The director and main actors of the soon-to-be-released Spider-Man: Lotus fan film have come under fire for racist and offensive comments they made when they were teenagers.
A crowdfunded fan-film which successfully raised $112,079 by the time its IndieGoGo campaign ended, Spider-Man: Lotus is set after the death of Gwen Stacey and finds Peter Parker plagued with guilt over his inability to save her. Overwhelmed by his feelings of failed responsibility, Parker is considering whether or not the Spider-Man should be no more.
However, after a terminally-ill child wishes to see Spidey during his finals days, the web-slinger finds himself conflicted on what to do.
Teased to feature appearances by such characters as Mary-Jane Watson and the Green Goblin, everything seemed to be looking up for Spider-Man: Lotus ahead of its promised Summer 2022 release window.
Then, on June 18th, Twitter user @Thnnnder took to the social media platform to expose what they alleged were several racist private Instagram messages they had received from Warden Wayne, the actor playing Spider-Man: Lotus’ titular web-head.
“Content Warning // EXTREME Racism,” @Thnnnder warned, “Is this your Spider-Man?? Warden Wayne is so gross, hoping Lotus recasts him. #SpiderManLotus #wardenwayne”
The messages presented in this tweet read, “Although [the] n—a looks like he bombs s–t for fun,” “this [is] that Mexican n—a,” “I commented ‘y’all ever make good and funny memes just to flex on blerd vision n—as’ and he got mad,” and “N—a was mean as hell always saying N—-R and saying he had bitches.”
It seems @Thnnnder had created their Twitter account just to expose Wayne, as aside from one Tweet wherein they wrote “Idk anything about the Lotus short film but I see it get so much attention and Im sure the person directing it is great I just want people to know how nasty the lead is,” their feed is comprised solely of retweets of their accusations and a demand to Wayne himself that he “address” the messages.
The next day, Wayne apologized for his comments, issuing a lengthy statement via Twitter in which he sought “to come out in regards to certain things from my past.”
“Years ago when I was in high school, I used to say terrible things,” he began, suggesting the leaked messages were written during that time period. “I used offensive language, often homophobic or racially insensitive, casually or in jokes. I am sorry, and I’m ashamed.”
“I was raised in a homeschool conservative environment in a small town in Arkansas, where I had to sneak around on other iPads & computers to use social media,” Wayne continued. “My family has always been associated with groups such as the Duggars, and those values were subsequently pushed onto me. I didn’t get my own cell phone until I was 18. I was in a bubble, where I wasn’t aware of how serious it was for me to say these things or those words. My ideas of right and wrong were skewed.”
“My friend group at the time encouraged and perpetuated these habits,” he added. “All of it quickly became a part of my vocabulary because of the lifestyles around me, and I didn’t want to be excluded. And I’m embarassed to say so. I had convinced myself it wasn’t wrong for me to say because of to justification I was constantly persuaded to believe. And I was never held accountable for it.”
The actor further explained, “The groups I associated with online were not good people. But I wanted to fit in, and have friends. So I aligned myself and tried to act in ways they’d approve of. Which included saying offensive things for the sake of a reaction or making ignorant jokes.”
“I was an immature kid with too much time and no sense of integrity,” Wayne said. “I was stupid. There was even a time when I made an account solely dedicated to hating on Younis, who is now one of my best friends. He knows about that account now, and the things I used to say about him. But he forgave me, because of how much I’ve worked to change my habits over the past 4+ years.”
“I’m embarrassed and sad at who I was, and I’m sorry to anyone I may have hurt years ago, or to anyone I may hurt now by revealing this information,” he then apologized. “When I was finally able to leave the bubble I was in, and find people with a more stable sense of morality, I was able to be told that the things I said WERE wrong. And I learned. I pushed to change.”
“But regardless of any of this, I should’ve known better,” he concluded. ANd I spend every day wishing I hadn’t been a terrible person when I was younger. But I can’t change the past. All I can do is take responsibility, and own up to my incredible shortcomings. And continue to be a better person. I hope you all can forgive me. I’m sorry.”
