Joss Whedon is problematic: All the most serious issues in his works
A few generations have now grown up with Joss Whedon’s works that span in an impressive range from film to television. Along with his geek image, Whedon cultivated a reputation as a feminist, a woke artist in an industry filled with misogyny, racism, and apathy. However, Whedon’s filmography has shown that wasn’t quite the case.
From Joss Whedon’s works there have grown fandoms & geek havens in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and The Avengers. These films & TV series are classics but over the years it’s become apparent that they contain some glaring issues. It’s not easy to admit your favorite shows aren’t perfect but ignoring the flaws only dooms us to repeating them. Here are some of the most serious issues in Joss Whedon’s works.
Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff was the strong female superhero that Joss Whedon presented to the world in The Avengers. There were some issues surrounding her character from the beginning, the most glaringly obvious is the fact that she used to be the only woman on the otherwise testosterone laden dream team.
Nevertheless, Black Widow is a well-developed character with flaws, strengths, and vulnerability that appealed to a wide audience. Then in The Avengers: Age of Ultron we saw a disturbing issue come to light on when developing Black Widow’s character.
While having a heart to heart with Bruce Banner, who is grappling with his destructive alter ego, Hulk, Natasha confesses that she was sterilized as part of her induction to the KGB. Natasha’s words to Banner are “They sterilize you. It’s efficient. One less thing to worry about, the one thing that might matter more than the mission. It makes everything easier – even killing. You still think you’re the only monster on the team?”
The moment was supposed to show Natasha’s remorse for her past misdeeds but instead gave the impression that her worth is reduced to her reproductive abilities. Even if that interpretation was unintended it still speaks volumes to the fact that this questionable line remained a movie both written & directed by Whedon.
The Wonder Woman film as we know it today thankfully never got into the hands of Joss Whedon. However, Whedon did write a script for the film that was leaked online. When reading the unfortunate script we saw a tropey, sexist version of the Wonder Woman universe that made jokes often at the superhero’s expense.
In comparison to the film directed by Patty Jenkins, Whedon’s attempt at the character of Wonder Woman was embarrassing & downright insulting. Many noted the way he had the male character talking down to an entire community of Amazon warriors and the inclusion of several Black token characters.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
An episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought to life a disturbing moment when in the aftermath of Buffy & Spike’s breakup, Spike attempts to force himself on Buffy to win her back. The result is that Spike is devastated & disgusted with himself and goes to Africa to try and reclaim his soul.
The idea that a female character had to be raped to bring about the redemption of a male character reveals the patriarchal channels that run deep in Whedon’s works. We see the same plot-device used in Firefly only years later when Mal learns to mend his slut-shaming ways only after Inara was brutalized by a gang of Reavers.
Another fault with Buffy is when it adhered to the tired trope of killing off lesbian characters. The trope known as “bury your gays” gives the impression that queer characters are seen as more disposable that straight ones. Tara’s tragic death is a vivid example of this in Buffy and also reinforces the idea that queer characters can’t have happy endings.
There’s a whole slew of issues when it comes to the portrayal of Inara’s character in Firefly as the ship’s live-in prostitute and her treatment from various other characters. However, even more glaring that the latent misogyny is Firefly’s use of Asian characters – or lack of use.
There are almost Asian characters on Firefly, certainly no Asian leads or supporting characters and rarely even background extras are Asian. This might be seen as simple negligence – not great but not malicious – but then we remember that Firefly’s lore is rooted in the fact that this universe has fused into an Anglo-Sino Alliance. For a world that’s half Chinese, there’s a bewildering lack of Chinese people.
The rest of Firefly is plastered with Chinese fashion, art, and language, all plundered from a people the show didn’t even bother to represent. The fact that there are virtually no Asian characters in a story as steeped in Chinese culture as Firefly is so absurd it would be laughable if it wasn’t also damned disappointing.