Ray Fisher, Charisma Carpenter, Michelle Trachtenberg, and more have all alleged abusive and harrowing experiences while working for Buffy creator Joss Whedon, who took the helm on Zack Snyder’s Justice League after the director left the film following his daughter’s death. In a new interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Fisher opens up about the details of his claims against Whedon, which sparked an enormous amount of racist scorn and disbelief across the internet last summer from fans and Warner Bros. alike.
Fisher, who played Cyborg, tells THR that one of his first red flags working with Whedon was having “to explain some of the most basic points of what would be offensive to the Black community.” In his new draft of the film, Fisher said Whedon axed Fisher’s character arc almost entirely, and in meetings, Whedon allegedly snapped: “It feels like I’m taking notes right now, and I don’t like taking notes from anybody — not even Robert Downey Jr.” Sources told THR that co-stars Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa experienced similar interactions with Whedon.
A huge basis of Cyborg’s backstory was his anger over his father’s scientific experimentation on him and their troubled relationship. Following investigations into Whedon’s tenure on the set, Fisher says top executives found it “problematic” that he only smiled twice, and alleges that conversations were had where they discussed the “angry black man” in the film.
This particular bit is most striking about the new atmosphere Fisher found himself in on-set:
[DC Films Chairman Geoff Johns] told Fisher he should play the character less like Frankenstein and more like the kindhearted Quasimodo. Fisher says that in order to demonstrate the look he wanted, Johns dipped his shoulder in what struck Fisher as a servile posture. To Fisher, there was a big difference between portraying a character who was born with a disability versus one who had been transformed by trauma. And he felt Cyborg was a kind of modern-day Frankenstein. “I didn’t have any intention of playing him as a jovial, cathedral-cleaning individual,” he says.
Fisher told Johns it might be one thing for a non-Black person to write a character for a comic, but it was another for a Black actor to portray that character onscreen. “It was like he was assuming how Black people would respond rather than taking the advice from the only Black person — as far as I know — with any kind of creative impact on the project,” Fisher says.
Fisher also says that the studio and Whedon insisted he have a catchphrase in the film—“booyah!”, a reference to the Teen Titans animated series—while his cast members did not, and he likened it to the long cinematic tradition of shoveling the role of comedic relief onto Black actors and characters. “It seemed weird to have the only Black character say that,” he said.
DC Films co-chair Jon Berg allegedly said, “What if the CEO of AT&T has a son or daughter, and that son or daughter wants Cyborg to say ‘booyah’ in the movie and we don’t have a take of that? I could lose my job.” Later, Whedon allegedly mocked Fisher in front of cast and crew on set, reciting Shakespeare: “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you.”
Fisher alleges that after he and his agent expressed their concerns to the studio, in a conversation with co-chairman Johns at the DC offices, the exec told Fisher: “He said, ‘I consider us to be friends’— which he knew we were not — ‘and I just don’t want you to make a bad name for yourself in the business.’ “ Which, to anyone not in the immediate Tinseltown power circles, reads like a threat.
Beyond Fisher, sources told THR that Whedon also threatened the careers of co-star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins. One source told the outlet: “Joss was bragging that he’s had it out with Gal. He told her he’s the writer and she’s going to shut up and say the lines and he can make her look incredibly stupid in this movie.” Other allegations include Johns forbidding Krypton showrunners from casting Regé-Jean Page as Superman’s grandfather, or having a gay or bisexual character in the series. Others involved on Krypton, like Nadria Tucker, have gone on to publicly claim similar interactions with Johns.
In all, Fisher’s account to THR of the events in and around the Joss Whedon investigation, and Warner Bros. treatment of him in the press and public following his initial allegations against the director and studio, paint a damning portrait of the modern big-budget studio system. As he tells the outlet, “I don’t believe some of these people are fit for positions of leadership.”