The 9 biggest grievances in Ray Fisher's interview about Joss Whedon's "Justice League" misconduct

Details have emerged about the obstacles Ray Fisher, Gal Gadot & Jason Momoa faced on set & with the investigation

By Ashlie D. Stevens
April 7, 2021 12:02AM (UTC)
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Justice League: Snyder Cut (Photo is courtesy of HBO Max)

On Tuesday afternoon — after months of competing tweets and statements between actor Ray Fisher and WarnerMedia — The Hollywood Reporter released an in-depth bombshell of a story in which Fisher fully explains the alleged racist and abusive behavior he experienced on the set of 2017's "Justice League" at the hands of director Joss Whedon, as well as several studio executives, including producers Geoff Johns and Jon Berg. 

Fisher, who plays the character Cyborg in the film, first tweeted about Whedon's "gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable" behavior last summer (Whedon had taken over directing "Justice League" after the original director, Zack Snyder, exited the project). This eventually laid the groundwork for an investigation into Whedon's behavior by the studio, which later said that "remedial action has been taken," though no further details were provided due to legal reasons. 

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Whedon has faced increased criticism in recent months as actors are speaking up about the allegedly hostile work environments he perpetuated. In February, "Buffy" star Charisma Carpenter cited his "hostile and toxic" behavior on her sets. 

"Joss Whedon abused his power on numerous occasions while working together on the sets of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel,'" Carpenter wrote in a social media post. "While he found his misconduct amusing, it only served to intensify my performance anxiety, disempower me, and alienate me from my peers."

In a series of interviews with The Hollywood Reporter, Fisher and other witnesses allege that Whedon refused notes about the representation of Cyborg as the film's only Black superhero, cut Cyborg's backstory and threatened actress Gal Gadot's career.

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Here are the biggest takeaways from the piece: 

Whedon cut out Cyborg's backstory, which affected representation in "Justice League" 

Whedon's new script for the film slashed much of Cyborg's backstory — including scenes that depicted a loving relationship with his mother, and one that showed the accident that killed her and led to Cyborg's transformation. According to Fisher, that material represented that "his parents are two genius-level Black people. We don't see that every day."

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Fisher added that while it was clear initially that Whedon was initially "tiptoeing around the fact that everything was changing" with the script, it became apparent that he wasn't looking for actual feedback about the alterations. 

Whedon allegedly bristled at "taking notes" from the film's cast

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According to The Hollywood Reporter, Whedon requested via email that the cast look over the script and respond with questions, comments or "fulsome praise." However, Fisher told the publication that it became clear that, "All he was looking for was the fulsome praise." 

In a follow-up phone call, Fisher said that he had some suggestions about representation and his character, but Whedon quickly interrupted him, saying: "It feels like I'm taking notes right now, and I don't like taking notes from anybody — not even Robert Downey Jr." 

Allegedly, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa were similarly brushed off when they brought up issues with new lines for their characters, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, respectively. 

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Johns told Fisher to play Cyborg as a "kindhearted Quasimodo" and brushed off concerns about representation

Fisher was allegedly told by Johns to "play the character less like Frankenstein and more like the kindhearted Quasimodo." 

According to Fisher, Johns demonstrated a stance with his shoulder stooped, which he wanted Fisher to imitate, but Fisher said could read as servile. "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 said. 

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Johns allegedly would not compromise and according to his representative: "Geoff gave a note using a fictional character as an example of a sympathetic man who is unhappy and has an inclination to hide from the world, but one whom the audience roots for because he has a courageous heart."

Johns pushed for Cyborg to say, "booyah"

On Cartoon Network's series "Teen Titans," Cyborg uses the catchphrase, "booyah," which became a signature for the animated character. Allegedly, Johns had approached Synder about including the line — which is not used in the comics or the film's original script — who said that he didn't want to include any catchphrases. He did, however, include it on some signage in his version of the film as an Easter egg for fans. 

That seemed to be the end of it, until Fisher was asked to dinner by DC films co-chair John Berg, who told him, "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." 

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AT&T's $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, which was announced in October 2016, was still pending at the time. 

