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From ‘Justice League’ to ‘Star Wars,’ studios reckon with “toxic” fandom

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The Hollywood Reporter, April 2021

Hollywood majors are learning they can’t be silent about what happens on social media, but as one rep cautions, “If you’re speaking out, you have to speak out for everyone.” When Zack Snyder’s Justice League hit HBO Max on March 18, it marked the culmination of a years-long effort by a devoted group of DC fans to allow the director to finish a film he left in 2017. Along the way, Snyder’s fans raised $500,000 for suicide prevention in honor of the filmmaker’s late daughter, Autumn.

Despite the positives, a small but vocal segment of that fandom used social media to threaten and harass fellow fans, as well as WarnerMedia executives they perceived as standing in the way of the cut. WarnerMedia Studios CEO Ann Sarnoff made waves on March 22 when she condemned such behavior in an interview with Variety, saying: “I’m very disappointed in the fans that have chosen to go to that negative place with regard to DC, with regard to some of our executives.”

Those comments represented a break from the norm of studios publicly ignoring unsavory elements within fan bases even as they seek to find new ways to monetize those audiences. In years past, Sony watched trolls attack its 2016, female-led Ghostbusters reboot, Marvel Studios saw Captain Marvel‘s Rotten Tomatoes scores sandbagged, and Lucasfilm was silent as Star Wars stars John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran endured racist abuse.

But Hollywood majors are now learning that they can’t always remain silent about what happens on social media. Disney’s Lucasfilm has been at the forefront of this conversation. In January, cosplayer and host Krystina Arielle faced racist attacks and threats after the studio named her host of The High Republic Showa bi-monthly show on StarWars.com and YouTube giving an inside look at a galaxy far, far away. Ahead of the show’s debut, previous tweets from Arielle denouncing systemic racism — essentially, calling upon white people to own their role in it — were resurfaced. She received numerous threats via social media. Rather than remain silent, Lucasfilm swiftly backed Arielle, stating on Twitter Jan. 22, “Our Star Wars community is one of hope and inclusivity. We support @KrystinaArielle.” The hashtag #IStandWithKrystina sprung up to support Arielle.

For Moya Bailey, a scholar who has studied harassment of Black women online, Lucasfilm’s statement felt noteworthy.

Continue reading at the Hollywood Reporter.

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