The Flash’s Troubled Production and Ezra Miller Controversy Explained

After years of false starts, The Flash is finally making it to the big screen, yet there are a few reasons folks have been swearing off seeing the movie.

Ezra Miller in The Flash
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

On Friday, June 16, an Ezra Miller movie called The Flash will finally play on cinema screens around the world. For Miller and members of the Warner Bros. Pictures team who were there in 2014 when the project was first announced, it is the culmination of nearly a decade of work, false starts, and the arduous process of seeing various directors and writers board and exit the production.

And yet, the actual atmosphere around the release seems relatively muted. Until the movie’s Los Angeles premiere earlier this week, Miller was conspicuously absent from all press days, leaving director Andy Muschietti and his sister/producer Barbara Muschietti, as well as stars Sasha Challe and Michael Shannon, to do all the interviews. Meanwhile, social media chatter seems to be as much concerned with the controversy surrounding Miller, as well as the film’s troubled production history, as it is with anything in the actual picture.

But if you haven’t spent your life excessively online, breathlessly following the headlines about superhero movies, the details of the controversy may seem a bit opaque. Why are some folks refusing to watch the movie? Below is a timeline of both the film’s tumultuous production and the allegations surrounding its star.

The Flash’s Troubled Production History

When Miller was announced as the star of The Flash in October 2014, it was seen as a moment of clarity and organization at WB. Only a few years earlier, the studio was bouncing between plans of making a Flash spinoff that would be connected to George Miller’s unfilmed Justice League: Mortal to then making a Flash film connected Green Lantern (2011). In 2014, however, Miller’s casting followed a year of anticipation among fans, which began when Zack Snyder revealed to San Diego Comic-Con 2013 that the sequel to Man of Steel would also feature Batman.

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Snyder’s casting of Miller was announced simultaneously with plans for Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018), two Justice League films which would be released between 2017 and 2019, The Flash in 2018, and Cyborg and a new Green Lantern movie in 2020. Half of those obviously did not come to pass. But in the case of The Flash, it wasn’t from a lack of trying.

After James Wan turned down The Flash in favor of directing Aquaman, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were hired in April 2015 to write and possibly direct The Flash. The duo were fresh off the success of the 21 Jump Street flicks and The Lego Movie (2014). It would appear Lord and Miller’s treatment was the first to introduce the idea of time travel in a Flash film (a concept that would carry all the way into the 2023 final film). However, the pair soon departed to direct the ill-fated Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018).

Later that year, Seth Grahame-Smith (author and screenwriter of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) was tapped to write and direct the film, working from the story penned by Lord and Miller. However, he also departed the project in April 2016, citing “creative differences.” Two months later, Dope director Rick Famuyiwa was hired to rewrite Grahame-Smith’s screenplay and direct the picture. Famuyiwa cast his Dope star Kiersey Clemons as Iris West and suggested on social media that the film would be something of a buddy film between the Flash and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Gal Gadot, aka Wonder Woman, was also expected to appear in this version.

Famuyiwa got further than anyone before but ultimately pulled out of the project in late 2016 over “creative differences.” According to THR, he wanted to make a movie “with more edge” than WB intended. It is also worth noting that at this point the infrastructure and vision around the so-called DC Extended Universe was crumbling. Batman v Superman performed below studio expectations when it opened in March 2016, with many (including the studio) attributing the failure to Snyder’s dark, borderline nihilistic vision. Plans for doing a Justice League two-parter were scrapped just as Justice League was going into production. That movie was being rewritten on the day while also serving as the real introduction to Miller as Flash (as well as Fisher as Cyborg and Jason Momoa as Aquaman). And after enduring a devastating personal tragedy, Snyder agreed to step down from Justice League in May 2017 before extensive reshoots that were helmed by Joss Whedon.

It is at this point that the prospect of there ever being a Flash movie starring Ezra Miller seemed to dim. In fact, around the same time as Snyder felt Justice League slipping away, The Flash was placed “on hold” as screenwriter Joby Harold was brought on to do a “page one rewrite.” By May 2017, WB and a new emerging braintrust around DC films had a shortlist of directors in mind for The Flash: Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump… and more recently Welcome to Marwen), Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman, Kick-Ass), and even Jordan Peele (fresh off Get Out, not yet an Oscar winner). Later that summer, it was announced at San Diego Comic-Con the film was retitled Flashpoint and it would directly involve Barry Allen going back in time to prevent his mother’s murder.

In January 2018, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Game Night and later Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) agreed to step in to direct Flashpoint and rework the script, with a plan to shoot the picture in 2019. Miller, however, was reportedly not impressed with the comedic direction they were taking the material and convinced comic writer Grant Morrison to write a rival version of Flashpoint that would be in direct competition with the directors’ vision. Morrison later told they only had two weeks to write their rival version and “it was good fun. It didn’t do the job they were looking for, which was to franchise things and set things up, and bring other characters in. It was a Flash story, so it wasn’t where they wanted to go with the multiverse stuff. And that was the end of it.”

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In the summer of 2019, Daley and Goldstein exited the project, citing creative differences. Shortly afterward, it was leaked to the trades It director Andy Muschietti would direct the once-again-retitled The Flash. In November, it was confirmed that Christina Hobson (screenwriter of the then-upcoming Birds of Prey) was also writing a new version of the screenplay. The plan was now to release in 2022…. then COVID happened.

