A Fan's Perspective on #IStandWithCharisma
What fans knew was going on behind the scenes during the time Angel the Series was on air.
Hey look, it's my first side entry in lieu of a twitter rant!
Since Charisma Carpenter has officially spoken out about what she went through while working for Joss I thought it might be helpful for younger fans to understand what the landscape of the shows were at the time all this was happening. Because, god help me, it was over 20 years ago and some of you weren't even born yet.
For context here at the time the shows were airing I was a diehard fan of Angel the series. I was beyond obsessive about the show to the point where I think it's fair to say that between spoilers, wildfeeds (remember those?), and various back door channels to industry information I knew enough about the goings on of the show as anyone could while not actually working on the set.
Now granted, I did not work on the set. I did not see things with my own eyes to confirm. But I can tell you what was known at the time among fans because, well, I was one.
First up, let's make sure we're all on the page of what we know about Joss. In addition to what Charisma said we have Amber Benson's confirmation, Kai Cole's essay about how Joss cheated on her during their marriage and blaming the "beautiful, needy, aggressive young women" who, let us not forget, worked for him, as the reason why he couldn't keep it in his pants.
There's also everything listed here which doesn't even cover it all but definitely gives a good Cliff's Notes version of why Joss is a hack and an asshole. [ETA: And others have come out in support and confirmation of what Charisma said. This article from Variety has good up to date coverage.]
So we know that Joss is a piece of shit. We've repeatedly known that Joss is a piece of shit and yet he still gets work which is the greatest proof of how fucking ridiculous Hollywood is and that cancel culture isn't actually real. Because dude should've been run out on a rail plenty of times over by now, not the least of which is how he swiped scenes from Avengers and refilmed them shot for shot for Justice League and nobody in power called him on it and YES I'M STILL BITTER.
Anyway, set the wayback machine to when Buffy and Angel were still on air. Again, full caveat that nobody but the people who worked there could say what happened on set. But there were things that were known.
For example, as I said over on Twitter, everything Charisma mentioned Joss having problems with such as her tattoo and her hair, were things he spoke about during DVD commentaries. He cheerfully said how she ruined things for him by doing such things as changing her appearance.
Now granted, actors work based on how they look. It is not uncommon for there to be clauses in their contracts which talk about what they are allowed to do, and things like tattoos and haircuts can be part of that. But Joss never mentioned this nor did Charisma. And moreover, if these are not fireable offenses then you work the problem in a way that's best for everybody. You do not, as for example, put your lead actress in a series of wigs so ugly that even commenters at the time couldn't figure out if the show's budget was that small or if Charisma had been the victim of a practical joke.
That wig was a hate crime and everyone could see it. It made her look bad, it made the show look bad. Was this done deliberately to humiliate her for getting her hair cut? I wasn't in the room when the decision was made, I couldn't say. But when you know Joss was bitter about Charisma cutting her hair and you know that they at least had some Angelus wigs lying around they could've brushed out and shoved on her head,1 this stands out as a choice that's hard to explain with reasons other than sheer petty revenge.
Likewise sure, maybe it can be argued that it should be common sense that if you work on a show about a vampire you should think twice before getting a tattoo with a cross on it in a visible location regardless of what your contract says. But at the same time it was a tattoo easily covered up with bracelets, which is what they did. Even if somehow you didn't have the budget for the show to buy some, tell Charisma to bring some from home and call it done. These are not problems which are as world ending as Joss made them out to be.
Then we get to things like Charisma's pregnancy. Again, wasn't in the room, couldn't tell you for sure. But what I can tell you is that in season two Cordy was written out of a few eps for reasons unknown. Rumors swirled about why but nothing was said for certain. Which it didn't have to be, I'm not saying it was anybody's business.
BUT, again we're talking context of the time. And at the time part of the rumors were that Charisma needed that time for personal reasons. After the fact when it was announced she was pregnant there were some guesses that maybe the time off had something to do with the pregnancy.
However, during her pregnancy there were also blind items that started circulating which didn't actually say Charisma but very much implied Charisma. You know the kind "This C list actress on an A list show on a D list network…" kind of a thing. And those blind items tried to paint a picture of an actress who was very difficult on set, full of diva-ish behavior, and who had to take a break from filming due to alcohol and/or substance abuse issues.
At the time, Charisma was the only genre actress of any notable fame who'd had a well known hiatus from filming. Sure the blind item could've been about somebody else but the clues pointed in her direction.
It's also worth noting that when Glenn Quinn had to leave the show due to his actual substance abuse issues, the show respected his privacy and condition. The claim that they always planned to kill Doyle was a lie. If you read interviews with the cast and crew both during and after the fact you can see them obliquely referring to how Glenn's health was the real problem, but again showing full respect to him by not dragging him and his addiction through the mud.
Does this mean that there was never a diva with substance abuse problems? Was this Joss and company spreading lies about Charisma to lay the same #MeToo groundwork that so many other actresses had to deal with? "Ignore her, she's got issues." Wasn't in the room, couldn't say. All I can tell you is that was part of the environment in Hollywood at the time.
Let us also take a step back from Charisma specifically and look at the show as a whole. And again, not in the room, couldn't tell you from anything. But I can point to things like the fact that the lead actor of the show had multiple affairs, and was even the kind of asshole who cheated on his pregnant wife.
We can also point to the fact that at the same time said lead actor was starting to get caught for fucking around, a certain actress on the show had her character killed off even though said actress and her character were immensely popular.
We can point out that bringing characters back from the dead was never an issue on this show, but her character was never seen again while a new actress was brought on board to fulfill the exact same role she played. And that said character's very first intro shot was one which made sure to make her feet very noticeable, because it's also known that Joss has a fetish.
Does all of that equal evidence of something? Wasn't in the room, couldn't tell you. I'm just saying the facts as we know them. And even if they don't all point to an actual thing which they imply, they certainly make for an environment where another actress who is already finding herself on the head honcho's shit list is probably going to feel like she doesn't have much room to speak up for herself.
So yeah. Did we know the full extent of how bad it was? No. But we knew enough that things seemed very hinky. Which I don't mean in the sense that we therefore should have known, but in the sense that now that Charisma and others are feeling safe enough to speak up, we don't even have to take it on faith that they're telling the truth. The signs were there at the time in a way so obvious even outside observers could see.
Which makes it even more egregious that those involved didn't do anything to stop it, and moreover went on to be in charge of blockbuster movies, star in hit TV shows, and meanwhile actresses like Charisma had to settle for bit parts in other genre shows where she played, by her own words, a character who could only be described as a "bitch in a bikini."