Another Article Talking About Joss Whedon
One of the first things I learned as a screenwriter is, the heroes of your stories aren’t perfect. They have flaws. They make mistakes. Character development can’t happen if our protagonists are perfect. That’d be a terrible story.
So with that in mind, let’s talk about Joss Whedon.
So at one point, Joss Whedon wrote a Wonder Woman script. We know this, because said script was leaked and a lot of people are mad. Like, really, really mad. This is not an article raging at Joss Whedon. This is also not an article raging at the people who are raging at Joss Whedon in a sort of Rageception (sidenote, rageception band name called it.)
I want to talk about what it means to be a feminist screenwriter.
When Whedon’s Wonder Woman script was released, many of my female friends posted about it on Facebook. Feelings ranged from outraged at its sexism, to being relieved that it never hit the silver screen.
With these posts, though, there was something that stuck out to me. A lot of people came to Whedon’s defense. However, they weren’t defending the script. Everyone agreed that the script was garbage. No, they were defending Whedon’s character.
“How do we know this is a real script? How do we know this isn’t the work of some troll?”
“It was probably the studio that came in and changed it. Joss would never write a script like this.”
“Joss Whedon has never written a sexist female before. Until we have proof, he is innocent until proven guilty.”
And to that I say stop. You are all loyal Joss Whedon fans, and for good reason. Firefly is a masterpiece, and he’s made an enjoyable movie or two. He is one of the few males in the industry who actively claims to be a feminist, and that’s pretty cool.
That being said, it doesn’t mean he is incapable of writing a bad script. Joss Whedon is not Midas, and not everything he touches is gold. He, like everybody, is entirely capable of bad writing. He, like everybody, is entirely capable of portraying women in a sexist way.
Could this have been a fake script? Maybe. Did some asshole studio exec change the script? It could have happened. Does that mean we dismiss the possibility that Joss Whedon wrote a sexist script? Absolutely not.
Just because Joss Whedon wrote a well written female character once does not make all his female characters well developed by default. Just because Joss Whedon has written a lot of well written female characters does not make every female character he writes well written by default.
See, the thing about well written characters is, it’s not a one and done kind of thing. You don’t write a good portrayal of a female character once, then suddenly write female characters well all the time. Joss Whedon isn’t the female character wizard. He can’t just snap his fingers and make one appear, and assuming he can is harmful.
No matter who our idols are, we can never stop being critical of their work. As an audience, refusing to look at our hero’s work critically lowers our bar for what is acceptable. It causes us to accept mediocre work as quality, because my idols can do no wrong. It causes us to accept bad portrayals of women as good, and excuse shitty behavior in those we look up to, because, it’s just a misunderstanding, come on guys, he would never do that!
Not only is this blind defense of our idols harmful to an audience, but it’s harmful for those we look up to. After all, if you know you have an audience that adores you and everything you do, there is nothing to push you to be better. There is no longer a driving force to improve. If a blind audience accepts even the most mediocre thing you do as gold, then you will give them mediocrity. If a blind audience accepts every female character you write as strong and amazing, then there is nothing preventing you from writing a bad character. In order for our idols to release quality content, we have to continue to push for said quality content.
Being critical of those you look up to doesn’t mean you have to stop admiring their work. So Joss Whedon wrote an awful script. That doesn’t mean you have to stop loving Firefly. Being critical of someone does not mean you have to hate them.
It does mean we have to be vocal about their mistakes. We have to acknowledge they happen, and push for them to try harder.
Everyone is capable of bad writing. Everyone is capable of bad portrayals of women. Whedon is. I am. You are.
Whedon wrote a terrible Wonder Woman script. Ignoring it only creates an environment where mediocrity is celebrated, and our idol’s aren’t pushed to be their very best.
So let’s keep pushing for quality, shall we?