual fandom controversies, though we always seemed to land back on “Spike or Angel?”
Buffy and her Scooby Gang were an important part of the formative years for many women of a certain age. We all know why. Buffy broke through the ’90s teen soap noise with an empowered hero who flipped the script on what women could do onscreen. “Feminist” is what critics called it, over and over. And it sure felt that way, and for its time it certainly was, but every time I rewatch it as an adult, the cracks are clearer.
It felt easier to ignore the problems when we were just obsessed teenagers. Like how characters on the show are always punished for having sex. Or Spike’s attempted rape. Or the utter lack of any characters of color. Or how the show pulled a “bury your gays” on Tara and Willow. It was also easier to ignore the rumors about the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, because he had long been held up as a geeky demigod and feminist hero.
Yet it has been clear, for years, that something may have gone down between Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia on both Buffy and Angel, and Whedon, who created both series. In Season 4 of Angel, things got weird. Despite being a much-beloved character, Cordelia fell into a coma and disappeared from the show. There were rumors on fansites and message boards of a feud with Whedon, related to her pregnancy. That Whedon was allegedly mad about it and had taken it out on her. In 2009, Carpenter spoke about her relationship with Whedon at a convention.