Joss Whedon on Parkland students: 'I've been writing about kids like these for a long while. I thought I was writing fantasy.'

Deputy Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo TV
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Emma Gonzalez, left, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky raising their voices. (Photos: Getty Images, AP)
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Emma Gonzalez, left, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky raising their voices. (Photos: Getty Images, AP)

It’s been nearly a month since we watched Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez deliver a speech that helped ignite the #NeverAgain gun control movement. “The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us,” she said. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS.” While some people still find themselves marveling at how these students summoned the strength to become activists in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting in their hallways — of course it’s not as simple as the fact that this generation was raised on the teen-led revolutions of the Hunger Games and Harry Potter films, though it didn’t hurt — one thing is clear: Their efforts, which have already led to new legislation in Florida and are building toward March 24’s March for Our Lives, continue to be inspiring.

“Working in any kind of activism means hearing ‘What kind of world are we leaving our children’ all the time. And to have the children grow up, turn around, and say, ‘How about you don’t leave us anything — how about we take it? How about you just do better?’ — it’s the most wonderful feeling imaginable,” Joss Whedon tells Yahoo Entertainment via email. “To have kids look at a society divided between the corrupt and the despondent and insist on real change … it’s galvanizing as hell. I’ve been writing about kids like these for a long while. I thought I was writing fantasy.”

The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — the TV series that starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular heroine who was crowned Class Protector at the senior prom and had a (temporary) tombstone that read “She saved the world a lot” — isn’t alone. As part of Yahoo Entertainment’s “Why Teen TV Matters” series, we reached out to showrunners from teen and family television series, past and present, to ask how these students from Parkland, Fla., have inspired them. Here, we present Part I of their responses.

‘They see through the bulls*** and they always will’

That it’s these teen survivors leading the call for change shouldn’t come as a surprise. Put simply by Jason Micallef, the showrunner of Paramount Network’s Heathers adaptation that delayed its planned March premiere to later this year in the wake of the Florida shooting, “They’re so awesome. I think right now our society lacks adult leadership, and these teens have stepped in and filled that void.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, showrunners of Marvel’s Runaways, a Hulu series based on the Brian K. Vaughan comic that centers on six teens uniting against their supervillain parents: “The story of Brian’s original vision for the Runaways was adults aren’t always to be trusted, that sometimes it takes a new generation to rise up and fix the world their parents broke. … That same message is being voiced by the Parkland survivors and all the teen activists filling a void of morality and leadership in our real world.”

13 Reasons Why showrunner Brian Yorkey also drew a parallel with his critically acclaimed Netflix series, which ignited a national debate about its graphic depiction of teen suicide and sexual assault: “We’re a show that is about teenagers struggling amongst themselves to solve their problems. We were criticized in some corners for portraying clueless adults — and I don’t think our adults are clueless, but I think they don’t necessarily know how to step in and be helpful in a world that these teenagers are facing. What we see in Florida are teenagers who are the only ones talking sense — the only ones willing to stand up and say this is wrong, and it can’t continue, and not to accept the status quo, but to demand change, and to not give up on it — and to me there’s nothing more inspiring. And it is at one level tragic that it has to be teenagers to be the only ones talking sense, but on another level, it makes absolute sense because they see through the bulls*** and they always will.”

Winnie Holzman, creator of the seminal ’90s teen drama My So-Called Life, has long understood that fact. “Look,” she says, “they were pushed to the wall, and they were pushed in a way that was devastating, and their response was simply to tell their truth, and to say, ‘Listen to the truth — we can’t lie about this. We’re not gonna f***ing lie about something that just happened that is now our truth.’ And that’s exciting, and really that’s what galvanizes people.”

As Dan Perrault, showrunner of Netflix’s scripted series American Vandal, explains, “It’s great to see the people most deeply affected by this issue speak out and become one of the most powerful voices in the conversation. Regardless of whether they’re of voting age or not, teens have the ability to be hugely impactful.”

Matt Nix, of Fox’s The Gifted, remembered that from his youth: “As someone who was politically active as a teenager myself, I am inspired, and it shows me that people of any age can get involved.”

So did Adam F. Goldberg (ABC’s The Goldbergs): “I read an article that many of the teen activists from Florida are theater kids. Growing up, I was a die-hard drama geek who went to theater camp and know how passionate this group can be. It’s so fitting that they’re the ones leading the charge today. They’re so well-spoken and driven, which is why they’ve made such an impact in such a short time.”

Others are even more grateful for the reminder…

‘You can be your own hero and save yourself’

These students — whose sense of purpose and passion have fueled six-figure contributions for the March for Our Lives rally from George and Amal Clooney, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, and Oprah Winfrey, among others — are more than an inspiration. For many, they’re a rejuvenation, as these next emailed responses prove:

Eileen Heisler (ABC’s long-running family comedy The Middle): “I have been tremendously inspired by the teen activists from Florida. The second I saw Emma Gonzalez’s speech I posted it and knew it was something special. This political climate has been very exhausting, and the uprising of these teens feels like a tipping point — certainly in reference to the gun issue — but also feels like it is ushering in a new wave of change that we desperately need. Their passion and commitment to act upon it gives me great hope for the future.”

Michael Mohan (Netflix’s Everything Sucks!): “The best word to describe the pure spirit of the teen activists in Florida is ‘contagious.’ And whenever I feel down about the state of this country, I am comforted in knowing that it is temporary, and the massive epidemic of people wanting to do the right thing is spreading. And while we all have to fight as hard as we can to make the present safer and more tolerant, these activists have let us know that the future is going to be in good hands.”

Lauren Iungerich (MTV’s Awkward, Netflix’s On My Block): “Those amazing kids are a beacon of light during a nihilistic time in our country’s history. They remind me how important it is to fight for what’s right in the face of adversity and against the odds. They are single-handedly changing the conversation and creating opportunity for all the cynics who have felt hopeless to light up again and get back to fighting. They are inspiring the creation of real community in our country and showing us that you don’t have to wait for a hero to save you — you can be your own hero and save yourself. I f***ing love those kids!”

Mike Royce (Netflix’s One Day at a Time): “I just can’t get enough of how little baggage they have with all of the politics. They have none of the ‘Oh well, nothing ever gets done so screw it.’ They just say what they want and go after it. It’s awakened in me a renewed sense of, ‘Oh yeah, actually things can change.’”

Royce’s co-showrunner, Gloria Calderon Kellett: “I agree. Their headspace is proactive. If you want something done right, do it yourself. And that is what they are doing. I love that!”

Terri Minsky (Disney Channel’s Andi Mack): Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky and Alfonso Calderon and all the passionate, impatient, infuriated members of the #NeverAgain movement are taking unknowable trauma and inconceivable tragedy and turning it into power. I’m somewhat embarrassed to use a pop cultural reference for how I see them, but here it is: They are the human equivalent of the Wakanda warriors in Black Panther.”

Peter Paige (Freeform’s The Fosters):I am beyond moved and inspired by those kids — they are taking the most unthinkable of tragedies and turning it into good. Their refusal to be silenced, to retreat, to be spoken for or down to — incredible. I truly believe they may well turn out to be the heroes we have needed for a very long time.”  

I. Marlene King (Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars): “Emma Gonzalez and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas activists are the future of our country. They are the voice of the future. This generation of optimistic, motivated teens are the people who will make America great again. 2020 can’t come soon enough and I can’t wait for them, along with my oldest son, to cast their first votes.”

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