The Black Widow lawsuit, Star Wars: The Bad Batch whitewashing, that Ghostbusters ghost, and more pop culture letdowns.
There’s been a lot of great geeky content to love this year. We discovered some amazing new sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, and we rewatched a few old favorites. But the world of genre entertainment let us down quite a bit, too. Here are the pop cultural lowlights of 2021, from across comics, movies, and TV.
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Image Comics Didn’t Recognize Comic Book Workers United
The pandemic caused a lot of folks to evaluate how much their employers value them as people, but we’re not sure anyone had “Image Comics workers unionize” on their bingo cards for 2021. That said, the news was fantastic to hear—except for the part where the publisher refused to voluntarily recognize the union, and put up needless roadblocks to the unionization by asking the National Labor Relations Board for a secret-ballot election. Pretty rude of a company which claims it “always believed in the fair and equitable treatment of staff and has always strived to support employees,” if you ask us.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch Was Whitewashed
The arrival of a new Star Wars animated series, especially a follow-up to the aftermath of the beloved Clone Wars, should be for celebration. But The Bad Batch found its debut marred by accusations that the series, which focuses on a team of genetically “abnormal” Clone Troopers working as an elite spec ops group, presented its lead cloned characters as significantly lighter-skinned than Maori actor Temuera Morrison, whose likeness provides the face for the clone army. Lucasfilm acknowledged that errors in lighting in early episodes, which made for the bulk of footage used in promotion of the show, appeared to brighten the tones used for skin color in the series. And the company said that changes would be made as the season continued to roll out. Even still, concerns about the series’ cast of “abnormalities” lingered.
Disney Was Greedy
Ah, another year, another moment to pause and ponder the truly terrifying megacorporation that owns some of our most beloved entertainment—and not just the stuff that has the Disney name plastered all over it, but also the Marvel Cinematic Universe and all things Star Wars. This year’s House of Mouse hall of shame moments include the company not paying sci-fi and fantasy writers who had contracts with Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox before Disney took them over; the company’s very public (and then, suddenly very private) row with Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson over her contract in the wake of the film’s pandemic-necessitated release on Disney+; and that hideously expensive Star Wars immersive hotel that is somehow already sold out at Walt Disney World (don’t get us started on those “real” lightsabers). Will we stop consuming Disney? Never. Will we feel good about that? Also, never.
Amazon Threw Money at Lord of the Rings
Amazon Studios is reportedly spending a little under half a billion dollars to produce the first season of its upcoming Lord of the Rings series. Though the series’ $465 million price tag reflects the inordinate amount of time, energy, and labor that’s going to be necessary to bring a live-action series set in Middle-earth to life, it’s also the latest instance of Amazon throwing its vast sums of capital around to cement its place within an industry quite separate from its core retail and web infrastructure businesses. It’s impossible to talk about Lord of the Rings without understanding the series as being part of Amazon Studios’ growing presence in the media production business, and how that presence is only possible thanks to Amazon’s vast sums of ill-gotten cash that has come at the expense of workers’ lives. It feels like this foray into Lord of the Rings is a brute force attempt at crafting a cultural phenomenon, that Amazon thinks that making its production more expensive is somehow going to win audiences over. But the truth is that we’ve been there and back again, already.
Paramount Cut Star Trek: Discovery Off From Most of The World
As the streaming age has entered the walled-garden era of studio-owned platforms, audiences have gotten used to begrudgingly signing up for yet another new service to get access to the shows they once had elsewhere. But ViacomCBS managed to do the impossible and get Star Trek fans to agree on something when it announced, just two days before the fourth season of Discovery was about to premiere, that it was removing the series from Netflix across the world. That meant fans in the 190 countries outside the U.S. and Canada who watched the series would have to wait months into 2022 when Paramount+ would start rolling out across the world… in just an estimated 45 countries. Fans were understandably furious, enough for Viacom to scramble after a week of backlash and start offering the fourth season of Discovery as premium video on-demand offerings or through alternative streaming platforms. But it’s still not an ideal situation, and only a temporary fix to the grumbling international fans will make when they’re pushed to subscribe to Paramount+ next year.
That Ghostbusters Ghost
There’s no doubt that everyone who it actually means anything to signed off on bringing Harold Ramis back to the big screen in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. We’re sure his family approved it, his friends made sure to do it with the utmost respect, all that stuff. That’s not the problem. The problem is why do it at all? When Ramis appears as the ghost version of his character, Egon, there’s a moment of shock. Wait, is this really happening? A moment that should be hugely rousing and emotional also brings with it an uncomfortable feeling. The choice just felt like a line had been crossed between nostalgia and respect. While in theory it’d be great to see Egon back with his Ghostbusters, he’s gone, as is Ramis, and working him back in the way the movie did felt kind of icky.
The Walking Dead Settlement
When someone settles a lawsuit, it often feels like they did so because the outcome of a trial could have been much worse. So when AMC settled with Walking Dead producer Frank Darabont for $200 million in payments that he’s owed for helping create the hit zombie show, you couldn’t help but think it should have been much worse. If AMC was willing to give up $200 million to bury its mistakes, how much did it really owe? And if the company did that to Darabont, was he the only one? Not a good look at all.
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