Hollywood Cancelled: Social Media Shaking Tinseltown

In 2017, the global #MeToo movement swept through the US Entertainment Industry, culminating in a spate of high-profile firings, investigations, and even incarcerations such as that of disgraced studio boss Harvey Weinstein. Rumours of sexual harassment, gross misconduct and toxic behaviour have long been an open secret in Hollywood circles, where countless stories abound of young actors or crew members falling afoul of maleficence committed by those with the power to make or break their careers.

The role of social media, and the high-profile celebrities who were able to turn a simple hashtag into a global movement and shine a spotlight onto workplace behaviours which had been festering for countless years, can not be understated. According to US think tank, the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of US adults who use social media had seen #MeToo related posts one year after actor Alyssa Milano’s original tweet went viral.

Now, in the wake of the massive shake-up initiated by #MeToo, Hollywood studios still reeling from cultural change are under fire once more as the focus shifts from sexual misconduct to workplace toxicity, bullying and harassment.

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WarnerMedia Under Fire

Comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres has been fostering her multi-million dollar Be Kind brand for seventeen years, under the roof of Warner Bros TV, but in July this year Buzzfeed published an article in which the celebrity host was accused of fostering a workplace culture characterised by fear, racism and intimidation. “That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,” a former employee alleged to the news site.

Shortly thereafter, WarnerMedia announced they’d be launching an investigation into the allegations of toxic workplace behaviour on the set of the Ellen show, as celebrities such as Ellen’s Finding Nemo co-star Brad Garrett and Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson were quick to chime in and lend their weight to the claims.


Meanwhile, as the world’s attention was focused on this latest scandal sweeping social media, WarnerMedia’s film arm Warner Bros. Studios, were also under attack from former Justice League star Ray Fisher who broke his silence about his time working under the direction of The Avengers director Joss Whedon who took over the reins of the comic-book blockbuster when the original director Zack Snyder departed the project due to a family tragedy.

According to the Cyborg actor, who was originally placed to be the film’s central character under Snyder’s original vision for the film, “Joss Wheadon’s [sic] on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable. He was enabled, in many ways, by Geoff Johns and Jon Berg.”



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Cyborg vs Warner Bros. Studios

As WarnerMedia were in damage control regarding the allegations levelled against Ellen, for some time DC Entertainment those accused by Fisher had elected to remain silent. Of the three parties named, Joss Whedon, and producers Geoff Johns and Jon Berg¸ only Berg has made any public statement on the matter, who categorically denied the claims and added that “I remember [Fisher] being upset that we wanted him to say ‘Booyaa,’ which is a well known saying of Cyborg in the animated series”.

Whilst Warner Bros. Studios were still to make any further commentary to the matter, Fisher leveraged his substantial social media presence to call for a formal investigation into the troubled production and the hashtags #Accountability>Entertainment and #IStandWithRayFisher began to catch alight in tinderbox of public opinion which is contemporary social media landscape.

By the time any official statement came from the studio itself, more than two months after Fisher’s original claims and after a swathe of twitter updates concerning the covert means the studio was handling his complaints, the Cyborg actor had clear control over the narrative and an army of fans echoing his calls that Whedon, Johns and Berg all be held accountable for their alleged actions.

According to a Warner Bros. spokesman, current DC Films president Walter Hamada, had indeed initiated an investigation at Fisher’s behest but their “investigator has attempted multiple times to meet with Mr. Fisher to discuss his concerns but, to date, Mr. Fisher has declined to speak to the investigator. Warner Bros. remains committed to accountability and to the well-being of every cast and crew member on each of its productions. It also remains committed to investigating any specific and credible allegation of misconduct, which thus far Mr. Fisher has failed to provide.”

Fisher, however, was quick to snap back, claiming he doubted the investigation’s impartiality and that he refused to continue until he had his own representation present. And, more recently, Fisher’s Justice League co-star, Aquaman’s Jason Momoa has voiced his support for Fisher’s claims and discredited other attempts from the studio to draw attention away from the matter.


The Role of Celebrity and Social Media in Workplace Disputes

The interesting thing about these two, very public, workplace disputes, is that the sort of allegations at play are not actually all that unusual at all for the common worker. A recent US study estimates that some 47 million workers, or 40% of the active workforce, have all personally experienced workplace aggression and other toxic behaviours in the course of their employment. Just as #MeToo did not start and end with the Hollywood film studios, these two cases shine a spotlight onto ongoing cultural behaviours which have largely be normalised in far too many modern workplaces and in practically every industry that exists.

Whilst celebrities like Ray Fisher and Alyssa Milano possess the social media influence capable of forcing multi-billion dollar corporations into taking significant measures to address the inequities in their current workforce, one can hardly imagine an ordinary office worker mustering enough public outrage via their own social media feeds. Indeed, for many, attempting to comment publicly in a similar matter would more than likely lead to one facing their own form of disciplinary action as opposed to helping to make their cause heard.

Meanwhile, as Ellen DeGeneres prepares to make her way back to her talk show, and Warner Bros push ahead with the 2021 Justice League Director’s Cut, affected workers the world over are glued to their phones and mobile devices, perhaps living somewhat vicariously through the efforts of others with more clout behind them as they seek to make the working lives of themselves, and their less well-known colleagues, more palatable.

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September 23, 2020




TC Phillips


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