Joss Whedon, The Real Big Bad: Behind The Scenes Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Toxic Set

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a cult classic television series that has been praised for its portrayal of strong female characters, witty dialogue, and ground-breaking feminist storylines. However, recent revelations about the show's toxic set and the behaviour of its creator, Joss Whedon, have sparked controversy and prompted fans to re-examine the show's legacy. There are several reported allegations of mistreatment on the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer noting Whedon’s controversial behaviour towards the cast and crew. These revelations have affected the show's fans and its place in popular culture.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a cult classic television series that has been praised for its portrayal of strong female characters, witty dialogue, and ground-breaking feminist storylines. However, recent revelations about the show's toxic set and the behaviour of its creator, Joss Whedon, have sparked controversy and prompted fans to re-examine the show's legacy. There are several reported allegations of mistreatment on the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer noting Whedon’s controversial behaviour towards the cast and crew. These revelations have affected the show's fans and its place in popular culture.

Decades after the show ended, creator Joss Whedon (who was once seen as a feminist icon) has been called out in allegations of emotional abuse and mistreatment of women on set.

Charisma Carpenter, known for playing Cordelia Chase in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, made serious allegations against Joss Whedon in February 2021. In a tweet, she accused Whedon of repeatedly abusing his power, describing him as "casually cruel" and a "vampire". Carpenter claimed that Whedon made derogatory comments about her weight and mocked her religious beliefs. She also disclosed that Whedon threatened to fire her several times, which he eventually did.

Carpenter initially auditioned for the lead role in the supernatural drama series Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1996, but she was cast as Cordelia Chase, a popular and conceited high school student, instead. She portrayed the character for three seasons on Buffy before being offered a more prominent role also as Cordelia Chase in the spin-off series Angel opposite David Boreanaz. Carpenter played the character for four seasons on Angel, and while her character departs the show during the fourth season, she returned to appear in the 100th episode during the fifth and final season.

It was her departure in Season 4 of Angel, that lead Charisma Carpenter to speak out on social media in 2021. She wrote, “Joss intentionally refused multiple calls from my agents making it impossible to connect with him to tell him the news that I was pregnant… Finally, once Joss was apprised of the situation, he requested a meeting with me. In that closed-door meeting, he asked me if I was 'going to keep it' and manipulatively weaponized my womanhood and faith against me. He proceeded to attack my character, mock my religious beliefs, accuse me of sabotaging the show, and then unceremoniously fired me the following season once I gave birth. ”

In 2003, Joss Whedon was asked by TV Guide why Charisma Carpenter would not be returning for any more Angel episodes despite being one of the main characters. He said that, “Mainly because we felt like we had taken that story — just like Buffy for seven years — about as far as it could go.. It just seemed like a good time for certain people to move on.”

Charisma Carpenter's allegations against Joss Whedon were corroborated by her co-stars Amber Benson and Michelle Trachtenberg. Benson stated on social media that "Buffy was a toxic environment and it starts at the top" and that Carpenter was "speaking truth" and that, “there was a lot of damage done during that time and many of us are still processing it 20-plus years later.”

Trachtenberg alleged that Whedon's behaviour toward her when she was a teenager was "Very. Not. Appropriate." She later revealed that there was a rule on set preventing Whedon from being alone with her in a room.

Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar also supported the alleged victims and distanced herself from Whedon, “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon. I am more focused on raising my family and surviving a pandemic currently, so I will not be making any further statements at this time. but I stand with all survivors of abuse and am proud of them for speaking out.”

Michelle Trachtenberg responded by saying, “Thank you @sarahmgellar for saying this. I am brave enough now as a 35 year old woman….To repost this. Because. This must. Be known. As a teenager. With his not appropriate behavior….very. Not. Appropriate.”

Writer Jose Molina spoke out against Whedon's behaviour, describing him as "cruel" and stating that he enjoyed making female writers cry. Other Buffy and Angel co-stars, including David Boreanaz, James Marsters, Anthony Stewart Head, Eliza Dushku, J. August Richards, and Amy Acker, also voiced their support for the alleged victims.

Charisma Carpenter has stated that the reason she spoke out about Joss Whedon on Twitter in 2021 was that she had a responsibility to actor Ray Fisher and others about her experiences with Joss Whedon. She also used the hashtag “#IStandWithRayFisher” in her tweet.

In July 2020, allegations were made by Justice League actor Ray Fisher that Joss Whedon had displayed "gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable" behaviour towards the cast and crew. He even went as far as to say that Whedon could sue him for slander if he believed the allegations to be false.  The following month, WarnerMedia launched an investigation into Whedon's behaviour while directing Justice League. Jason Momoa supported Fisher's allegations, stating that "serious stuff went down" and writing about "the shitty way [they] were treated" during the Justice League reshoots.

In December 2020, Gal Gadot spoke to the Los Angeles Times about her experience working with Whedon, stating that it was not "the best" but that she had brought her concerns to the higher-ups and they had addressed them. Reports later emerged that Whedon had asked Gadot to film a sexually suggestive scene in Justice League, but she had refused and a body double was used instead. Gadot also revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that Whedon had threatened her career during reshoots, stating that if she did not comply with his demands, he would make her career difficult.

