with Joss Whedon by SF Said
where its due. There would be no Joss Whedon interview
here without Pixie, the amazing Shebytches columnist. In
fact, I would know nothing about Whedon at all if she hadnt
made me watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Id
been aware that the show existed, and that a lot of women
I knew loved it, but Id never really given it a chance.
Until I actually watched some and then I couldnt
with Firefly, Whedons science-fiction western
series, and now with Serenity, the brilliant feature
film based on that series, which is about to take the world
by storm. I saw it at the Edinburgh Film Festival in August,
and then saw it a second time, because I couldnt get
enough of it either. Like Buffy, it delivers non-stop
action, laughs & thrills but its also got
characters who are complex, substantial, believable. The
women and the men alike. And how rare is that?
think thats central to why I am now consumed by the
Whedonverse. Theres a sophistication to his take on
gender that I find incredibly refreshing. Id discussed
this a lot with Pixie, and we both wanted to know more about
where it came from. So when I sat down to interview Whedon,
that was where I wanted to start. And it turns out hes
got lots to say about his love for shebytches...
Is it surprising to you that so many women love your stuff?
No. Everybody knows there is a little girl inside of Joss.
I literally grew up wishing that I were a woman. That doesnt
necessarily give me any great insight into women
in fact, many women I know have gone, "Youre
an idiot for wishing that!" But Ive always felt
a great affinity for women on various levels. In particular,
I think, a level of sensibility, in that I was raised by
a very strong, smart, delightful, extraordinary woman.
Was she a single mum?
No. My father and my step-mother, they lived in Los Angeles;
I lived with my mother and my step-father in New York. And
my step-father and my father are both very dear to me, but
my mother was it was a matriarchal household, and
she was a very powerful person. She was a teacher, and affected
a lot of her students enormously. And I had older brothers
who were kind of merciless charming, but merciless
and I was very afraid of my father, who is an incredibly
dear man, but was not necessarily great with kids. And I
was also very tiny, and was very often mistaken for a girl.
I was too! People always thought I was a girl when I was
Well, I had lovely long red hair less and less of
which I have every day and delicate features. I was
quite cute! Something went horribly wrong somewhere, but
thats OK. But there was a sense of oppression, of
not being taken seriously, of physical fear; there were
certain things that I had in common I was very close
to my step-sister as well, she was the best friend I had
in my family growing up. Plus, Im super-gay, something
my wife has come to accept and even enjoy. Its just
something that has always been a part of me. And so I have,
I think, a kind of a feminine sensibility.
I would not take bragging rights to understanding the female
experience, and there were often times in Buffy when
I would say to [writer/producer] Marti Noxon, "OK,
what did you go through? What would this be like?"
Im pretty good at getting into the heads of people
that Im not, I think thats probably the one
talent I really have, but thered be times when Id
be, "OK, this is foreign territory to me, I am a fella."
So anyway, short answer: no, it doesnt surprise me.
Its more than anything else who Im writing for
or as; Im writing in drag.
Im interested in ideas of masculinity and femininity
in your stuff. Partly because I dont recognise myself
in notions of manhood that are current in our society; and
I dont particularly recognise myself in notions of
Yes, Im also a hideous hermaphrodite like yourself.
Oh, the shame! No nothing against hermaphrodites.
But it is difficult, and these are roles that are constantly
redefining themselves and re-entrenching. And you do come
to a realisation, as you get older, that men and women actually
do have not just cultural but biological differences, and
that some of those clichés about how different they
are, are actually true. And while I spend my entire career
trying to subvert our notions of masculinity and femininity,
I also have to have some grounding in the fact that some
of them are based in reality but some of them are
also based in sociology, and those are the ones that have
to be done away with, because they are nonsense. There is
so much misogyny that is just unspoken or even unknown,
among the most civilised.
on the drive up here, the driver was telling us about the
history of the place, and he says, "In this square,
this is where people were hanged, and the women were burned
at the stake they would burn a woman at the stake
in the Sixteenth Century just for saying no to a man
wouldnt it be great if we could do that today?"
And instead of just thinking it, I said, "Actually,
no, it wouldnt, and its a little bit creepy
that you just said that."
I think a great deal of work has to be done until there
is enough equality that we can actually start to define
our roles as either men or women, without the baggage of
either oppression or misogyny, confusion or enforced masculinity.
