Joss Whedon, who famously created female icon hero Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and went on to write and direct the first two Marvel Avengers movies, was supposed to bring his creative vision to the first-ever film focusing on DC Comics’ Batgirl. But now comes word that he has dropped out of the project. The reason he’s given for doing so is that as he went throughout the development process, he came to the conclusion he had no story to tell. Seriously? Joss without a story? That in itself is pretty mind-blowing. What might be less so is another theory that is circulating among fans that his decision to ditch the project has more to do with his ex-wife, Kai Cole, going public last August regarding alleged affairs he had throughout their 15-year marriage. So yeah, might not actually be because of that supposed lack of a good idea.


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In her essay for The Wrap, Kai wrote in part, “When he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, ‘When I was running Buffy, I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.’ But he did touch it. He said he understood, ‘I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,’ but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, ‘would be enough, that then we could move on and outlast it.’ Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me.”

Affairs are certainly not a new concept, whether you’re famous or not. But the problem among fandom and much of the media is that Joss has built his career on the notion of presenting the feminist ideal, and empowering his female characters with a strength that, until recent years, hadn’t really been duplicated by others.


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“Feminism, which hopefully will become an obsolete term by the time I’m dead, is a really important thing,” he related to us personally some years ago. “Not just feminism, but anti-misogyny. Changing the way that people think about women and the way they think about themselves is what I want to do with my life. There are other things I have to say, there are other things I want to do and stories I want to tell, but that’s the most important thing to me. If Buffy made the slightest notch in any of pop culture in that direction, well that’s pretty damn good.”

And it did make that notch. Just take a look at pop culture before the arrival of Buffy Summers. Women were being victimized on television, sliced and diced in dozens of horror films on the big screen, or constantly in need of rescue by the likes of James Bond or Superman (we’re talking to you, Lois Lane!). But Buffy pointed the way to an alternative; where a woman didn’t have to be a victim, but where she could stand up for herself and others who were in harm’s way. A woman was the hero saving the day, or the world, actually. Doesn’t sound so revolutionary now, but it definitely was then.

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Joss added that that concept has always been his concern, having to do with the fact that he was raised by a feminist as well as the “inner workings” of his mind. “The fact of the matter,” said Joss, “is that I’ve always identified with female heroes and had trouble finding them. It was great the first time I was watching and realized, ‘Buffy, she’s my hero.’ That’s how I want the show to be remembered.

“When I started,” he added, “Buffy was kind of a radical concept and I was, like, ‘Really? Why?’ The idea of a female entering an action show — well, it’s all across the boards now. It’s not even a question now. Even when we were pitching the animated show, they said, ‘Boys won’t accept it. You need a boy character who’s just as strong as Buffy who’s in it with her,’ and we were, like, ‘We really don’t think you’re getting the point.’ That is no longer an issue and, yeah, I think we were a part of it. Now there will be some backlash, and a lot of shows with empowered women in them suck, because most shows are bad. The cream rises and that’s the thing. But it’s in the mix now, and that’s a good thing.”

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Indeed it is, but it didn’t stop a strong response among the fandom once Kai broke her silence and seemingly exposed Joss’ dirty laundry. For instance, Caroline van Oosten de Boer, who ran whedonesque, shut down the site devoted to all things Joss in August shortly after Kai’s essay was posted. Later she would tweet, “‘Trust the art, not the artist’ is a thing I stopped saying when I copped on it was probably an artist who coined the phrase.” Added fan Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, “Whedon built his personal brand (and audience) on pop-culture feminism. Fans, especially women, have every reason to react negatively.”

Writes Clementine Ford in The Sydney Morning Herald, “This isn’t about the simple matter of whether or not a man cheated on his wife. It’s about the ways Whedon cultivated a certain feminist mythology about himself and then used that mythology to justify repeatedly cheating on his wife… His expanding profile brought new actresses, co-workers, fans and friends — women who I imagine believed the hype around his feminist ideals and succumbed to the allure of it, because we are nothing if not catastrophically deficient in being able to recognize that bulls–t is still bulls–t, even if it’s wearing a T-shirt that says, ‘This is what a feminist looks like.'”

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In circling back to Batgirl, there was already a large shadow looming over it in the sense that last year, we saw Gal Gadot in the title role of Wonder Woman. The movie redefined the idea of a powerful female character — much like Buffy did when she made her way to TV — and this film happened to be brought to life by another wonder woman, director Patty Jenkins. Given all that’s happened with Joss (and previously-noted severe fan backlash in recent months), it hardly seems surprising that his was possibly not the vision for DC and Warner Bros to want to bring forward.

As Kai wrote, “Now that it is finally public, I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be. I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring a man who does not practice what he preaches.”

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Many don’t, but they also aren’t usually handed the keys to a $200 million vehicle and told to bring their ideals of feminism to the screen. Does this mean that the Batgirl movie is not going forward? Not very likely. What you can probably expect in the very near future is an announcement of a “new direction” for the project, and undoubtedly there will be a female director calling the shots. It only makes sense, given, again, the success of Wonder Woman (the sequel to which Gal and Patty are currently prepping). For instance, we already know that Anna Boden will be co-directing Marvel’s Captain Marvel, which will see Brie Larson in the title role, and with word of Scarlett Johansson getting a solo Black Widow movie, one could assume there will be a female director attached to that as well. It isn’t likely that Hollywood will be going back to the status quo.

And it shouldn’t.