Whedon made a statement in January 2022 claiming that Gadot had "misunderstood" him due to her not being a native English speaker and also referred to Ray Fisher as a "bad actor in both senses". Additionally, he stated that he had never worked with a more impolite group of people than the rest of the Justice League cast. In response, Gadot affirmed that she understood everything perfectly and declared that she would not collaborate with Whedon again in the future.

After she spoke out publicly, Ray Fisher thanked Charisma Carpenter on social media for speaking out saying, "Charisma Carpenter is one of the bravest people I know. I am forever grateful for her courage and for her lending her voice to the Justice League investigation. Read her truth. Share her truth. Protect her at all costs. 'It is time.' A>E #IStandWithCharisma "

Many fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer have enjoyed the series for decades due to its feminist message, portrayal of strong women and empowering storylines especially when it comes to portraying one of the first real lesbian relationships on screen. This U-turn of reality illuminated by Charisma Carpenter and Gal Gadot has been very disappointing and hurtful for long standing fans who have championed Whedon’s work, bought tickets to conventions to see him and have ultimately boosted his career. It has led to many Buffy and Angel fans asking whether it is still possible to enjoy art when it is separated from its creator or are you always supporting its origins that have now been revealed as tyrannical. This situation seems to be familiar for entertainment fans across the world who have seen many of their favourite creators descend into vocal figures in a culture war usually on the more vocal and destructive side including J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter phenomenon who has now spoken out online around transsexuality. Graham Linehan is another example of this, his strong views have made many fans of his sitcoms Father Ted and The IT Crowd stop to think about whether they should be supporting such shows.

According to Carpenter, Whedon found his alleged misconduct to be amusing and directed particular cruelty towards her during her pregnancy, even going so far as to call her "fat" in front of the rest of the cast and crew. Carpenter revealed that her pregnancy experience and her joy of being a new mother were ruined due to Whedon's behaviour, which caused her tremendous stress.

“For nearly two decades, I have held my tongue and even made excuses for certain events that traumatize me to this day”, Charisma writes. “The disturbing incidents triggered a chronic physical condition from which I still suffer. It is with a beating, heavy heart that I say I coped in isolation and, at times, destructively.” It is an upsetting read for many Buffy fans, especially when Charisma Carpenter details that Joss Whedon’s behaviour stopped her experiencing the joys of pregnancy and that it triggered a life-long condition.

Eliza Dushku, who portrayed Faith in Buffy and collaborated with Joss Whedon on other productions, conveyed her sympathy for Carpenter in an Instagram statement. She expressed how her “heart aches” for Carpenter and praised her statement for being powerful yet painful, leaving an indelible impression on everyone who reads it. She ended by thanking Carpenter for sharing her story, adding that she had not known about it before but will never forget it.

Charisma Carpenter's co-star David Boreanaz, who played the lead role in the Buffy spin off Angel, wrote in response to her on Twitter saying, “I am here for you to listen and support you... Proud of your strength.” Carpenter then responded, “I know you’re there for me, David. I appreciate all you’ve done to demonstrate that support privately as well... Thank you so much.”

Amy Acker, who starred as Winifred Burkle in Angel stated, “I will always be proud of the work we all did on Angel. While I personally had a good and professional experience, it is heart-breaking to hear that not everyone did. I do not condone any actions that made anyone feel hurt or uncomfortable, and I offer love and support to everyone who is speaking out to tell their truths.” 

Julie Benz, who played Darla on both Buffy and Angel said, “My heart goes out to all victims of abuse. Sending love to my fellow Buffy and Angel survivors. I stand with you and support you.”

However the alleged misconduct was not the only problem for actors on set of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head have spoken out about the difficulties they faced while filming due to incredibly long hours and gruelling shooting schedules.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s sexual themes, mainly surrounding Buffy and Spike’s relationship, did not sit well with Sarah Michelle Gellar who played the lead either. She has shared in interviews that a particular moment felt uncomfortable and not within her character’s nature.

After Buffy’s second tragic death in Season 5, Willow and the rest of the Scoobies use dark magic to bring her back except they didn’t consider that she may have been better off where she was. Buffy comes back but isn’t the same; she is a lot more introspective and tells Spike that she was pulled out of Heaven. Spike has harboured a long time crush on Buffy, fantasising about having sex with her and getting his frustrations out by fighting her. In one Season 6 episode “Smashed”, the pair have a sexually charged fight that ends up in them finally becoming physical with one another leading to a storyline of regular “hook ups” in which Buffy attempts to feel something away from her depression.

Sarah Michelle Gellar has spoken about one of these moments in the episode “Dead Things” (Season 6 Episode 13) where Spike and Buffy have sex on the balcony at the Bronze Night Club while looking at her friends below. The pair discusses what the Scoobies reaction would be if they knew they were having a sexual relationship. Buffy shuts her eyes at the thought but Spike demands she opens them to watch her friends while their “relationship” is right under their noses. He wants her to stay in the dark shadows of life with him. Gellar told Entertainment Weekly that, "I really thought that was out of character. And I didn't like what it stood for. That was the moment that I had the most problems with. Joss [Whedon]… always said that I didn't understand [this season] because I've always known what I wanted to do, and I didn't have that confusion, [that] dark, depressive period. But I think the heart of the show lies in the humour of the drama. I felt like Buffy's spirit was missing."