Gender, like sexuality, is kind of a spectrum; I think all
of sexuality is a spectrum, and to say that theres
the one thing and the other is to over-simplify. I do not
think we will in our lifetimes get to a place where we can
say, "OK, weve weeded out cultural prejudices,
now lets talk biology, whats male and whats
female, where do they meet and how do we get them together?"
Was it part of the idea with Buffy to invert that?
I read somewhere that you were sick of seeing the blonde
girl getting killed in horror movies
It was very specific, I was tired of seeing that. I want
the disenfranchised to have a voice. And people choose particular
areas of that; for me its been women. I had a girlfriend
in college, and she was very smart, and I remember when
Orson Welles died and I was terribly sad, and terribly drunk,
and I said, "This man had so much to say and society
conspired to keep him from saying it for so long."
And she said, "Yeah, its interesting that you
feel that way about him I feel that about the entire
history of my entire gender!" And I was just like,
"Well put." And Buffy was very much an
attempt to create an icon to do it subtly, I didnt
expect people to catch wind of what I was doing, I expected
her to become an underground icon but in fact she
lived above ground, and could eat roots and berries
So you were trying to create an icon?
Yes. It was supposed to be something that, you know, little
girls would play with Barbie dolls that had Kung-Fu grip.
It was supposed to subvert our notions of what a hero is,
very specifically. At the same time, it was supposed to
do it in a fun disarming fashion. As Ive said before,
I wasnt trying to make Buffy The Lesbian Separatist,
because I didnt think anyone would show up.
How about the way you use metaphor? Firefly doesnt
have monsters and demons, but even when you did in Buffy,
they always seemed like ways of talking about emotional
When I was writing Alien: Resurrection, I began to
understand, on a level that I hadnt before, what I
was trying to do. Before it was even metaphor, it was simply,
"What experience are these people going through that
people can relate to? What is the thing thats going
to make people say, I am Ripley, not just, Theres
Ripley?" And I was particularly dealing with
this because she was coming back from the dead, and people
had to accept that. So I realised, "I have to make
it difficult for Ripley to have come back from the dead,
because its going to be difficult for the audience
to accept it but if its difficult for her to
accept it too, they will identify with her, that will be
the in." And then that got me to a bigger place of,
"Well, what is she going through? What does she feel
about herself? Does she really feel human? Shes partially
alien, whats going on with that? And shes dealing
with this robot
the moment in the movie and I loathe the movie, and
have said so publicly many times, often when I shouldnt
but I look at it now, and I see the germ of everything
Ive tried to do in my career. Its the moment
when Winona Ryder, who is such a porcelain beauty, looks
at herself and says, "Look at me, Im disgusting."
And thats when I said, "OK, now I understand
what Im doing with my writing."
came right after that. They said, "Do you want to do
a show?" And I thought, "High school as a horror
movie." And it really was. And so the metaphor that
I had begun to strike at in Alien: Resurrection became
the central concept behind Buffy, and thats
how I sold it, and thats what they bought, and they
got it, and they let me do it and after that, everything
was about it.
then we came to Firefly, and Serenity, where
I took away the metaphorical aspect but science-fiction
always opens you up to every element of history that you
want, because the future is just the past in a blender.
And so rather than a straight-on metaphor, it was more an
idea of, "I can take anything from the human experience
that Ive read about or felt or seen like, what
is it like after a war? And it doesnt matter which
war or which country what is it like for the people
always about people. The idea behind the show was to take
nine people and say, "Nine people look out into the
blackness of space and see nine different things."
That is the show. With the movie, obviously, you cant
just say something that vague; I had to make the movie more
specific. Its about freedom and about how much you
can take, and how much you can control people, even for
their own good, before you lose them.
What can you tell us about Wonder Woman, the film
youre making next?
Ive just started writing it, so theres not much
I can say. It was a bit of a surprise to me, because Ive
never been a fan of the show or the comic book, but the
character, shes the kind of character who doesnt
take no for an answer not even from me.
Shes another young female superhero like Buffy;
like River Tam in Serenity.
Exactly shes sort of the icon that existed
before I came around, so its an honour to be working
Said is a childrens author and film journalist. His
first book, Varjak Paw (http://www.varjakpaw.com)
is about a cat who does martial arts, and is published by
Random House. The sequel " The Outlaw Varjak Paw " is out