This controversy eventually drew a statement from the project’s director, Gavin J. Konop, who on June 20th admitted that “This morning, many of us were shown resurfaced message that Warden Wayne, the lead actor of Spider-Man: Lotus, had sent on Instagram, and yes, I am just as disgusted by those messages as anyone else is.”
“They’re hurtful, obscene, and offensive,” he said. “There is no defending them, and the outrage is justified. This movie was not created to perpetuate hate, or bigotry, or racism. It was born to inspire. It was born to find hope. Warden’s actions are not reflective of these sentiments, and I feel ashamed that you have been let down in such an impactful way.”
“In the past, Warden has been open with me about his former ignorance, as well as what could surface as a result, and I have done everything in my power to hold him accountable – not only then, but also today, and forever,” he elaborated. “I bluntly told him that this is going to live with him for the rest of his life – there’s nothing he can do about it, and that’s the reality that he has accepted.”
Konop continued, “I can’t do anything much as a consequence, as this is a non-profit project and there’s nothing that we as creators have gained; however, please do not allow this to detract from the tireless passion that crew members have worked across the board to deliver. These people have put themselves on the line to achieve the vision that I have set forth, and they don’t deserve to have their work diminished because of one person’s actions.
Adding to his protestations, Konop told those concerned, “It would be hypocritical of me to make this movie about redemption, and growth, and self-improvement if I did not allow for someone to accept their accountability, take charge, and aspire to become better than they were yesterday; however, his apology is not mine to accept, nor is it for the communities unaffected by his words.”
“To the marginalized communities that his words have impacted, including those within my own crew, I apologize,” he said as he drew his post to a close. “This is disheartening for us all, but we will continue to work towards finishing the movie as it was intended. The character of Spider-Man was made to represent everyone – regardless of race, gender, or identity – and he has been that way since the dawn of his creation. We will do what we can to continue opening this space for the marginalized communities within the fandom, and his legacy belongs to us all.”
However, Konop’s desperate grovelling would prove to be for naught, as instead of the story ending here with the Spider-Man Lotus production crew wondering how to move forward, the director himself would soon have the spotlight turned on him.
Later that day, @Berkmanboom likewise unearthed a deluge of Konop’s own alleged offensive messages, declaring, “Since Warden Wayne has been exposed, I think it’s a better time than ever to expose Gjkcentral aka Gavin Konop.”
In the screenshots shared by @Berkmanboom, the director is depicted as having made such comments as ” When you find out you’re 0.05% black so you can say n—a,” “y’all mind if I uhhhhhh, Black people noise,” dismissing an artist’s ‘Stark Suit’ design for Spidey due to it having “retarded” black lines on it, and using a homophobic slur in an argument, telling a supposed critic, “Ha! Nice try f—-t Jame, I’d never do that! Go back to writing s—ty movie reviews!”
The user also presented a voice clip wherein Konop could allegedly be heard saying, “Alright buddy, go jack-off to more men OK? Ok little b—h, leave the f–king chat you piece of s–t.”
In another alleged argument, Konop dismissed someone who disagreed with him as a “worthless sack of s–t” who no one took seriously and was “going to die a lonely, miserable death.”
At the same time Konop was coming under fire, an alleged Spider-Man: Lotus VFX team member came forward with their own allegations.
“Well, Spider-Man: Lotus is trending again, for reasons no-one could’ve guessed. Me included,” quipped @low_res_jpg. “During my time on Lotus I only interacted with a few crew members, but I never heard of any racism going on, past or present. I wouldn’t have joined the production had I known.”
“I can speak for the whole former VFX team when I say we do not look back on Lotus as a fond experience, and this is retroactively another reason,” they claimed. “While Gavin was not outwardly rude to us (on purpose), there was still a level of disconnect that eventually caused us to quit.”
To this, @low_res_jpg alleged, “Some of this was due to Max Aurnhammer’s work. His animation for the trailer was unusable and caused a 40 hour crunch to get it finished. And despite being fired, he was brought back, and I was forced to hand my assets over to him. Gavin stood by him. So baffling.”
“There’s a myriad of small things that built up. ‘Death by a thousand cuts’ sort of situation,” they said. “I was mis-credited continually, and even sent YouTube tutorials by Gavin to try and ‘help’ me do my job. What? And now, come to find, we were lied to on top of all that.”
