9:00 am EDT, May 26, 2020

Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ is a win for art and artists

The biggest precedent set by the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the one that says an artist’s vision matters.

Of course, there are plenty out there who don’t think that way.

There are writers like Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson, who wonders whether Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a victory for toxic fandoms, Collider’s Drew Taylor, who declares that such a release sets a dangerous precedent, and CBR’s Braeden Burge, who says that releasing the director’s cut teaches fans the wrong lesson.

Looper’s Zach Lisabeth takes a bit of a more even-handed approach, ruminating on the possible good along with the possible bad. It misses the point of Zack Snyder’s Justice League in the same way that all of his detractors do, but it at least admits that there is an upside to the release of the famed Snyder Cut.

That’s certainly much more than can be said for Abraham Riesman’s Vulture article, which is somewhere between delirious rambling and invective diatribe.

We’re talking about a movie here, yet Riesman saw it fit to compare the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League to “Brexit or Donald Trump’s clinching of the presidency,” which is a reckless sort of comparison that trivializes the very real pain that has been suffered at the hands of vindictive politicians.

It also paints — without any large body of evidence — an incredibly diverse group of fans with the paintbrush of being “the same sorts of people who call out entertainment firms for ‘forced diversity’ and capitulating to the ‘social justice warriors,'” and declares that the grassroots #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement shares similar coding with those who are currently pushing to end COVID-19 quarantine restrictions.

All this, I would like to remind you, because of a director’s cut of a superhero movie.

The level of critical outrage and backlash against Zack Snyder’s Justice League should be more shocking than it is, but as a long-time fan, I have long stopped being too surprised at the level of vitriol aimed at him — though I remain as irritated (and sometimes enraged) by it as ever.

And though most of these articles aren’t all that interested in having a good faith discussion about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, someone out there reading about it might be, so I think it’s worth interrogating what exactly it is and how it came to be, then offering a perspective on it that doesn’t equate it to a victory for toxicity and fan entitlement.

Justice League

If I hadn’t already mentioned my long-time support and love of Zack Snyder’s filmography in this article, then a quick scan of any of my DCEU articles on here (which are many) would reveal that.

I own that bias and lay it bare for you all in a way that I often wish his detractors would own up to in their articles about what this director’s cut of Justice League does or doesn’t mean.

But just as other writers’ biases have given them a perspective on the worst behaviors of the fans involved in the movement to release Zack Snyder’s Justice League, so too does my particular bias offer me a window into the fandom, the movement and the film that Zack Snyder’s detractors either willfully ignore or — perhaps, at best — remain unaware of.

For the uninitiated, let’s start at the beginning: Once upon a time, Zack Snyder was given the reins — and relative creative freedom — to shape the burgeoning DCEU for Warner Bros.

However, top level executives were disappointed on the returns of his films and increasingly began to push for a lighter tone to Zack Snyder’s films — one similar to the levity of the MCU. The push and pull became more pronounced as Snyder worked on Justice League.

Then, tragedy struck — Zack Snyder’s daughter, Autumn Snyder, died by suicide. And though Snyder’s plan was to retreat into his work as “a kind of refuge,” the situation at Warner Bros. had become so untenable — with Warner Bros. pushing harder and harder for “lighter, different, more confectionary ideas” — that Snyder instead chose to leave the project to focus on his family.

Then, rather than pushing the release date back to accommodate this incredibly tragic event, executives Kevin Tsujihara and Toby Emmerich were instead hoping to preserve their bonuses before Warner Bros. merged with AT&T, and used it instead to undermine his creative control. They had Joss Whedon — who, according to reports, had already been brought on to ‘punch up’ the script — take over finishing the movie.

Whedon’s own artistic sensibilities — along with a severe time crunch and pressure from Warner Bros — added a sort of juvenile levity to the script and simplified the storytelling to something that had few dramatic stakes and very little dramatic weight.

The theatrical cut of Justice League — which reportedly included 80 pages of content written by Joss Whedon, and which Zack Snyder himself has said had only about one-fourth of the footage that he filmed — disregarded the thematic elements that Zack Snyder had been building over the course of the first two movies, and paid little attention to the character arcs he’d set in place.

In short, the Justice League film that Zack Snyder had been building to — the one that he had planned for years and shot as a follow-up to his first two films, and that fans had been waiting for since the release of Batman V Superman — was not the film that fans saw in theaters.

Justice League team

As someone who is rather entrenched in the DCEU fandom and who has interacted with many a Zack Snyder fan, my perspective is that the movement to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut (#RTSC for short) — which is made up of many different individuals with varying levels of love for Zack Snyder — was centered around two major beliefs: Warner Bros. had badly mistreated Zack Snyder in the wake of his personal tragedy and used it to undermine his creative control of the film; and he deserved to release the original version of the film that he had been cruelly taken from him and the fans who supported him.

The theatrical version, after all, wasn’t Zack Snyder’s movie at all — how could it be, when the man himself was ousted in the midst of a personal tragedy? — but some Frankenstein’s monster constructed by committee and by impostor.

Any reasonable person would admit that those are noble beliefs. Only the willfully oblivious or painfully hateful would think that Zack Snyder was well-treated in the wake of his daughter’s death, and the desire to support an artist’s individual and original vision is surely a laudable goal.

Art is art, even if one does not agree with it or like it, and wanting to support art and artists over the seething, simmering greed of a major corporation is a movement worth championing.

Why, then, have the detractors decried what should be celebrated as win for art and artists?

I see two major reasons: the first being that most of the detractors of Zack Snyder’s Justice League misunderstand — or perhaps misrepresent — exactly what the Snyder Cut truly is; the second being the toxicity within the fandom.

