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Joss Whedon Performs at Women's Rights Event, Decries Sexism, Praises 'Hunger Games'

Joss Whedon SXSW - P 2012
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

The "Avengers" director took time to celebrate Equality Now and spoke with THR about the lunacy of misogyny, writing dark comedy and his very busy schedule.

The rumors are true. Joss Whedon was scrambling. He was working through the night to rewrite scenes and dramatic monologues, manage the hectic schedules of award-winning actors and prepare public remarks for a very important event. The past 20 years of his life, after all, had led up to this moment.

No, this has nothing to do with shooting extra scenes for The Avengers . On Thursday, Whedon was all about the women's rights organization Equality Now. A lifelong feminist who had been honored by the group in 2006, the multihyphenate storytelling guru was co-host of the organization's 20th anniversary celebration at Manhattan's Asia Society on the Upper East Side, which came smack in the middle of promotion for his upcoming Marvel superhero tentpole.

"I can't believe I did. It was late nights, early mornings and whenever I could," Whedon said in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter at the event. "I ended up writing more than I expected just because it was such a moving target. I had a bunch of really great writers willing to throw in, and my sister in-law, Eliza Clark, did some for me, but the fact was the ground kept shifting underneath us. I did half of it yesterday."

At least it wasn't new to him; Whedon has long been known for writing strong female characters, which he notes is still a rarity in Hollywood.

"I think they've been peripheral for a long time, and I think The Hunger Games is about to change that in a big way," he told THR. "I really like it; it's my kind of thing. And more important, I like what it's doing, which is millions."

But that's looking ahead. First up was Thursday, and thankfully, it all came together. While his superstar cast of heroes premiered their film in London -- where Whedon spent many of the formative years of his life -- he was performing a monologue and looking on as stars such as Eliza Dushku and Laura Linney performed speeches and skits he had written.

They were on very serious subjects -- Dushku played an undocumented immigrant forced into prostitution, Linney spoke about female genital mutilation, and Daphne Zuniga did a sketch about the war on women -- but they all came with Whedon's twist of dark, metaphorical humor.

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"In a way, it's very hard," Whedon said about using comedy in such serious stories. "In a way, it's very easy, because to me, there is no logic of any kind behind misogyny. Therefore, it's funny, because it's so completely random to me. It's senseless. And believe me, there were some jokes that were cut. Some people were just not willing to say. And I get that. But it's also a situation where people who do this work, who live these stories, they like to laugh. They've been through it, they're not afraid of the subject, and they could use an evening of entertainment as well as education."

To wit: Dushku related the plight of the sex worker to the undeadness of zombies, while Zuniga's sketch involved a stuttering, evil robot from the future that sought to destroy the human race but couldn't understand why men would segregate and subjugate women.

Whedon also performed a monologue about the nature of change -- "you are change," he told the audience -- that decried strict adherence to holy texts that were meant to provide progressive guidance at the time but have seen their commandments become outdated. 

The evening included a reading by Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave, who stepped in for longtime Equality Now activist Meryl Streep; a performance by Natalie Merchant; a dance troupe; readings from three teenage girls; and a multiple-character performance by Tony winner Sarah Jones.