Fisher was skeptical that the fate of the movie rested on the character saying, "booyah," and that "it seemed weird to have the only Black character say that," given the history of such catchphrases attributed to Black characters on TV. Eventually he filmed the line, after which Whedon mockingly recited a line from Hamlet: "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you." 

Whedon allegedly threatened to harm Gal Gadot's career 

According to a witness on the production who later spoke to the investigators, Gadot had concerns about how her character was written in "Justice League" as she felt like the character was "more aggressive" than she had been in Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" and she wanted to feel like there was continuity between the representations. 

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Gadot clashed with Whedon, who threatened to harm Gadot's career and criticized Jenkins. Afterwards, the witness said, "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."

Asked for comment, Gadot said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: "I had my issues with [Whedon] and Warner Bros. handled it in a timely manner."

Johns put the brakes on increasing diversity in "Krypton" several times

Multiple sources told The Hollywood Reporter that Regé-Jean Page — who scored a starring role in the Netflix series "Bridgerton" — auditioned for the role of Superman's grandfather in the Syfy series "Krypton," but Johns, who was overseeing the project, passed him over because he said "Superman could not have a Black grandfather." 

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According to Johns' rep, Johns believed that fans expected the character to look like a young Henry Cavill. 

Additionally, he vetoed the idea that character Adam Strange, who is currently played by Shaun Sipos, could be gay or bisexual. In an email, Johns' rep wrote: "Geoff celebrates and supports LGTBQ characters, including Batwoman, who in 2006 was re-introduced as LGBTQ in a comic-book series co-written by Johns." 

Johns argued with writer Nadria Tucker about how a Black character wore her hair. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Johns objected when a Black female character's hairstyle was changed in scenes that took place on different days." 

 "I said, Black women, we tend to change our hair frequently," Tucker told the publication. "It's not weird, it's a Black thing. And he said, 'No, it's not.'" 

Johns' spokesperson told the publication: "What were standard continuity notes for a scene are being spun in a way that are not only personally offensive to Geoff, but to the people that know who he is, know the work he's done and know the life he lives, as Geoff has personally seen firsthand the painful effects of racial stereotypes concerning hair and other cultural stereotypes, having been married to a Black woman who he was with for a decade and with his second wife, who is Asian American, as well as his son who is mixed race."

Warners allegedly released a fake "Frosty the Snowman" announcement to distract from Fisher's tweets 

On July 1, after Fisher had tweeted about Whedon's behavior, Deadline published an exclusive saying that the studio was making a live-action "Frosty the Snowman" movie in which Jason Momoa would be "voicing the iconic snowman." 

Momoa classified the announcement as false on Instagram several weeks after, saying, "I just think it's f**ked up that people released a fake Frosty announcement without my permission to try to distract from Ray Fisher speaking up about the s**tty way we were treated on Justice League reshoots." 

He continued: "Serious stuff went down. It needs to be investigated and people need to be held accountable." 

The studio investigation process pointed to misconduct being swept under the rug and cover-ups

After detailing several instances of abusive behavior towards himself and others to Warners HR, Fisher told The Hollywood Reporter that he requested an outside investigator. That request was approved, but Fisher's became suspicious when a Warners HR executive told him, "We really like [the independent investigator]. We've worked with him before." 

A contact of Fisher who worked at Warners told him not to trust the investigative process if a particular studio executive was overseeing it "because that person had previously helped sweep misconduct under the rug." 

The investigator initially refused to tell Fisher who was overseeing the inquiry, and then eventually produced the name of the only Black attorney who served in Warners' general counsel office. It turned out that they actually had nothing to do with the case, which caused Fisher to wonder if naming that attorney was a way to lull him "into a sense of security with the idea that she might be on the same team as me simply by way of her being a Black person."

Fisher continued to tweet about his experiences, and eventually the studio released a statement saying Fisher had refused "multiple" attempts by the investigator to contact him. This was untrue. 

Several months later, Warners released a statement saying the investigation had been completed and that there would be "remedial action," but that was not elaborated upon.


Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is a staff writer at Salon, specializing in culture and food.

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Aggregate Cyborg Dc Geoff Johns Jon Berg Joss Whedon Justice League Ray Fisher Snyder Cut Wonder Woman