So, actor Ray Fisher is in the news. He will officially not be continuing his role as Cyborg in the upcoming movie The Flash, but not because of bad behavior or illness. It appears he’s been fired for being too truthful. The short version is, he called out Justice League director Joss Whedon for racist, abusive behavior on set, and the studio feels a certain way about it.
Some might call it whistleblowing, interesting phrase, that, but at the root, he shared what appears to be several unpopular opinions with leadership — specifically with producer Walter Hamada — and poof, no more job.
It’s not an usual occurrence. It happens all the time in every industry you can think of. You say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and because you don’t have power, they can release you to the marketplace.
You have to be prepared to come out a loser when it’s you versus a large, beloved, powerful company, and if his lengthy explanation on Twitter is anything to go by, it sounds like Fisher was prepared for this eventuality. But it’s disappointing because I can’t discern any mean-spirited, ill intent on his part.
I think he felt it was the right thing to do, and on one hand I agree. The other part of me cautions against public displays like this, even if they began behind closed doors and later spilled into the light, unless you’ve thoroughly — and I do mean thoroughly — assessed all of the angles and potential consequences.
I may be speaking out of turn, as all I really know about this situation is what I’ve read in the media — you know what people say: There’s your side, there’s my side, and then there’s the truth — but it’s one thing to be compelled to air grievances about a toxic workplace, especially when that toxicity manifests in consistently racist, abusive behavior, as Fisher alleges. It’s another to air them, and then dig in your heels and not let the topic go.
Cancel culture and our easy ability to share every little thought that comes into our heads on social media has mistakenly given people the impression that they can, in fact, say whatever they want without fear of reprisal. That’s not entirely the situation here, but there are enough similarities that I feel compelled to make the point because that’s just not true.
You need evidence? There are many, many people who find themselves in the same position as Fisher —fired — once the media, or the right ears, or both, gets wind of things. Look at the Capitol Hill insurrectionists who took pics of themselves on social media “observing” the riot a little over a week ago. Calls for boycotts of businesses, and lost jobs is just the beginning of what those public facing people are now facing.
Fisher was brave to step forward and be so open about his negative experience working on Justice League. But any worker, and as an actor who is not also an investor that’s what he is, must understand that their ability to talk freely has limits. At some point the organization they’re bad mouthing will bite back. And because their power is limited, there will be consequences.
After all, WarnerMedia has a brand — and a franchise — to protect. And companies, whether it’s a movie studio or a Fortune 500 chain, will go to great lengths to protect their brand currency from degrading.
I sincerely hope this doesn’t go any further. That all parties involved learn from this episode and move on as better people, to bigger and better opportunities, in workplaces that are as enjoyable as the products they produce. But anyone in a position similar to Fisher’s should be aware that his or her candor could have lasting repercussions on the old career. That’s why I always urge caution in situations like this.
No one wins if Fisher is blackballed, his talent stunted, his legacy truncated to one shining example in the superhero universe. People can play dirty. You could end up being “the example,” the cautionary tale whispered about in small circles.
Whereas if you play it a little smarter…5-6 box office hits in, your name is bigger. You’re bankable. You’ve made enough connections to start producing your own films. Now you can snatch the jobs away from the bad guys with a wink, a smile, and a carefully whispered, “I’m not sure if you want to hire him,” in the right ear at the right time. That’s how it’s done. But that’s the long game. The long game can be tough, and there are no guarantees.
Joss Whedon is not the only bad behaving director Fisher is likely to encounter, and all the big wigs in Hollywood know it. So, producers and casting directors and all of the other players who decide who gets what role, might be leery of hiring someone who has a reputation for not only “causing trouble” but then hopping on Twitter to air grievances.
Media communication is a wonderful thing. But too much at the wrong time to the wrong audience can be problematic. I don’t like saying that because it seems like I’m suggesting he should have kept quiet, and I’m not. I wouldn’t presume to tell a grown man what to do or not to do. Abusive behavior in the workplace should be called out.
However, I do know how the media game is played — and to a lesser extent, how the Hollywood game is played — and one should always play to win. Words have power. That’s why so many people are punished for using them. When your career is at stake, you have to be smart and evaluate: Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Am I, based on all of the evidence currently at my disposal, doing the right thing, for me, and potentially for the greater group to which I belong? Sometimes the answer is yes, and you leap. Just make sure you have a parachute, that’s all I’m saying.