Buffy and Angel writer Stephen S. DeKnight said in an interview with CityOfAngel (dot com) that he understood why Sarah Michelle Gellar was uncomfortable with that scene stating, “I wish that I could say it was my idea but it's something Joss Whedon had in the back of his head for a year”.

From these comments, it seems like Joss Whedon’s work life at the time was fraught with outbursts, questionable comments and a grim desire to put his performers into sexually charged scenes they did not want to participate in. Unfortunately this theme continues into his personal life as his Wife at the time Kai Cole documented in a personal essay exposing Whedon of adultery and using his power on the Buffy set to have affairs with employees.

Cole was married to Whedon for 21 years and in 2017 she revealed him to be “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals” and accused him of having multiple affairs, mainly on the set of Buffy, using their marriage “as a shield” for his misuse of power. She stated that she felt it was important to speak out because she did not want to be "complicit" in Whedon's behaviour, and she hoped that her story would encourage others to come forward with their own experiences. Charisma Carpenter, Ray Fisher, Gal Gadot, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg and Amber Benson to name a few have all come out with similar stories since.

Vulture profiled Joss Whedon in January 2022 with the headline, “The Undoing of Joss Whedon: The Buffy creator, once an icon of Hollywood Feminism, is now an outcast accused of misogyny. How did he get here?” Journalist Lila Shapiro asked Whedon about his (now confirmed in the profile) infidelity on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer set. He claimed that he felt “fucking terrible about them”.

Shapiro later writes, “He quickly added that he had felt he “had” to sleep with them, that he was “powerless” to resist…” He responded with, “I’m not actually joking” and Shapiro explains his thought process, “He had been surrounded by beautiful young women — the sort of women who had ignored him when he was younger — and he feared if he didn’t have sex with them, he would “always regret it.” Looking back, he feels shame and “horror”.”

The Vulture profile reads as if Whedon wanted to use it as an opportunity to clear his name after the many allegations of misconduct and misogyny but, in reality, his blasé comments about Women and his feelings towards them, have just cemented Whedon’s image as one akin to a demon Buffy would have fought from the Hellmouth.

“If I was in his shoes, I would have killed me off” – James Marsters on Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum

We’ve heard from many women on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer set of their issues with Joss Whedon but it wasn’t just the female cast who got into some difficult situations with the show’s creator. James Marsters who plays the blonde, Billy Idol-esque vampire Spike on Buffy spoke in an interview on “Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum” about a  violent encounter with Whedon.

Rosenbaum previews the episode with the line, “James opens up more this time on the hostile working conditions on the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and what it was like to work with creator Joss Whedon”.

Marsters states that “everyone had their own experience” on the set and that Whedon was not joking when, “he pushed [him] up against the wall… he’s in [his] face [saying] ‘I don’t care how popular you are, Kid. You are dead, you are dead, you are dead, you got me?”

He explained that Whedon got heated about the audience reaction to his character Spike and how they found him to be “sexy” which was not intended in the script.

 “One sexy vampire that was not going to be killed off, that was Angel and I was supposed to come in and get killed off and the audience immediately reacted to me in a way that was going to make it very difficult to kill me off and the network was telling him ‘oh my god keep this guy on the show’ and all of … I was basically ruining his show”

Marsters explained that the pressure Whedon was under to keep Spike in the show was going to take the storyline from his desired one where evil was something to overcome to one “where those problems are kind of sexy.”

Despite this tale, Marsters said he still respected Joss Whedon and agreed with his storyline choices in the show.

Being involved in a show with such an enduring legacy like Buffy The Vampire Slayer is seen on the outside as the ideal, the cast must have won the jackpot in terms of reruns, international recognition and a whole host of memories from making such an important TV show. However, the allegations against Joss Whedon have shed light on the darker side of the entertainment industry and for fans it is truly upsetting to hear how those portraying their beloved characters do not see their time on the production as special as it was for audiences.

The testimonies of Charisma Carpenter, Amber Benson, Michelle Trachtenberg, and many others have revealed a pattern of abusive behaviour and toxicity that occurred behind the scenes. Their brave and necessary testimonies raise important questions about the responsibilities of those in power and the need for better safeguards to protect young individuals in the industry.

The aftermath of these allegations has also demonstrated the importance of speaking out against abuse and holding individuals accountable for their actions, even when they are in positions of authority and are seen as a figurehead within the fan community. It is important to break down that façade.

Unfortunately these allegations mean that the legacy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be forever marred by the actions of its creator, but it will also remind audiences of the courage of those who have spoken out against him and how important standing up against abuse is. Joss Whedon may have believed he was making a show about characters slaying evil, vampires and demons but. in reality, it is the Buffy cast who have united to go up against the real-life First Evil and say enough is enough when it comes to misogyny and abuse.


Joss Whedon Toxic Allegations - Joss Whedon, The Real Big Bad: Behind The Scenes Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Toxic Set

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