At the age of 9 Mr Whedon’s parents divorced and his mother remarried. He was sent to Riverdale High School in New York, but did not feel he fitted in. He would escape into his imagination, and credits this time for being the inception period of his creativity. His mother has also been a profound influence on him, as an avowed and outspoken feminist who was strong and in charge of her life.
When Mr Whedon 15 the family moved to England where he attended Winchester College, a all-boys private boarding school in Hampshire, for three years, graduating in 1983. He saw himself as unpopular and still felt a misfit; he would escape to the cinema in nearby Winchester regularly and became an avid reader of comic books and graphic novels. These experiences have been fundamental in his storylining since.
The family moved back to the United States before Mr Whedon left Winchester College; upon graduating he rejoined them in New York. Mr Whedon enrolled at Wesleyan University where he earned a degree in Film Studies in 1987, and it is during this period that he states he became aware of the need for feminism and for the fight for equality, his home experiences up to that point having been so different to that which he saw around him. He also began playing the fantasy board game Dungeons & Dragons, and the influence of all these things can be seen in his later work.
Mr Whedon relocated to Los Angeles where he found himself working in a video store to support his independent film-making projects, meeting with little success. His nickname of Joss was one he gave himself, from the Chinese word for ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. Eventually his father persuaded him to try television script-writing; after sending out spec scripts to what seemed to be everyone in the entire industry he landed his first job as staff writer for the sitcom ‘Roseanne’ in 1988 He discovered that he enjoyed television work, and after two years moved to work as co-writer and co-producer on the series ‘Parenthood’.
During this time Mr Whedon was working on a film script known as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (BTVS). He began to work on script-doctoring, and in 1990 BTVS finally produced by Kaz and Fran Rubel Kuzui. BTVS underwent many revisions and the end product was not Mr Whedon’s vision, but that of the producers who retain the rights to the title. The script itself received positive attention and opened doors for Mr Whedon.
Mr Whedon star was on the rise, and his most successful script work during the early 1990s was for ‘Toy Story’, nominated for an Oscar in screenplay writing and for which he won an Annie Award for writing from the International Animated Film Society. He also worked on Alien Resurrection and Speed, amongst other titles.
In 1997 Sandollar Productions, who through the Kuzui’s owned BTVS approached Mr Whedon about creating a television series, one in tune with his vision of creating a strong female character who was well-rounded and real, one which broke the usual tropes of horror and fantasy films/series. The result ran for 7 years and spawned the spin-off ‘Angel’, and has become iconic in both feminist and geek fandom.
Mr Whedon’s next two series, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dollhouse’ were cancelled after half a season and two seasons respectively, ostensibly due to poor ratings. However, such is the following Mr Whedon has that fans of Firefly, many calling themselves ‘Browncoats’, successfully campaigned to resurrect Firefly as the film Serendipity, which was a modest box office success. Dollhouse attained a second series down to the fervent belief of its fans, according to Mr Whedon. Many of his series have carried on into graphic novel format.
Mr Whedon continues to write (including musicals), produce and direct popular film and television franchises; most recently the ‘Avengers’ films for Marvel and ‘Cabin in the Woods’, which sought to subvert horror genre caricatures. He also produces independent low-budget webseries such as ‘Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, often featuring a loyal band of fellow creatives recognisable from the BTVS franchise. One of the main questions he is asked in interviews is why he writes strong female characters. As a campaigner/activist for N.O.W. (the US-based National Organisation for Women, which has been campaigning for equality since 1966), this question is tiresome for him and his most famous response is “Because you are still asking the question”. He is also active in support of LBGT causes.
In December 2002 he and his wife Kai Cole had a son and their daughter followed a couple of years later. The couples’ children retain their mother’s last name. Ms Cole regularly collaborates with Mr Whedon, who will continue in his work both filmic, televisual and campaigning for intersectional equality.
Mr Whedon himself speaks:
Essays discussing his feminism: http://www.experiencefestival.com/joss_whedon_-_feminism
FOTW No. 74 compiled by Kayla Calkin, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like Facebook” group:
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson