Last week was a tough one for women and the demons they fight against.
First, the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out against Joss Whedon, the creator of the cult series and exposed him for the abuse and mobbing they have faced during the run of the show. Then, after a long and heated trial, actor Efecan Şenolsun got acquitted of sexually attacking his co-star Elit İşcan during the filming of the TV show Yaşamayanlar (Immortals), the first Turkish vampire series ever. Seemingly worlds apart, the two cases showed us the importance of solidarity networks and collective empowerment in cases of abuse of power.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) is one of the most celebrated TV shows of all time. The story of a high school student chosen to be the “one girl in all the world” to fight vampires, not just created an unprecedented feminist action hero at the time, but became a template for a plethora of shows worldwide. Yaşamayanlar was one of them: available to stream in Netflix, the series tells the story of human turned-vampire Mia, who sets out to vanquish a ruthless vampire leader, with the help of a group of outcasts. Joss Whedon was often hailed for the feminism of Buffy. Stars of Buffy were mostly teenagers or young actors getting their big breaks with no #MeToo in sight, so the abusive antics of this so-called feminist hero were not known until July 2020 when actor Ray Fisher accused Whedon of “gross, abusive and completely unacceptable” behavior on the set of the 2017 film Justice League, which he directed.
Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia Chase in the Buffyverse came out supporting Fisher in Warner Media’s investigation and created a spillover effect among her castmates. "Joss Whedon abused his power while working on the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel," she posted on her Instagram. “The disturbing incidents triggered a chronic physical condition from which I still suffer.” Amber Benson, who played Tara Maclay tweeted her support saying "Buffy was a toxic environment and it starts at the top. There was a lot of damage done and a lot of us are still processing it twenty plus years later." Michelle Trachtenberg who played Buffy’s sister wrote “We know what he did behind the scenes.” Trachtenberg, who was 15 at the time, added that Wheldon was not allowed in a room alone with her, by rule. Finally, Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar issued a statement in solidarity with Wheldon’s accusers: “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon. I stand with all survivors of abuse and am proud of them for speaking out” she said.
Elit İşcan announced she has filed legal action against Efecan Şenolsun on Oct. 25, 2018 with a statement in her Instagram. The prosecutor then requested a prison sentence of up to 17 years for the crimes of sexual attack and public insult. According to the indictment, Şenolsun has allegedly tried to hug and kiss İşcan and when İşcan tried to push him back, he insulted and threatened her. İşcan’s statement was detailed but sober. “Violence against women is a serious societal problem, also common in the field of TV and film production. I have filed a complaint against Şenolsun to raise awareness on the matter, to prevent similar cases from occurring in the future and to make sure women can loudly speak up against sexual assault. I will fight till the end thanks to the strength I have received from the women’s movement” she wrote. The strength İşcan referred to appeared at the end of her statement as a hashtag: #susmabitsin.
#Susmabitsin, (“speak up to end”) is a solidarity movement initiated by a group of women film professionals who came together mere months before İşcan’s case. Women who gathered for a panel discussion on the #Metoo movement, formed a Whatsapp group afterwards to keep up the momentum. Their first meeting took place on November 2018 with an open call but not with big expectations. The meeting was a hit with more than a hundred participants, war stories told and a call to organize. From that day forward, #susmabitsin has become the default industry-platform for victims of harassment and abuse of power. They have supported cases like the sexual harassment claims against the actor Talat Bulut, the sexual assault claim against theatre director Celal Mordeniz; and the mobbing claims against Filmmor Film Festival. Their “Principles of Equality and Non-Discrimination”, now read aloud on the first day of most productions by a crew member, include clauses like “Sexual assault, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia are unacceptable in this production.” The platform works with unions to establish said principles as industry standards, and plan to establish a members only database with the names of harassers. Yet #susmabitsin ‘s biggest contribution to the existing women’s movement is to show the importance of collective empowerment, standing with İşcan in every trial and creating awareness for her case.
Elit İşcan was one of the rising stars of her generation at the time of the assault. Gaining recognition for her debut in Reha Erdem’s Hayat Var (My Ony Sunshine), she has won multiple awards for her lead performance in Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. Speaking out meant damaging her employment prospects, being isolated in her field, and getting retraumatized while disclosing the events or every time the crime is reported in the media. İşcan was aware of all these, writing “a lot of people questioned me, most wanted me to keep quiet and forget what happened.” The last day of the trial was a boldfaced example of victim blaming, another repercussion İşcan had to face. Şenolsun’s lawyer has reportedly said: “She [İşcan] acts in lovemaking and shower scenes. A female lawyer won’t sit on my lap, but she might, as these type of behaviors are very common in her industry.” As Şenolsun celebrated his acquittal, #susmabitsin released a statement saying they do not recognize the court’s ruling and will continue to fight.
In the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the mythology of only one Slayer gets broken and Buffy addresses her army of slayers: “In every generation one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. So I say we change the rules. I say my power should be our power. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power will have the power. Can stand up? Will stand up. Slayers—every one of us. Make your choice: are you ready to be strong?”
At that moment Buffy shows us young women from all over the world, realizing their power and standing up. Just like Elit İşcan did.