A dismayed @low_res_jpg soon admitted, “I wish I could be more proud of my time on Lotus, because I really learned a lot. It’s some of my most technically proficient work, and it’s a shame for it to be attached to a project with this type of legacy now.”
@low_res_jpg later added that Konop was not the sole reason to blame for the crunch as “unforeseen things happened” and clarified that “the pitfalls were due to miscommunication, not malicious intent.”
They also emphasized they had been “compensated for our work” whilst simultaneously denying that they were not the party behind recent leaks surrounding the film, as “communication with Gavin ceased in January, all of this new footage coming out was shot well after we left.”
Hours later, Konop would address the allegations made against him, returning to Twitter to explain, “From photoshopped screenshots of me saying outrageous things, to screenshots of things that old admins had sent from my account several years ago, to actual old messages that do need to be addressed, to an entire situation that needs to be addressed all on its own, I’m in a bit of a state of shock rright now and am not in a proper space to speak about all of it” Konip opened.
“It’s not fair to those who need clarification amidst all this utter chaos,” he insisted, “but it is not healthy for me to try combating a wildfire that continues to relentlessly spread.”
“I will be back with an in-depth response to it all, but for right now, I’m taking a step back from social media,” Konop eventually concluded.
Returning six hours later to offer his “final word” on the allegations with yet another lengthy statement, Konop opened, “The past few days have been unlike anything I’ve ever felt or seen before – it’s the most unprecedented series of events I have ever encountered.” – arguably the understatement of the month.
“Nothing could have prepared me for it, but we’re here now,” he wrote. “I’ve spent all day trying to gather evidence, get statements, get time-stamps, try to distinguish the reality from the fabrication, but I think I’d ultimately just be wasting your time. I’m going to just be transparent with you all, and that’s all I can do.”
“I do not condone any of the fake screenshots circulating around,” Konop began. “I am and always will be one to take accountability for myself and accept where I am wrong; however, many of these are not reflective of the way I currently speak or express myself, and everyone close to me can account for that. All of the real messages are from when I was either 14 or 15 years old, and if they’re screen-recorded, they’re legit. I learned a long time ago about the severity of this all, and I have worked tirelessly to escape those habits.”
Moving to address the ‘real messages’, the director told fans, “While I can’t attest to all of them, I can say that some pretty disgusting screen-recordings & screenshots out there are real. In my early years of middle school & high school, the R-word, along with other unacceptable terms such as the F-word, were part of my vocabulary, and I had used them fairly frequently. I’m not proud of it, and I wish I had been more mature to know better than to use them, along with several other immature &nonsensical statements.”
He then attempted to explain, “Aside from anything on my personal account, I cannot identify which of these are me & which are not, because the Instagram account, formerly known as spidey.central” – which some of the messages were purported to have originated from – “was not originally solely owned by me.”
“The account was given to me in April 2018 before it had picked up any traction, and some admins from my previous Flash account were given access,” Konop claimed. “Some spoke in chats with that account, and it wasn’t until I got older when I realized the severity of who I was associating myself with. I no longer speak to these people, and I don’t know where to contact them.”
“All I can do is hold my younger self accountable for the messages that were me, just as much as I have held accountability for Warden, for not being cognizant to realize the immaturity of what I was sending,” he dramatically stated. “I apologize to the communities that these may impact, and I spend most days wishing that I could redo those years of my life. I’m sure many more messages willl surface throughout the day & coming weeks, and if you truly do believe that I have matured, then that’s all I can ask for.”
“I do not plan on being active on social media much at all anymore,” Konop ultimately declared. “The film will be released because I owe it to those who were promised it for years now. Thank you, and I am sorry that these messages and comments were once sent by me.”
After this, @Berkmanboom revealed both his origins and how this apparent instance of ‘revenge’ was five-years in the making.
“My name is Matt, I am 15,” he wrote in a lengthy statement of his own. “I met Gavin Konop [in] early 2017. I was only about 9 about to turn 10. I looked up to him more than anyone else, because I finally had found someone who loved comics like me.”
