Zack Snyder and Bad Faith Criticism: It’s Time to Let it Go
In 2013, I watched Zack Snyder’s film that launched the beginning of the DC Extended Universe, Man of Steel. Admittedly, my initial reaction to it was neutral. I didn’t find anything particularly wrong with it, but it wasn’t my favorite superhero movie. My feelings towards the film would change years later after re-watching it. In doing this, I gained a new appreciation for the tone it presented in a genre quickly becoming saturated with the brightness and sometimes silliness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What I didn’t realize until years later was not only that Man of Steel was downright hated by many comic book fans, but there was a growing hatred for Snyder himself. I would only find this out after the release of his second film in the franchise Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I remember feeling shocked at the extremely negative critical response towards the film. Throughout years prior, Disney released one MCU film after another, and most received decent to gushingly positive reviews, so I was quite surprised by the reactions from audiences and critics alike who all seemed eager to rip a film of the same genre to shreds. When I watched the movie myself, I left the theater confused. It certainly wasn’t my favorite superhero movie. It wasn’t even my favorite movie featuring two of my favorite characters — Batman and Superman, but I didn’t understand what made these people so upset. However, my confusion over the hatred the movie received was something I got over. Art is subjective and not everyone is going to agree on any particular piece. What I cannot get over to this day is the hatred and resentment Snyder received for his movies.
In writing this, I am not trying to suggest that Snyder’s work is above criticism. No one’s work is. Even some of my favorite films have problems. However, critics and casual moviegoers alike seemed to be having a contest over who could be best at tearing him down as a person. Imagine my confusion as a queer, biracial Black woman when I started to see takes that Snyder was a racist misogynist who allowed those views to be present in his work. Of course, I am just one person, and I do not represent all women, all people of color, or the entire queer community, and different people are going to see things based on their own individual experiences that shape their views, and, of course, there are flaws present in his movies that should be discussed. However, what I found baffling was the amount of criticism he received for these things compared to what others such as Joss Whedon had received.
In July of last year, I wrote an article about Ray Fisher’s allegations against Joss Whedon. For many years, Whedon hailed himself as a progressive feminist, and for a while, many of us bought it. However, ideas regarding gender and race evolve as time progresses, and our views of Whedon began to change too, especially after the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Age of Ultron made many of us rethink Whedon’s treatment of women on screen, but even so, in comparison to Snyder, Whedon faced little backlash for his creative decisions. Even before the release of his second MCU installment, though, women have brought up his questionable behavior working with them. As mentioned in my article, in 2009, Charisma Carpenter shared her experience working with him as his attitude changed towards her for the worst upon her pregnancy. And in 2017, Whedon’s ex wife, Kai Cole, claimed that he had affairs with multiple young actresses while the two of them were married. These accusations, however, remained in headlines for a limited amount of time before people seemed to move on. His career was unscathed, and in the same year Cole made her statements against him, Whedon would go on to do “reshoots” of Snyder’s Justice League after the tragic loss of his daughter, Autumn Snyder. The rest, as we know, is history.
At the time Fisher came forward with allegations against Whedon, the Black Lives Matter movement began to pick up momentum following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers. There was a new energy in the air, and suddenly, Black actors began coming forward to share their experiences working in the industry. It should come as no surprise that Fisher came out against Whedon when he did. Since writing the article on his allegations, Jason Momoa (the other man of color who worked with Snyder), released a statement in support of Fisher, and months later, Carpenter would come out and share more details with the world about Whedon’s treatment of her as a show of solidarity towards the actor. This would lead to multiple more actresses coming forward — including Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Trachtenberg. And with the positive reception towards the newly released Zack Snyder’s Justice League — a version of the film as Snyder originally intended it to be and without Whedon’s changes — not only has Whedon’s personal character come into question, but also his credibility as a filmmaker.
But why should it have taken this long for Whedon to receive backlash that is partially comparable to what Snyder has been receiving for most of the past decade? Why did it take seeing a version of the same film in which actors of color were not cut from the final project to understand that Whedon does have racial biases? And why is it that Snyder was accused of racism and misogyny by his most vocal critics despite the fact that multiple women and actors of color have expressed nothing but positive words to describe their experiences working with him?