Still, it was during the pandemic that some of the feel-good headlines occurred. In June 2020, it leaked that Keaton was in talks to reprise the role of Batman for the first time in about 30 years. And in early 2021, Muschietti released on social media the sweet video viewable below, where he revealed in Spanish to Sasha Calle that she is going to play Supergirl:

Yet it was as the film was finally coming together that the real problems began to emerge…

The Controversy Around Ezra Miller Explained

Even before cameras started rolling on The Flash, Miller began what would turn into an odyssey of controversies, scandals, and alleged outbursts of violence. In April 2020 (before Keaton was cast), a video surfaced online where Miller appeared to choke a woman at a bar in Reykjavik, Iceland. At the time, it was described as “a serious altercation at the bar,” although no criminal charges were filed. In 2022, witnesses from the bar told Variety the woman had joked with Miller about meeting them in the smoking section for a fight. The woman in question told the trade, “I think it’s just fun and games – but then it wasn’t.”  You can watch an edited video of the incident below.

After news of the incident broke, director John Francis Daley seemingly commented on the situation by cryptically tweeting the words “creative differences” in a post that was later deleted.

In spring 2022, Miller was arrested and charged over two separate incidents involving alleged harassment in Hawaii. The first occurred, according to a press release by the Hawaii Police Department, when officers responded to a call at a bar on the night of March 27. There Miller was allegedly “agitated” by people singing Lady Gaga karaoke.

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“Miller began yelling obscenities and at one point grabbed the microphone from a 23-year-old woman singing karaoke and later lunged at a 32-year-old man playing darts.”

The following month, Miller pleaded no contest in court to a charge of disorderly conduct. The judge fined Miller $500 while dismissing two other charges against them. But by then, Miller had other legal worries in Hawaii. The first was filed on March 28 by two Hawaiian residents who took out a restraining order against Miller. According to The Independent, court filings asserted that Miller “burst into the bedroom of the petitioner(s) and threatened [the alleged male victim by] saying I will bury you and your slut wife.” Miller was also alleged to have stolen several personal items from the couple, including a social security card, bank cards, and a passport.

The restraining order was dismissed in court later that year, as per the couple’s later request (via the Associated Press).

Shortly after this incident, though, Miller was arrested and charged with second-degree assault in Hawaii on April 19, 2022. As per the local law enforcement police report, “During the course of their investigation, police determined that the individual, later identified as Ezra Miller, became irate after being asked to leave and reportedly threw a chair, striking a 26-year-old female on the forehead, resulting in an approximate half-inch cut.”

In June 2022, Native American attorney Chase Iron Eyes and his pediatrician wife Sara Jumping Eagle claimed in Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Court that Miller was allegedly manipulating and grooming their daughter Tokata Iron Eyes (who has changed their name to Gibson). This allegedly began in 2016 when Gibson was 12 years old. They further claimed that Miller drugged their daughter when she was older and exhibited “cult-like and psychologically manipulative, controlling behavior.”

Gibson disputed these allegations on Instagram. They later told Rolling Stone in an email, “The notion that I have been brainwashed or that I’ve been coerced in any context is grotesquely false. My independence from my family in this way is new and complex, their reaction to my actions is not my responsibility, [and I’ve] tried to have civil, virtual interactions with both of them and failed.”

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Later that month, The Daily Beast reported another parent in Greenfield, Massachusetts was granted a protection order against Miller after alleging in court that Miller “menaced their family one evening in their downstairs neighbor’s home and acted inappropriately toward” the mother’s 12-year-old child.

Rolling Stone ran another report on Miller in June 2022, alleging that while housing a mother of three young children in their Vermont farm, Miller kept various assault rifles and other guns lying around. One witness claimed to see a child put a bullet in their mouth. Miller allegedly also practiced heavy marijuana use in front of the children.

The mother of the children, who said she and her children were staying with Miller after fleeing an allegedly abusive domestic home, told Rolling Stone Miller “helped me finally… have a safe environment for my three very young children… [Miller’s] home ranch has been a safe haven for us.” 

Later in August 2022, Miller was accused of burglarizing a Vermont home where they allegedly stole several bottles of alcohol. In October, Miller initially pleaded not guilty of the burglary charges before changing their plea to guilty for a lesser charge of misdemeanor unlawful trespass in January 2023. Miller was sentenced to one year of probation.

Also in August 2022, Miller publicly addressed their litany of scandals, allegations, and impending legal challenges. They said:

“Having recently gone through a time of intense crisis, I now understand that I am suffering complex mental health issues and have begun ongoing treatment. I want to apologize to everyone that I have alarmed and upset with my past behavior. I am committed to doing the necessary work to get back to a healthy, safe and productive stage in my life.”

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Director Muschietti publicly acknowledged Miller’s legal troubles in April 2023 when he said during a Q&A on the WB lot: “Ezra is well now. We’re all hoping that they get better. They’re taking steps to recovery. [They’re] dealing with mental health issues, but [they’re] well. We talked to them not too long ago, and they’re very committed to getting better.”

Even so, there has been a lot of speculation and rumors suggesting that WB is ready to drop Miller from future DC films, even if The Flash is a hit. As per THR in August 2022, WB is strongly considering a recasting of the Flash character after the 2023 film’s release. This development has seemingly only increased after James Gunn and Peter Safran signaled earlier this year that they would be at least partially rebooting the DC Universe onscreen.

However, according to Muschietti, that is not yet the case. Last month, The Flash director told Playlist’s Discourse podcast that if a sequel happens, he would like to have Miller back in the role of Barry Allen. “I don’t think there’s anyone that can play that character as well as they did. The other depictions of the character are great, but this particular vision of the character, they just excelled in doing it.”

The Flash is in theaters on Friday, June 16.