Sarah Michelle Gellar has been in the business of Hollywood for 40 years. During The Power of Storytelling: Producers Panel round table with The Wrap, Gellar finally admitted that she spent a good portion of her career working on “an extremely toxic male set.” Without naming the project, it’s presumed that she was talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Sarah Michelle Gellar & Other Female Producers Were Asked About Their Struggles in Hollywood
Sarah Michelle Gellar is known for her butt-kicking, take no bs character Buffy Summers, and nearly 70 other roles. She’s a producer of 5 films, making her quite the powerhouse. After a prolonged silence since the dawn of the #MeToo movement, she’s finally speaking out.
Gellar and 6 other producers had been prompted about their experiences of needing to “prove themselves” despite being distinguished film industry figures.
Tonya Lewis Lee, director and producer of Aftershock, had just spoken to the frustrations of needing to “workaround” her needs. She said she put extra effort into doing so “without being so direct,” specifically while working with men. While Lee didn’t feel as though she needed to prove herself, she found that there was a communication difference between men and women. She implied that often led to a double standard in the film business.
Gellar followed up Lee’s response with a story about being ignored and undervalued while serving as executive producer on a project.
“I think for me, I have almost two strikes against me, being an actor and executive producer, that I constantly feel the need to remind people that I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” said Gellar.
It’s ironic, as another woman pointed out, that having credentials could be twisted as “strikes against” you because of your sex or gender.
Gellar continued to talk about a set where she was producing. There was an animal that was misbehaving, and she kept giving directions to the cast and crew. But because no one was listening to her, she began yelling.
Sarah Michelle Has Tried to Lay Low Despite Dealing With Bigoted Attitudes Throughout Her Career
Conversely, working on women-led projects is a completely different ballgame, said Gellar. This was a sentiment echoed throughout the entire panel of women producers.
“For so long, I was on a set that I think was known for being an extremely toxic male set,” she said. “And so, that was engrained in my head that that’s what all sets were like. And that women were pitted against each other. If women became friends, then we became too powerful, so you had to keep that down. And now that I’ve had this opportunity to work with so many more women — and men that support women as well — I’ve realized how amazing an experience it can be.”
Gellar is discreet in the way she doesn’t name the “toxic male set.” In September, she told The New York Times that she tries to keep her grievances private due to a fear of industry retaliation. Asked about her experiences as a woman in the film industry, she admitted that it wasn’t “easy.”
“It was not easy. And I’ve had my fair share of experiences, I have just chosen not — I don’t win by telling my stories, emotionally, for me,” said Gellar. “I look at people that tell their stories, and I’m so impressed. But in this world where people get torn apart, and victim blaming and shaming, I just keep my stories in here.”
Gellar has a point. Speaking out about injustices carried out by wealthy, powerful people, or corporations, often results in a slew of legal battles. The internet makes retaliation and gossip worse. Slander becomes permanent and careers can be ruined. It’s not the best path for someone who just wants to keep their head down and focus on their career.
Justice League Actor Ray Fisher Accused Filmmaker Joss Whedon of Numerous Abuses
Take, for example, what happened with Ray Fisher. He made serious accusations about a Warner Bros filmmaker and immediately found himself enmeshed in a bunch of drama.
It happened to be about Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s creator, Joss Whedon. Whedon was the subject of numerous accusations in past years, beginning with Justice League actor Ray Fisher. Fisher played Cyborg on Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The film was handed over to Whedon when Snyder had a family emergency to attend to.
“Joss Wheadon’s [sic] on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable,” Fisher wrote on Twitter. “He was enabled, in many ways, by Geoff Johns and Jon Berg. Accountability > Entertainment.” Fisher claimed that Whedon threatened his career and subjected him to racist attitudes. This included running sets that housed “massive blowups, threats, coercion, taunting, unsafe work conditions, belittling, and gaslighting like you wouldn’t believe.”
Variety reported that Warner Bros denied Fisher’s claims. But WB seemed to claim that Fisher was refusing to meet with an investigator. And Fisher continued to post very publicly about his dealings with WB Pictures. He said that WB was trying to “discredit” him and that the investigator was “put on” by them.
Several Buffy the Vampire Slayer Co-Stars, Gellar, Backed Up Fisher’s Accusations About a Toxic Workplace
Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia Chase on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-offs, like Angel, followed up Fisher’s accusations. She claimed to have similar experiences. In a 2-part Twitter post that began with #IStandWithRayFisher, Carpenter wrote a lengthy list of grievances. They included similar claims to Fisher’s, including gaslighting, abuse, “hostile and toxic work environments,” and retaliatory behavior.
Specifically, Carpenter claimed that he refused to allow her agents to communicate with him about how to move forward when she became pregnant. Instead, she said he coerced and manipulated her into continuing to work when she should have been resting, calling her “fat” when she was 4 months pregnant, and that he “unceremoniously fired” her after she gave birth.
The accusations snowballed from there. Michelle Trachtenberg claimed that Whedon interacted with her in a way that was “not appropriate” when she was a teenager. Amber Benson said that Buffy the Vampire Slayer “was a toxic environment and it starts at the top.” (Via The Wrap).
Gellar Thinks We Need to Shift the Way We Talk About Women’s Empowerment
Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t hold back, either. In a short, succinct post to Instagram, she said her piece. She also disabled the comments.
“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,” she wrote. “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 I am proud of them for speaking out.”
It seems fairly obvious that Gellar was, therefore, referencing Buffy when she was speaking about the “toxic set” at The Wrap’s all-woman panel. But despite her negative experiences, or perhaps because of them, she has valuable insight for anyone who wants to see a change in the world.
“It’s … about changing the conversation and the way we have it,” said Gellar. “I was in a meeting before this show, and we were looking at directors. And of course, from the topic came, ‘Well, you have to have at least one woman director.’ And it’s like, well obviously. But why are we singling them out? Let’s get great directors. And so, when the conversation changes, and ‘great directors’ include a huge list of women, then we know we can sit back. But until we’re still speaking like that, we still have a really long way to go.”