In 2011 (two years after Carpenter first began sharing her negative experience with Whedon), during the promotion of the film Sucker Punch, Emily Browning stated that working with Snyder was “the best experience [she had] ever had working on a film” and that she thought it had “a lot to do with him.” She went on to state that Snyder “doesn’t offer grumpiness. He wants everyone to be happy and having a good time.” In 2014, a year before Age of Ultron would be released in theaters, it became known that actor Jason Momoa was cast by Snyder to play Aquaman. This came shortly after his run on Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo. The actor in the past has expressed that after this role, he had a hard time getting new roles due to the fact that his convincing portrayal of Drogo gave filmmakers the impression that the Hawaiian actor didn’t even speak English. Momoa has also shared that when Snyder called him in for an audition, he assumed the director had him in mind to play a villain, but was surprised he wanted him to play Aquaman. To this day, the actor continues to express strong gratitude towards Snyder, crediting him for the boost in his career. He even calls him a friend. Circling back to Fisher, Snyder has called him the heart of his vision of Justice League, a statement many now agree with having seen this version (and realizing just how much Whedon had reduced his role in the theatrical version). It seems all who do share their experiences in working with Snyder — including women and people of color — have nothing but positive things to say about him. Even after the culture shift that took place at the height of the “MeToo” movement, no one has yet to share any negative experiences working with him. The same cannot be said for Whedon.
In writing this, I cannot say I know Snyder personally. I am just a regular film goer. I am not an actress, nor am I a professional critic. Like many people who do not work in the industry, I can only go off of what I know in concluding what kind of person I think Snyder might be. What I know is that the women and people of color who have worked with him speak only positively about him. What I know is that he cast a brown Hawaiian man to play a role that has historically been portrayed as a white, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed man. What I know is that he gave an arguably underrated Black DC character a prominent role in what has become his highest rated DCEU film. Again, all of this does not mean his work is above criticism. There are problems present in his work, but there is little to no evidence that he is the person that bad faith criticism has painted him to be. With all of this said, yes, there’s a chance I could be completely wrong. New information about different people in the industry seems to come out every day. Perhaps tomorrow, there will be new allegations against Snyder, but based on what we’ve seen so far, I’ve no reason to anticipate that.
All of this information is not hidden. A quick search on Google could lead anyone to the positive things people have said about working with Snyder. So, why is it that those with the strongest hatred for him try to paint a different picture of him? To be fair, some of these critics have criticized Whedon’s movies, but they left it at that and moved on. All of the personal hatred is left for Snyder. With Snyder, critics have gone as far as holding him responsible for the his own daughter’s suicide. Some have made tasteless jokes about his relationship with his deceased mother. Neither of these things have anything to do with their like or dislike of his interpretation of characters such as Batman and Superman, so why do these subjects even enter their conversations? And as if this negativity towards him wasn’t bizarre enough, these same critics have a habit of painting fans of his movies in a single brush stroke. Yes, there are toxic DCEU and Snyder fans, but presenting the fandom to be nothing but a bunch of “angry straight white boys” erases people of color, women, and queer people in the fandom.
Even with it being known that Whedon was likely not the person everyone thought him to be, enjoying his films was easy. Watching The Avengers (2012) and even Age of Ultron was not enough for people to question your morals for liking movies made by someone who let his misogyny and racism creep into his work. Even after Justice League (2017), it wasn’t far-fetched for many to still enjoy his work. Somehow, though, it was impossible to separate Snyder’s work from the person bad faith criticism made him out to be. However, I feel as if Zack Snyder’s Justice League presents an argument that he just might not be that person. He just might be a person who’s open to giving actors of color well-written and prominent roles in his work. He just might be a person who allows women in his movies to be defined not just by their physical strength and beauty, but by their kindness and their compassion for others. He just might not be such a terrible person.
Maybe this is a little far-fetched, but I have a feeling that if those with such a strong hatred towards Snyder used a similar energy towards Whedon years ago when Carpenter first shared her experiences, the future of Fisher’s career probably wouldn’t be in question. Perhaps support could have been given to the other actresses who have since come forward. I don’t have an answer as to why critics continue to have a weird personal hatred for Snyder, but what I do know is that nothing positive has come from said negativity. I cannot think of a single positive change in Hollywood that can be traced back to hating Snyder’s movies so much that critics resorted to attacking his personal character and family. It is time to let it go. No one has to enjoy any of his films whether they be his DCEU movies or movies released prior to his involvement with Warner Bros., but it’s time to get back to sticking to talking about the films themselves. Save that negativity for the people who (based on evidence) really deserve it, like Whedon.