We Need to Talk About #ElseworldsSoWhite

Two Hashtags Walk Into a Bar

Before we break down why the reaction to #ElseworldsSoWhite was so ridiculous, we have to talk about one aspect of the crossover that many fans, and, in particular, female fans, were unhappy about. I debated whether to even include this at all, but ultimately I decided that it would be irresponsible to ignore the elephant in the room. And by that I mean the inclusion of Marc Guggenheim.

Many weren’t impressed with Guggenheim’s treatment of Laurel Lance

For those who don’t know, Marc Guggenheim is the former executive producer of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow and current executive consultant on both shows. A veteran writer of the Arrowverse, Guggenheim has been a somewhat…divisive figure in the eyes of fans. Many haven’t been particularly impressed with his storytelling decisions; most notably, the treatment of Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), which saw a show about the Green Arrow gradually diminish the Black Canary and then kill her off because “they didn’t have any more stories for her.” But what many female fans dislike about Guggenheim goes beyond comic book legacies and questionable story choices.

Arrow’s record with women has been well-documented. It covers the expected complaints, such as women dying for Oliver’s manpain, not having enough stories outside of men, and others. But what female fans fans were particularly upset about, when the crossover was announced, was that Guggenheim was considered the “showrunner” of this one in his position of “executive consultant.” In terms of #ElseworldsSoWhite, and especially in terms of Iris, it’s not surprising. Guggenheim has a curious habit of only knowing white women when it comes to crossovers. While I can’t specifically speak to his individual decisions, I’d be lying if I said I thought that Iris was a priority to him. He has been involved in every single crossover so far, some as a showrunner, which means that he didn’t see fit to include her in the second in a research position, left her out of a press conference in the third, made her wedding about a white woman in the fourth, and in a crossover that included two female journalists talking about what their jobs meant to them – in a reality that was rewritten, mind you – the only thing he could think for Iris to do was join the long line of Arrowverse women who have to kiss Oliver Queen.

However, there’s another layer to my discomfort when I heard that Guggenheim was the “showrunner” of this year’s crossover. This article on Medium pretty much sums up my problem with him, and segues quite neatly into my next point, which is that #ElseworldsSoWhite cannot be considered separately from the #MeToo movement. When Tarana Burke started it in 2003, she meant it as a way for women of colour to empower themselves through empathy after instances of workplace harassment and abuse; Alyssa Milano used the hashtag in the context of sexual harassment in Hollywood after the Harvey Weinstein allegations. However, in the past year, it’s clear that workplace discrimination doesn’t just come in the form of sexual assault. As The Atlantic pointed out, it’s also about who gets promoted and which stories are considered worthy of being shown. And as we’ll see, who deserves to get paid more.

When we heard that Joss Whedon had been having affairs behind his wife’s back and then painted himself as some sort of tragic figure while using feminism to distract from his skeevy behaviour, we were not surprised – because we saw how he treated Black Widow in Age of Ultron, and how he had Spike try to rape Buffy in order to get him to do some soul-searching, and how he fired an actress for getting pregnant. When we heard that the head of CBS had cultivated a culture of toxicity and sexual predation under Les Moonves, we were not surprised, because CBS has never met an overly-cliche procedural about a brilliant but terrible white man who breaks the law and sleeps with a lot of women that it did not want to greenlight. Indeed, when we found out that Andrew Kreisberg was doing the same thing in the DCTV writer’s rooms, we were not surprised, because just about the one thing that the female fans of the Arrowverse agree on is that the female characters deserve better.

Women notice these things. Spotting sexism, wherever it is, is built into our DNA and is as essential as breathing. It is paramount to our survival that we understand when something is sexist, because sexism doesn’t just stop at horrible comments about our legs. It leads to misogyny, which affects our self-esteem, our educational and employment opportunities, and our lives. We’re watching. We notice.

What does all this have to do with #ElseworldsSoWhite? Well, it’s not simply the fact that Iris was left out, because the matter of the crossovers doesn’t merely stop at who gets to appear on a different show. It’s also a salary issue, because each actor gets paid extra for every extra episode they appear in. Which means that, four times out of five, the people in charge of the Arrowverse denied a Black leading lady an extra pay cheque that her white supporting female costar has collected every year, for reasons that a child with decent comprehension skills can decipher don’t make sense. And, again, I am not in any way saying that Danielle Panabaker doesn’t deserve her money – because, hello? Bills – but that is a terrible look for a network that claims it is “open to all.” And it’s even more hilarious when they actually talked about equal pay in one of the Elseworlds episodes. As we know, Iris was not allowed to partake in that conversation. Say it with me, everyone: White Feminism.

Many fans were left wondering what happened to a promised storyline about Felicity’s company.

Again, though, it’s not just Iris who was left out. Many fans noticed that Felicity, for the first time since the crossovers started, didn’t crossover anywhere, even though she was in the same boat as Iris and should have been around to see the fallout. They also noticed that it followed a situation where her individual storyline had petered out over the course of Arrow’s sixth season. And several noticed that it coincided uncomfortably with Emily Bett Rickards calling out Guggenheim for his comments in the wake of his former coworker’s suspension for sexual abuse. When Guggenheim tweeted this about reverse sexism, Rickards tweeted a statement about Kreisberg that included a sentence about men who complained about reverse sexism being “weak and complicit.” Of course, Rickards didn’t tag him, but even though I don’t watch Arrow, I couldn’t help but notice that her fans, in comments for reviews, were pointing out that a promised storyline for Felicity hadn’t appeared.

Then there’s Legends of Tomorrow. That’s another show that I don’t watch, but the characters are always so charming that I always look forward to the crossovers when they visit. However, one of the first things that was announced about this year’s crossovers is that Legends wouldn’t be involved. I was disappointed, but a little gratified that, at least, they recognised that one of the weaknesses of the crossovers was that they had too many characters to focus on. But in the context of Patton and Rickards being left out, I couldn’t help but wonder.

Allow me to explain. About a year ago, around the time of the first crossover, Candice Patton and Caity Lotz, who plays Sara Lance, founded a collective called Shethority for women and the feminine, aimed at supporting women and providing resources for them to learn and grow. Patton and Lotz also recruited all of the other Arrowverse actresses, and have spoken extensively about wanting a place for women to feel supported and empowered. Add in the fact that Legends of Tomorrow recently made the news for having a cast where the female characters outnumbered the male, and my hackles are up.

We recently heard news of how Eliza Dushku was fired because her male costar, Michael Weatherly, started telling misogynistic jokes about her and the producers saw fit to remove her from the show instead of dealing with the problem. It’s a disgusting tale of people in power protecting abusers because they care more about their potential bottom line than about victims, but it’s not a unique one. Over and over and over, we hear these stories, of women punished for speaking out against abuse, so much that we’re barely surprised anymore. Now, I’m not accusing Marc Guggenheim of anything. I’m not saying that he’s a misogynist, or that he dislikes women who aren’t white. I, after all, only know as much as anyone else. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the problem went way above him; The CW, for those of you who don’t know, is part-owned by CBS, whose toxic workplace environment makes the news approximately every four minutes. But as I said, we women notice. And so I could not help but notice, when Marc Guggenheim, as the “showrunner” of the crossover, was choosing who would got to cross over if that decision did indeed lie with him, the show he chose to exclude outright was the one where the women outnumbered the men, and the two women who didn’t get extra pay cheques were a Black woman who helped found a feminist collective and a white woman who called him out on his sexism.

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