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The Joss Whedon Abuse Controversy, Explained

As the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spin-off series "Angel," Joss Whedon became a household name for many a television viewer in the late '90s and early 2000s. His star continued to rise in the years that followed, as he would helm the first two "Avengers" films, and later switch cinematic universes as he took over from Zack Snyder as the director of "Justice League" — a critical and commercial flop that ultimately cost Warner Bros. $370 million to make. But that's not the reason per se why Whedon has become so notorious in recent years, as he has faced a litany of unsavory allegations from actors and crew members he worked with on various projects.

These accusations painted Whedon in a completely new light, as the man once known for his progressive ideals and ties to feminism was exposed as a verbally abusive individual who wasn't above throwing caustic comments at his cast and crew or taking advantage of the power he had behind the scenes. It didn't help either that he made patronizing and offensive remarks about some of the actors who complained about his behavior while responding to the allegations. 

How did a once-solid reputation get tarnished so badly, and what exactly was the director accused of? Here's a look back at the Joss Whedon abuse controversy and his response to the backlash against him.

Ray Fisher was the first actor to speak out about Whedon's alleged abuse

Although Joss Whedon's ex-wife, Kai Cole, published a detailed blog post in 2017 that accused him of infidelity and hypocrisy as a self-professed feminist, it wasn't until July 2020 that he began facing claims of abusive on-set behavior from the people he worked with.

Without going into much detail, Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg in "Justice League" three years prior, took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to discuss the challenges he faced while working on the film. "Joss Wheadon's [sic] on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable," he wrote, adding that the director was enabled by Jon Berg and Geoff Johns, who were then respectively serving as DC Entertainment president and Warner Bros. co-president of production. 

It was only in 2021 that Fisher truly elaborated on Whedon's alleged actions, which purportedly included some racially motivated changes to Zack Snyder's original "Justice League" script. He claimed that the director eliminated Cyborg's relationship with his late mother and the rest of his backstory, which would eventually be seen in the film's Snyder Cut. "It represents that his parents are two genius-level Black people," Fisher told The Hollywood Reporter. "We don't see that every day." The actor also accused Whedon of being arrogant and dismissive when he and his co-stars questioned the myriad revisions to the "Justice League" script.

Multiple Buffyverse mainstays called Whedon out soon after Fisher's tweet

Just days after Ray Fisher posted his first tweet about Joss Whedon's purported unprofessionalism, Jeff Pruitt and Sophia Crawford, who respectively worked as stunt coordinator and as Sarah Michelle Gellar's stunt double on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," opened up to Metro UK about their experiences working alongside the Buffyverse creator. The married couple claimed Whedon demanded that Crawford break up with her then-fiancé Pruitt if she wanted to remain employed on the series, further adding that they had a hard time finding outside work after they refused to end their relationship.

"He went from the humble writer who used to turn to me for ways to shoot fight scenes into a real egomaniac who believed his own hype," Pruitt said. "Then again, maybe he was always that way and I was simply too naive to see it as he never showed that side to me before."

James Marsters, who played Spike on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," was next to comment on Whedon's behavior, also in July 2020. He recalled on "Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum" that the showrunner wasn't happy that Spike, originally meant as a one-off villain, became a breakout character with fans. "I remember he backed me up against a wall one day and he was just like, 'I don't care how popular you are, kid, you're dead. You hear me? Dead. Dead!' And I was just like, 'Uh, you know, it's your football, man. OK,'" Marsters said.

Charisma Carpenter claimed Whedon fired her for being pregnant

No one epitomized character development in the Buffyverse better than Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter). She went from being a stereotypically vapid cheerleader on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to arguably the most likable character on "Angel," and fans were left scratching their heads when she didn't return for the latter show's 5th season. The actor spoke magnanimously about her shock departure from "Angel" in older interviews. But in February 2021, Carpenter took to X and shared a two-part statement expressing her support for Ray Fisher and revealing how Joss Whedon allegedly mistreated her during her time in the Buffyverse.

According to the actor, Whedon had a history of being "casually cruel" on set and made multiple indirect attempts to fire her from "Angel." She further claimed that the showrunner called her "fat" despite weighing 126 pounds at four months pregnant. "He was mean and biting, disparaging about others openly, and often played favorites, pitting people against one another to compete and vie for his attention and approval," she added.

As further noted, Whedon reacted to the news of Carpenter's pregnancy by asking her if she was going to keep the baby, then by insulting her character and religious beliefs and insinuating that she was trying to sabotage the series. She also claimed she was roused with a phone call in the middle of the night, asking her to report to the set even though she was six months pregnant and advised by doctors to lessen her workload. Ultimately, she was fired from "Angel" shortly after giving birth to her son in March 2003.

"All that promise and joy [of new motherhood] sucked right out," Carpenter wrote. "And Joss was the vampire."

Whedon admitted some of the claims are true, but blasted some of his accusers

In January 2022, Joss Whedon broke his silence on the many accusations he faced in the past year and a half. In an interview with New York Magazine, the veteran creative admitted that some of them are true; for instance, he touched on Charisma Carpenter's allegations by saying he was younger and less tactful when he reacted negatively toward her pregnancy. And while he had good things to say about her acting ability, he denied one of the more notable claims in her statement. "I did not call her fat," Whedon said. "Of course I didn't."

Whedon had more pointed things to say, however, about Ray Fisher. The "Justice League" director denied everything the actor said about him on social media and in interviews and stressed that his claims weren't even worth bringing up. "We're talking about a malevolent force," he added. "We're talking about a bad actor in both senses." Whedon also addressed his alleged threats against FIsher's "Justice League" co-star Gal Gadot, which she revealed in an interview on Israeli television and reportedly revolved around various concerns with her character. "I don't threaten people. Who does that?" he said. "English is not her first language, and I tend to be annoyingly flowery in my speech." In response, Gadot emailed New York Magazine to clarify that she "understood perfectly."