In recent years, as fan movements have gained increasing power through social media and the barrier between fans and creatives have weakened, a wave of entitlement has cropped up in fan communities.

This entitlement and toxicity, the detractors say, is what is being rewarded by releasing Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Yet while the movement for Zack Snyder’s Justice League is often mentioned in the same breath as the most entitled and problematic of fan movements — the kind that petition a redo of season 8 of Game of Thrones or The Last Jedi, or campaign against Kelly Marie Tran’s casting or Kylo Ren’s ending — it shares little in common with them other than a few similar tactics.

After all, the goal and motivation of a movement is different than its tactics, and there is a wide gulf of difference between demanding that artists change their creative visions to meet the desires of its fanbase and a fanbase petitioning a corporate entity to release the piece of art it had originally promised.

The fan movements that have most frequently been compared to the #RTSC are fans in conflict with the creatives. There is a right way to have done things, these fan movements say, and what the directors or writers or showrunners in charge did wasn’t it. It is a fundamental disagreement between what fans wanted and what the writers and directors did.

But that isn’t what Zack Snyder’s Justice League is about at all. Instead, the fans are on the side of the director against the corporate entity. They don’t want the art to be changed to fit their wishes and wants; instead, they are campaigning against the changes that were made to the art against the artist’s wishes and vision in the first place.

Which means that the #RTSC movement is less like fellow fan movements railing against the creative decisions made by writers and directors, and more like fan campaigns that partnered with the creative team to support a shared vision.

After all, it wasn’t fan entitlement that brought any number of beloved TV shows back from cancellation — Brooklyn Nine-Nine, One Day at a Time or Lucifer — or resurrected long-dead series — Veronica Mars, Young Justice, Firefly — for another hurrah. It was fan support — one that was sustained, committed, vocal and partnered with the creative team.

Which is exactly what getting Zack Snyder’s Justice League is all about.

Zack Snyder's Justice League

The second reason detractors and skeptics are loath to celebrate the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is because of the toxicity within the fandom.

As someone who is part of DCEU twitter and has interacted with and seen the types of posts Snyder Cut fans have made on a variety of social medias, I will be the first to say that these writers — as much as I disagree with their general ire and often weirdly personal hatred of Zack Snyder — aren’t wrong about there being toxicity in the DCEU fandom and within the group of fans who love and support Zack Snyder.

I’ve seen it. I’ve argued with #RTSC supporters I felt went too far. I’ve seen them attack fellow fans for not having the ‘correct’ beliefs. I’ve blocked toxic members of the movement.

So, yes, there is toxicity in the movement. I won’t minimize it or say that it isn’t a problem; even one person who harrasses a DC director or attacks another fan for not supporting Zack Snyder enough is one person too many. Toxicity in any measure is a problem, and one that the DCEU fandom has and will continue to have to root out.

Yet the same articles that go out of their way to highlight the toxicity within the #RTSC movement also go out of their way to either ignore or minimize the positive work and contributions it has made.

Some, like Drew Taylor’s Collider article, even go so far as to say that the real, charitable work done by the movement is merely a way to cloak the movement’s true aim: Bullying everyone.

The damage done by the toxic members of the fandom is real. But so is the hard work done by many more members of the fandom. So is the thousands of dollars donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

It is an absurd and abominable claim to say that the over $170,000 that has been donated to the AFSP is merely some kind of elaborate long con so internet trolls can get their rocks off, and painting the sincere leaders and supporters of the movement with this slanderous brush is just bad, vindictive journalism through and through.

Making this kind of claim — just like tweeting that “everything Snyder touches turns to shit,” or writing that Snyder fans are “déclassé outsiders, drunk on atavistic rage and viciously abusive toward their foes” — is every bit as unnecessary and toxic as the worst kinds of fans in the fandom.

It’s true that the DCEU has toxicity within itself, but so, too, do the writers decrying it. One breeds the other, and as fandoms must take responsibility for the toxic parts of itself, so, too, must writers who seem to relish feeding it.

As much as these writers would like it to be true, the majority of the fans who want to see Zack Snyder’s Justice League are not the mob, and the charity fundraising is not some mob front that hides some malicious, insidious purpose.

Instead, the relationship between the #RTSC movement and AFSP comes out of real love for Zack Snyder and what he went through, just as the desire to see his cut of Justice League represents real love between the fans and the director.

Just like anything, love is often beautiful and begets that which is truly awe-inspiring and worthy of praise.

And sometimes, love boils over and becomes toxic.

Both of these types of love exist within the #RTSC movement, and it’s true that both these types of fans will be rewarded with Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

There are toxic members of any fandom. I don’t say that to excuse the toxicity, but to point out that if toxicity exists in all fandoms, then toxicity cannot be what got Warner Bros. and AT&T to change their minds about Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Because though toxicity is the voice that gets covered most often, it is not the voice that persuaded Warner Bros. and AT&T to release the Snyder Cut.

That was Zack Snyder himself. That was the actors involved and the creatives who admire him.

That was the fanbase who consistently got #RTSC to trend, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars — and continue to raise it — for suicide prevention and awareness, who bought billboards and flew banners next to Warner Bros, who showed a sustained, consistent love (and audience) for the movie that Zack Snyder meant to release three years ago.

Which is why the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t a win for toxic fans, nor does it set a precedent for fan entitlement.

The movement was never about either of those, and it was never sustained by it either.

Instead, the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a win for artistic integrity. It is a victory of the artist against the corporation.

Above all, it shows just how powerful the union between fans and artists can truly be.

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