“He was even going to help me make my own Spider-Man fan film,” he claimed. “He was going to write and edit the whole project. He eventually started to get more followers and changed his platform to Gjkcentral and started to drop me. I had other friends, but no one who I felt understood me like Gavin.”
“I wanted to be just like him,” recalled @Berkmanboom. “Having him drop me made me extremely upset. I found these messages from the last couple of years and got upset. I was too young to realize how problematic and toxic he was. I’ve said stupid things in the past, i wont deny it, but like i said i was very very young and very easily influenced by those I looked up to.”
“I was heavily influenced by him and thought what he said was ‘edgy’ and ‘cool’,” he said. “I’ve grown in the last couple of years having to watch him become very well known. I wanted to come out and ‘expose’ him awhile ago for different reasons that I am now. I wanted to let everyone know that he doesn’t care about those who have been with him since the beginning.”
“I was too scared to come forward, because of how strong the Lotus fanbase was,” the teenager conceded. “I was too afraid to be attacked by everyone for exposing Gaving for something that may [be] consider ‘silly’ or ‘petty’. Every time his accounts would say something like that, it wasn’t some admin. It was him. I’m disappointed in him for not taking full accountability and putting the blame on others.”
Unsurprisingly, Konop’s second statement did little to negate the blood pooling in the water.
Following his apology, Twitter user @SteveRogers1943 presented even more screenshots of the director’s alleged comments, three of these wherein he supposedly described Asian peoples as “dog eaters” and claimed that Venom was “made by a superior white man”. The user also shared a video of a user allegedly searching for Konop’s anti-Asian comments, in which he used the term “dog eaters.”
The person in question would like to remain anonymous but provided a video for further proof pic.twitter.com/x9r5n9GJJb
— Steve Rogers (@SteveRogers1943) June 20, 2022
In one last twist of the knife, this controversy eventually pulled in Amazing Spider-Man 3 fan-film creator and writer Derrick Woods, the creator and writer for the, who used the attention drawn to Spider-Man: Lotus in order to “take down [its] racist Goblin”.
Woods then proceeded to share a number of screenshots purported to be from Salandria.
In one, actor can allegedly be read defending Konop’s use of the N-word, opining to another user, “To be honest, I have more of a problem with the overall sentiment than his use of the word n—as. That doesn’t sound like Gavin to me, but you never know.”
In another, Salandria can be seen responding to a user’s mocking message of “Yo Yo GOBLIN @johnsalandria HEY BABY HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE KNOWN AS THE RACIST GOBLIN” with the dismissal, “You really think stuff like this helps your ’cause'”.
“Dude,” the actor supposedly followed-up. “What you don’t understand could fill books, it’s a shame all you want is attention.”
A separate set of screenshots presented by Woods as evidence of Salandria’s supposed racism sees the actor asking a critic, “if you’re gonna argue real issues, use real English”, only to be met with numerous disingenuous attempts to ‘gotcha’ them.
While further claims have proven to be plentiful and sometimes dubious, including one that says Konop dismissed current MCU Spider-Man director Jon Watts’ recent works as “f—ing GARB” in a private message and another that asserts @Berkmanboom has their own history of questionable remarks, the one thing that is for certain is that fans and the creators are miserable with the whole controversy.
The IndieGoGo page has backers asking for refunds and their name removed from the credits. The_amazing_spider_lab, one of the costumers who worked on Spider-Man’s suit for Lotus, stated that while they didn’t support the comments, they didn’t wish to condemn someone “for something stupid that was done years ago when they were kids.
“I also think that all the hateful behavior towards the movie is just as stupid cause it’s damaging a lot of people that didn’t have anything to do with it!” the_amazing_spider_lab denounced the outrage. “The movie is not just about 2 people… It took a while team to make it and we don’t deserve to be screwed up this way!”
“This didn’t have to happen…We didn’t deserve all this s–t,” they lamented. “We can’t even be happy about all our hard work anymore cause we’re afraid it will be always associated to racism… It doesn’t have to be this way… Not all the people involved deserve this treatment and the movie deserves to be out there and seen.”
What do you think of this entire debacle? Are Wayne and Knop’s comments the foolish behavior of teenagers or signs of their hateful minds? Was the exposure warranted? Let us know on social media and in the comments below!