A Tale of Two Writers: Or How to Apologize Properly

Two writers, working on the same show, make a mistake. The decision is made to kill off the lesbian love interest of the main character. This in and of itself is not a problem, the world is a post-apocalyptic society where literally a crap ton of characters have died. However, they decide to do it after a love scene, one of the most tired tropes in media.

This is where their paths diverge. One of our writers is Jason Rothenburg, or JRoth, or JRot as he is known depending on how much you like him, and the other is Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Jason, the showrunner of CW’s series The 100, which heinously killed off a lesbian main character in Episode 307, has done an abysmal job of apologizing for the hurt and pain inflicted on the LGBT+ community, whereas Javier, aside from the very beginning of the backlash where he tweeted some things defending himself and the writer of the episode in question, has done an amazing job of taking stock of why the narrative choices were so hurtful, and why LGBT+ viewers are so affected by it and are choosing to no longer watch.

To begin this, we have to have a little bit of understanding of what happened with the marketing of the show. As many people know, LGBT women have a horrible history of actually getting a happy ending in television. Autostraddle actually has an article discussing all 148 LGBT women killed in television history. When that’s your background, you start to get wary of any media that has openly lesbian or bisexual woman, especially in a world like The 100’s. And they voiced that, and this is where it gets hairy. Writers on the show, not just JRot, actively sought out this community to get more viewers and to get those that were trusted in the community to believe that they were going to take care of them, and that they weren’t going to hurt them. One of the writers actually went on a Lesbians Only forum to reassure them, at one point saying “If you can’t trust us by now you need counseling.” So they believed them. This was going to be different. Some people still voiced concerns based on shooting schedules and the fact that Alycia Debnam-Carey, the actress who portrayed Lexa, was a series regular on AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead”. Jason responded to those concerns by saying that they were reading too much and that they were being silly. He even invited fans to the filming of the finale to try to reassure them that all was well.

Well, all was not well. Lexa was killed off and the backlash was immediate, it was fierce, and it was angry. It was large enough that the BBC wrote a freaking article on it. Jason’s twitter follower count went down faster than a mafia member turned informant. His reaction was to call the fans bullies for calling him out on his bullshit. Javier initially tweeted out a defense of his writing, but eventually came to understand why it was so harmful, and what he had done.

Jason’s actions in the weeks since episode 307 have been classic “I did nothing wrong, why are you guys being such bullies?” He’s complained about losing twitter followers, he defended his actions in interviews before someone with an inkling of PR spin experience got a hold of him. Then he posted an “apology” on Medium that some in the industry took at face value (looking at you with disappointment The Mary Sue) when it was nothing but “please don’t be mean to me at WonderCon”. His “apology” (which I won’t link to because I refuse to promote anything he’s done related to this) does nothing to discuss the baiting of LGBT+ viewers, nor actually apologizes for using the tired and harmful “Bury Your Gays” trope. It’s “I’m sorry you felt hurt” instead of “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

On the other hand, our friend Javier Grillo-Marxuach has been a true champion in regards to his apologies. Almost his entire Tumblr has been him taken questions from fans that have been hurting and wanting an explanation or given them an explanation as to why it went down. One of his best posts is here and it shows how much he has learned, but really, almost every single one of his posts recently has been about the shitstorm and how he is sorry about how it went down. Additionally, he follows my rules for apologies that I laid out back in “Why Writers Need to be Careful with Minority Chacters”, in that he not only recognizes what he did wrong, but also admits to it, and has promised to do better. Now, he can’t do that on The 100 because he’s no longer a part of the show, but he is the man responsible for bringing Xena Warrior Princess back to the small screen and has promised to do better by the fans. Of course time will tell if he a) is allowed to do that as he’s still writing the script, and b) if he actually does so. I personally have faith in him to actually have changed, but if you don’t, that’s your prerogative.

To conclude, if you do mess up as a writer, or heck, as a person, follow Mr. Grilo-Marxuach’s example, and not JRot’s. Listen to what the people you hurt are saying, and adjust your actions to keep from hurting them again. Don’t make it about you and your feelings, because honestly? Your feelings aren’t the most important at that moment.

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