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‘Batgirl’: Why Joss Whedon Was the Wrong Choice, and Why His Exit Means Real Change is Here

The nerd icon's exit gives us hope for more equal representation behind the camera.

Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon

Ray Tang/REX/Shutterstock

Up until fairly recently, the news that Joss Whedon was making a “Batgirl” movie would have been met with almost universal glee from his large fandom. With nerd credentials forged in the fires of his cult favorite series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly,” then wielded with the same confidence of Thor’s mighty Mjölnir to make “The Avengers” a box office smash, Whedon had become enough of a cult figure in pop culture where getting to see his witty spin on another beloved character would be fun.

That said, it’s the year 2018, and after learning on Thursday that Whedon would no longer be making “Batgirl,” it’s hard not to be glad that he’s gone.

It’s a two-part issue, one that reflects both Whedon’s past and the present state of the industry. For one thing, there are elements of Whedon’s series, it’s sad to say, that haven’t aged as well as they could have — especially as certain tropes have emerged.

From a very early point of his career, Whedon was creating characters who pushed beyond the “strong female characters” trope to become fleshed-out individuals… who more often than not happened to be young white waifs with superpowers and a great deal of personal trauma.

On paper, this seemingly makes Whedon a perfect fit for Batgirl, based on the version of the character that it was alleged he’d be adapting. Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, has had a traumatic past, most significantly becoming paralyzed from the waist down due to a gunshot wound from the Joker. Whedon’s version of Batgirl, it was reported, would have been based on a recent run of comics written by Gail Simone that featured Barbara back in action but still traumatized to some degree.

But Whedon’s ability to write empathically about female trauma has come under critical scrutiny lately, especially the storyline in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” that many feel bungled Black Widow’s (Scarlett Johansson) backstory by associating her inability to bear children with her belief that she’s a “monster.”

Plus, there’s the “Wonder Woman” script that never went into production, which he wrote in 2006 and surfaced on several blogs in the summer of 2017 (just after audiences Gal Gadot stride across a World War I battlefield like a boss). Many who read it were surprised that a self-professed male feminist would choose to actively objectify the character with descriptions like “to say she is beautiful is almost to miss the point” and “she folds into a dance that is sensual, ethereal and wicked sexy.”

Whedon’s official statement regarding “Batgirl” is packed with his familiar self-depricating wit:

“Batgirl is such an exciting project, and Warners/DC such collaborative and supportive partners, that it took me months to realize I really didn’t have a story. I’m grateful to Geoff [Johns] and Toby [Emmerich] and everyone who was so welcoming when I arrived, and so understanding when I… uh, is there a sexier word for ‘failed’?”

The fact that Whedon had apparently gotten the “Batgirl” gig without a fully fleshed-out concept in mind is the epitome of white male privilege, but also not hard to believe happening in Hollywood. After all, the films Whedon is credited with directing (leaving out “Justice League”) have grossed nearly three billion dollars worldwide, and there’s all that pre-established nerd cred…

But Whedon was first hired to work on “Batgirl” in March 2018, and in a post-“Wonder Women” and “Black Panther” era, arguing that a woman shouldn’t be hired to direct a “Batgirl” movie just doesn’t play — and fortunately, reports are coming in that Warner Bros. plans to do exactly that as they move forward with the film.

Whedon has been working on “Batgirl” for almost a year now. And in that year, the world completely changed. Fortunately, Barbara Gordon’s still going to get a chance to catch up.

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