Since watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I’ve been happy to read up on any news story regarding the long road that the film took to becoming a thing we could all enjoy. It’s a fascinating tale that’s recounted in a Vanity Fair article by Anthony Breznican titled, The Justice System (Apple News+ link). It was a pleasure to read about the groundswell of support Snyder and his version of the film received. Doubly so since his reason for leaving the production was because of the tragic death of his daughter. I can’t think of another director who’s been given the incredible opportunity he was given.
I think he knocked it out of the park.
However, there’s another story that’s been needling me since reading this article, and that’s what actor Ray Fisher, who played the character of Cyborg, had to say about working with director Joss Whedon. By his account, the experience was deeply negative and painful. Since the production for what would turn out to be the theatrical cut of the film ended, Fisher has made public accusations about the mistreatment he was subject to by Whedon, Warner Bros. co-president of production Jon Berg, and former DC Entertainment president and chief creative officer Geoff Johns. On July 1, 2020, Fisher tweeted:
Joss Wheadon’s on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable.— Ray Fisher (@ray8fisher) July 1, 2020
He was enabled, in many ways, by Geoff Johns and Jon Berg.
It’s all so damn terrible. I’m sorry that Fisher had to endure to that mistreatment, and has to continue to fight for his own withheld justice. I hope he gets it sooner rather than later.
The accusation against Whedon has led me to ponder on the idea of “separating art from the artist” and how damn hard that can be to do. I enjoy the tv show Firefly, and its accompanying follow-up film, Serenity, very much. They’ve brought me joy in the past, and I continue to have fond memories of those stories and characters.
But it was created by someone who may have leveled significant abuse toward an actor in Justice League. Turns out that may also be just the tip of the iceberg with him. To purchase any copy of Firefly or Serenity now would be supportive of the man. It would tell the Hollywood powers that be that there’s continued interest in his future employment.
Likewise, I have absolutely loved some Kevin Spacey movies. The Usual Suspects is a masterful film,1 but following the allegations aimed at him, I feel hesitant to give it any more of my time. Roman Polanski has made some monumental and important films, but his grotesque past has made me falter at the thought of supporting his work by watching them. In a more recent example, I liked watching Silicon Valley, but Thomas Middleditch appears to be a malevolent asshole.
And yet, Whedon’s not the only person who was involved with Firefly. There were hundreds of other cast and crew members who brought it to life. Loads of people made The Usual Suspects, and it continues to be an influential film for good reason. Silicon Valley had its own group of committed people making it, and it had its moments of levity. That’s always something we can use more of in our lives.
Filmmaking is not done in a vacuum—there are many others for whom my dollars would support. A film is not created by just its director. Does refusing to watch Firefly or The Usual Suspects hurt the good people involved with those productions in some indirect way?
I may be completely wrong in thinking there could be any reason to continue watching media that’s created in part by heinous people. I invite that criticism because it’ll help me learn to be better. On the other hand, I appreciate the perspective that Brynley Louise takes in the Film Daily article I linked to earlier in this post:
It’s hard to hear accusations like these when you follow someone’s work. Trust us, we aren’t going to stop watching the original Toy Story just because he helped write it. However, this doesn’t mean Whedon needs to be praised as a good person just because he’s worked on some of popular culture’s favorite shows and movies.
I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer to the question of “is separating art from the artist an acceptable act?” It may all come down to personal choice, and that no feeling in this matter is incorrect.
Still, it’s a puzzle I’m working on… 🎥
UPDATE: The Hollywood Reporter has published a story wherein they interview Ray Fisher about the details of his accusations. I discuss that article in this follow-up.