By Spencer Feingold
Hollywood actor and director Paul Feig is no stranger to online trolls.
In 2016, the “Ghostbusters” reboot he directed was subjected to an unprecedented onslaught of online hate for its diverse and female-led cast. The harassment was led by disgraced provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who specifically targeted lead actress Leslie Jones with racist and sexist diatribes on Twitter. Yiannopoulos’ hate-filled attacks ultimately led Twitter to permanently ban him from the platform.
Today, Feig is fighting back and defending other films that draw the ire of online trolls for challenging traditional archetypes.
“There are definitely just a lot of guys that are afraid of movies that empower women,” Feig told Cheddar on Monday.
The latest film to be attacked by bad-faith actors online is “Captain Marvel,” which stars Brie Larson as the lead superhero. Despite an early assault, the film has dominated box office sales since its release earlier this month, grossing more than $760 million worldwide in just a couple of weeks.
Feig said part of the success is due to improved defenses against trolling ー specifically efforts stop “review bombing,” a practice in which online trolls flood film review sites with negative smears to bring down pre-release ratings.
After sexist critiques of “Captain Marvel” emerged on Rotten Tomatoes before the film even hit theaters, the online review aggregator changed its policies. The site no longer allows public commenting prior to a film’s release and hides the "Want to See" percent score, which was being pushed down by online trolls, during a film’s pre-release period.
While the changes were too late to help "Ghostbusters," which suffered at the box office after the negative campaign, Feig said he's gratified that the success of "Captain Marvel" has "finally neutralized these trolls."
“We were the canary in the coal mine,” he said of “Ghostbusters.”
Feig also urged the media not engage with bad actors or cover their lines of criticism about a film. “They shouldn’t be reporting on these trolls. It makes it seem like they have more power than they do, and then it starts to snowball,” he said.
For everyday Twitter users, Feig offered a simple strategy to fight trolling: “Mute, mute, mute. That is the greatest thing that Twitter ever invented.”
As part of his activism, Feig partnered with J. Crew to support STOMP Out Bullying, an anti-bullying and cyberbullying groups for kids and teens in the U.S.
But despite the progress, Feig said the fight against online trolls is an ongoing effort.
“I’m 56 years old now and I get bullied constantly online,” he said.