Joss Whedon is perfectly fine with directing interesting stories about women, but his feminism stretches only as far as performative allyship.
Variety announced last week that Joss Whedon is slated to direct, write and produce a Batgirl solo film for Warner Bros. Whedon, who is known for his vast portfolio, which includes Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, has previously stated his enthusiasm and the necessity to create and write women characters in lead roles (just as long as they are cisgender and white).
Batgirl, who is one of the most popular comic book characters, definitely deserves a solo film. As someone who has enjoyed Whedon’s work, I am hoping he will do her justice. But there is something about the decision to hire him that irks me.
Cishet men are capable of writing intriguing, nuanced and complex women characters. But given how few blockbuster film opportunities are given to women directors, I was truly hoping that a woman would be at the helm of Batgirl. Both the film industry and the realm of comic books are steeped in masculinity, the male gaze and misogyny.
Whedon is perfectly fine with directing interesting stories about women, but his feminism stretches only as far as performative allyship — and, let’s face it, the bar for feminist allies is basement-level low.
Take Buffy, for example: of the 47 directors who were a part of the series, 44 of them were men and and just three were women. Of the 25 writers, just eight of them were women. And yes, most of them were white.
It’s not enough to simply write stories about women if the team around you is mostly cishet white men. Being a feminist ally isn’t about making money off of the idea of feminism. It’s about using your privilege to make spaces feminist, and that includes taking up less room so that cis and trans women have the opportunities to tell our own stories instead of being subjected to how men interpret us.
According to a study, just 7 percent of directors among the 2016’s top 250 grossing films were women, and women make up 17 percent of all directors, producers, executive producers and writers. Granted, that isn’t Joss Whedon’s fault, but it does say something when men like Adam Sandler are seen as worth investing time and money in, despite the trash results.
My hope is that most of the writers for Batgirl will be women: trans women, queer women, women of color. We so desperately need blockbuster films to represent more than just thin, white and able-bodied cis women. Unfortunately, Joss Whedon’s feminist allyship is very white and quite performative, so I’m not going to hold my breath for anything groundbreaking.