Is Disney/Marvel Weaponizing Its Own Fan Base?

Younger readers, Generation Z and some millennials, may not understand there was once a time when a fan could simply enjoy a movie without having to defend it against trolls or PC police desperate to bomb the film’s reviews.

Facebook and Rotten Tomatoes made the news with their crackdown on a troll group which attempted to review bomb Marvel’s Black Panther. (Marvel Studios, as well as LucasArts, are owned by Disney.) Supporters of this move accused the trolls of being “alt right” and racist, accusing the trolls of attacking the movie for no other reason than because the heroes of the movie were African American. The trolls counter that this move was simply revenge for the years of Marvel fans doing the exact same thing to DC movies.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Justice League: all three of these movies suffered at the box office because of venomous reviews and social media users bashing the films online. Some bloggers objected to the roles of female characters in the movie. One popular website, The Mary Sue, accused the film of misogyny in more than one article because of Superman saving Lois Lane or Batman saving Martha Kent. Another article on this website felt Holly Hunter should have had a larger role as Senator Finch and explored the politics of the world more.

Other bloggers claimed they couldn’t understand the conflict between Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor, even though the movie devoted scenes showing Bruce Wayne glaring up in the sky at Superman over the ruins of Metropolis after his fight with Zod, Superman’s reaction to seeing that a convict Batman branded was murdered in prison and Luthor’s exposition on the nature of God.

One common complaint about Batman vs. Superman infuriated fans of DC in particular: many movie goers said the film was too dark. DC fans came to the conclusion that the (mostly) bright and colorful Marvel movies gave moviegoers a predisposed opinion on what a comic book movie should be. Although many of these same DC fans did admit the movie had some problems, being “too dark” was not one of them. “Dark” (although this film wasn’t half as dark as the Christopher Nolan movies) was just DC’s style. DC fans saw this as an attempt by Marvel fans to make DC movies more like Marvel. And DC fans shudder to remember the last time producers of a Batman film bowed to pressure from those who wanted the movie to be more colorful and cheery.

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But the repercussions of the anti-Batman vs Superman bash fest went beyond the box office of this one film; the producers of Suicide Squad panicked. Fearing review bombs from Marvel fans, the producers shoehorned cheery music and jokes into the film during the last stages of post production. Critics complained that the final product felt like two movies chopped up and shuffled together: one a cheery, lighthearted Marvel inspired movie and the other a dark, serious DC movie.

In the end, these changes did not save the movie from attacks which exacerbated the politics of trolls vs. PC police. The Mary Sue, once the most easily offended group of critics on the internet (although that has since changed), accused the movie of promoting negative racial stereotypes and objectifying women.

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As irritated as DC fans were that their films somehow became a target of keyboard warriors and film snobs, they were doubly incensed that other movies inexplicably received a free pass from critics, as was the case with The Last Jedi. The websites accusing “Down with Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys” of racism accuse the group of targeting The Last Jedi first. The Last Jedi received a lot of hate online and several media outlets accuse the haters of attacking the movie for no reason other than because the movie had a female lead.

The Last Jedi received a critic score in the 90s for Rotten Tomatoes but a fan score in the 50s. Those who liked the movie often say anti-women trolls of review bombed the movie, even creating bots to aid in giving the movie its low audience score. Those who did not like the movie accuse Disney and PC fans of intimidating critics into giving the movie a positive score. Commonly, those who did not like The Last Jedi would say critics were afraid to write a negative review for fear of being called “misogynistic” by PC police.

The anti-Last Jedi crowd shouted a collective “I told you so!” after media outlets accused the attempted review bombers of being a fringe alt right group of racists. The articles spreading these accusations typically refer to an article by The Huffington Post in which the writer claims to have interviewed the anonymous group creator. The writer claimed in this article that the group creator self-identified as alt-right. However, although The Huffington Post and other sites made serious accusations against this group, none of them offered a screenshot into evidence showing racist/misogynistic comments by any of the members. These posts may exist, but The Huffington Post and the other websites making these accusations have failed to prove them.

These posts, if they existed, would have been publically viewable on the public event the group created. A screen capture of this event was taken before Facebook closed the event, but the image does not show any posts nor even how many people were involved.

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With the lack of evidence presented, a skeptical person could legitimately question if this page ever even had enough members to be taken seriously before The Huffington Post published an article about it.

But although this entire controversy feels like more of the same old same old (meaning the war between trolls and PC police), this controversy presented one major change: Facebook and Rotten Tomatoes have admitted they took steps to silence those who attempted to review bomb Black Panther. With this precedent set, fans of DC may feel they’re well within their rights to demand the same action be taken against Marvel fans the next time they bash a DC movie.

Where exactly is the line? When is it ok to bash a movie and when is It not? No two people will ever agree on the exact boundaries and fans will argue this issue for years. Rotten Tomatoes and Facebook have no possible way of thwarting accusations of partisanship or favoritism unless they were to ban all negative reviews of every movie; fans and representatives of these organizations are doomed to spend countless hours explaining and justifying exactly why one review was removed and why another was not, and woe to the fan base which is found to have even a single racist member because the opposing side will make that person famous as a representation of the entire fandom.

And fans of any movie under attack will also have evidence of a serious accusation to hurl around: that a dominant movie studio (Disney/Marvel) allows its fans to attack its competition while using its own political influence to shield its movies from negative reviews.

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