Biggest Controversies of 2018

The biggest and ugliest pop-culture controversies of 2018

Contributed by
Dec 20, 2018, 3:30 PM EST

While there was plenty of conflict in geeky pop culture in 2018 (we had a Star War and an Infinity War), in the real world there was quite a bit of controversy.

Some controversies were more innocuous than others — a blockbuster film with a troubled production, for instance. Others, like ugly and effective campaigns against diversity, were startling reminders of the complicated relationship between fiction and reality.

Here are the biggest dust-ups of 2018, a time when culture is controversial.

Kylo Ren Last Jedi

The backlash against Star Wars: The Last Jedi for all the wrong reasons

The Last Jedi came out in 2017, yes, but it came out so late in the year that it wasn’t until 2018 that fans could fully react to the latest numbered installment in the Star Wars saga. And, well, some people really hated it.

That would be fine if they didn’t like it as a film (I’m personally meh on Last Jedi, as a many, many other reasonable viewers). But, no, the most toxic critics of The Last Jedi were also some of the most vocal, angry that the series was no longer a story about white men. Irate at director Rian Johnson for being a so-called “social justice warrior,” these Gamergate-esque misogynists and racists orchestrated harassment campaigns, going so far as to drive actress Kelly Marie Tran off of social media. If representation is the reason why you don’t like a Star Wars film, and you respond this way, were you ever really a fan to begin with?

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story has rough production

The second of three Star Wars-related entries on this controversies list is, thankfully, much lower stakes than the Last Jedi backlash. Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story’s production woes started before 2018, first really coming to a head when original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller got the ax and Ron Howard stepped in to finish directing.

There were substantial reshoots, rumors of an unworkable script, and talk that star Alden Ehrenreich sucked as Han Solo. As of February 2018, Lucasfilm hadn’t released any footage of the film despite it hitting theaters in a matter of months, which wasn’t a good sign. The Super Bowl trailer was encouraging, but doubts about the turmoiled production still plagued fans. When Solo finally came out, it was, like, fine, I guess.

Shadow of Vader

Marvel fires a Star Wars comics writer over political tweets

The third Star Wars-related controversy of 2018 is really more of a Marvel controversy, but Disney owns them both because it’s kind of a cultural monopoly at this point.

Anyway, Marvel had hired writer Chuck Wendig to pen a Star Wars comic series, Shadow of Vader. However, in October Wendig tweeted that Americans should ignore “renewed calls for civility” after Congress confirmed Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite credible allegations of sexual assault. His righteously angry tweets sparked a conservative backlash, and Marvel canceled the series and fired him because of his politics and vulgarity.

Nothing that Wendig said was really beyond the pale, and he had tweeted stuff like this before, making it a surprise that Marvel decided to respond so harshly.

She-Ra and Battlefield V

Battlefield V, She-Ra, and all the other times Online Men got mad about girls

This is kind of a cheat, but there were a number of controversies this year that played out in similar ways to the Last Jedi backlash. Turns out there are still a lot of dudes who get really upset when pop culture they like isn’t exclusively about and for them.

Consider the flack DICE got when it put a lady in its World War II video game, Battlefield V. Or look to the legions of angry '80s children who were upset that She-Ra wasn’t hot enough in Netflix’s reboot. It's probably not going to stop any time soon, either, as companies realize that most audiences want diverse stories.


Comicsgate faces some resistance

Comicsgate emerged from the same toxic swamp of misogyny and racism as Gamergate did, only Comicsgate didn’t even pretend to be about anything beyond a desire to keep comics white and male amidst specious arguments that diversity is the reason comic sales are dwindling.

This controversy began somewhat nebulously in the past few years, but gained the “Comicsgate” moniker in 2017 after a series of inciting events like… a bunch of female Marvel editors posting a picture of themselves enjoying milkshakes. The big, somewhat delayed development in 2018, though, was a more forceful backlash to the backlash. In August, after Comicsgaters harassed the great Darwyn Cooke’s widow because she said her late husband would’ve thought they were all idiots, the writer of DC’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, Tom Taylor, tweeted a statement that strongly rejected Comicsgate entire premise. It opened the floodgates, and soon lots of prominent voices in the comics community were united in telling Comicsgate to go shove it. Comicsgate isn’t gone, but it certainly is lamer.

Crimes of Grindelwald

Johnny Depp’s continued employment

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald generated lots of discussion, but perhaps the most high profile was that Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling kept Johnny Depp, who allegedly abused his ex-wife Amber Heard physically and emotionally, as the titular villain. Frustrating to many fans was that they stood by him.

As Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, noted in an interview early this year, the kid who played Vincent Crabbe got fired from the original films for growing a little weed. That’s hardly in the same league as Depp’s accused crimes. Many called that Depp was not irreplaceable as Grindelwald (i.e. get Colin Farrell to do it again).

Stan Lee Marvel

Stan Lee’s elder abuse and sexual harassment scandals

Stan Lee was 95 years old when he died this November, and while he lived a rich, full life, his later years were plagued with controversy.

There were dueling claims of elder abuse, with Lee’s daughter J.C. Lee and former attorney Tom Lallas each claiming that the other was trying to take advantage of the wealthy and increasingly ailing man. (A court sided with Lee’s daughter in July.) Then there were other allegations of abuse, like that another former attorney sold Lee’s blood. Lee (or at least his attorneys) also sued POW! Entertainment, the company he co-founded, for taking advantage of him. Then there were allegations that Lee was sexually harassing his nursing staff, a deeply troubling development complicated by the subsequent elder abuse scandals that would cloud the end of the comics legend’s life.

Olivia Munn

The sexual predator in The Predator

The Predator, the latest attempt to revive the Predator franchise because the Adrien Brody one didn’t take, had its premiere overshadowed by a controversy where pretty much everybody did the wrong thing except for Olivia Munn and Sterling K. Brown.

Director Shane Black had cast his friend Steve Wilder in a minor role where Wilder’s character hits on Munn’s character. Thing is, Wilder is a registered sex offender, having pleaded guilty to "enticing a minor by computer” some years past. Black did not inform any of the other actors of this fact, and when Munn found out, she objected to giving a sex offender a role in a blockbuster. That Black cast his buddy was bad enough, but arguably the worst part of the whole saga was that most of the cast and crew, with the exception of Sterling K. Brown, seemed more upset at Munn for bringing it up in the first place.

Reviews for The Predator weren’t great, in any case.

james gunn

The alt-right gets James Gunn fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Disney didn’t fire James Gunn because of his old tweets. Sure, they were bad — crass jokes about pedophilia and other vile topics — but those tweets didn’t get him fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 when they resurfaced in July. No, what happened was that members of the alt-right who were angry that Gunn was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump and also looking for a scalp on the left they could collect to get even for Roseanne Barr’s firing over new racist tweets, went digging.

Wreathed in faux outrage about the content of his tweets, the alt-right used them as a tool, and Disney, which had to have already known about Gunn’s history of tasteless jokes, caved. Now, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is on hold and the alt-right has been further emboldened. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. snagged Gunn to direct the next Suicide Squad, so make of that what you will.