It’s admirable that Joss Whedon doesn’t want to criticize other artists, but he wasn’t wrong in his observation about “Jurassic World.”
During an interview with Variety at the premiere for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, director Joss Whedon was asked about his recent criticism of an allegedly sexist clip from Jurassic World. His response was instructive:
“I shouldn’t have tweeted it. I don’t ever say things about other people’s work that are negative. That’s bad form. It’s not what a gentleman would do.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the controversy, a clip from the upcoming sci-fi sequel Jurassic World is under fire for its depiction of a female businesswoman played by Bryce Dallas Howard. The scene shows Howard’s character being ridiculed by Chris Pratt’s protagonist for being a career-oriented, Type A personality who can’t lure a man because of her cold personality. “I’m too busy wishing this clip wasn’t ’70s-era sexist,” Whedon tweeted after viewing it. “She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force — really? Still?”
Although Whedon hasn’t retracted the sentiments he expressed in that tweet (which has since been taken down), he expressed regret for having publicly aired an opinion that he feels should have been left private. “I forgot that I don’t do that because I was frustrated. I felt like I was seeing something that was problematic,” he explained. “What I said is pretty clear, but I think it was the wrong venue for me to be saying that. That’s dinner party conversation.”
On the one hand, it is admirable that Whedon tries to follow the age-old aphorism, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” Making a movie is incredibly difficult and draining work (a fact that Whedon knows better than most), and while I doubt Whedon was implying that filmmakers should be immune to criticism, there is something to be said for fellow practitioners of a skilled craft being respectful toward others in their field out of a sense of professionalism. Under most circumstances, Whedon would indeed have been wrong for his tweet, and thus correct for his subsequent apology.
The big difference this time, however, is that Whedon wasn’t making a qualitative criticism, but an ethical one. If he had been trashing the movie’s special effects or acting or writing (particularly before it had been released), he would have indeed been out of line. That said, even if the clip in question does have some larger context that will retroactively make it acceptable, if nothing else it was promoted to audiences with the goal of selling them on the dynamic between two gender-based archetypes—Pratt as the charming adventurer and Howard as an ice queen. These are indeed sexist tropes—and there are three reasons why Whedon was right for calling them out:
1. The notion that successful women are somehow anti-man – or, at the very least, are too focused on their careers to pay attention to important sexual matters—is knee-jerk anti-feminism at its most reactionary. As a director who has received considerable acclaim for creating three-dimensional and interesting female characters, it makes sense that Whedon would be attuned to this.
2. The Internet has been a boon to pop culture franchises largely because it gives fans an opportunity to speak out about much of what is wrong in their media of choice. While artists and other creative individuals are by no means compelled to heed what these critics say, it is certainly in everyone’s best interest that their voices be given a prominent forum. As such …
3. If we are going to confront ingrained social prejudices like sexism, we need to be open about how they are manifested in and reinforced by major pop culture franchises. If “Jurassic World” doesn’t use the Pratt-Howard relationship as a way to take career-minded women down a peg, so much the better; if it does, however, than we need to draw attention to the problem.
For what it’s worth, I’m actually a big fan of the “Jurassic Park” franchise. Hell, I may be the only person alive who actually considers “The Lost World” to be the superior movie in the original trilogy (thanks to Pete Postlethwaite’s Ahab-esque character and the scene of a T-Rex rampaging through San Diego). When I applaud Whedon for his remarks, it isn’t because I wish ill on the upcoming movie, but rather because I hope it will surpass my expectations. At a time when a feminist renaissance seems to be under way, it would be a shame if “Jurassic World” was tarnished by the use of sexist caricatures in lieu of real character development.