Last week James Gunn was fired by Disney from directing the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3. This was due to the unearthing of a series of offensive tweets he had written years ago in jest. The situation leading up the discovery was already controversial: Gunn had become involved in a conflict with Mike Cernovich, an alt-right social media figure, due to Gunn’s anti-Trump views.
Cernovich was the main pusher of “Pizzagate” – a conspiracy theory that the Democratic Government was running a child-molestation ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, DC that led to an armed gunman attacking the restaurant only to find these claims unfounded. Cernovich trawled through Gunn’s Twitter history to find something incriminating and found tweets referencing many distasteful subjects including paedophilia and rape. Disney subsequently fired Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Gunn’s tweets are disgusting, juvenile, and ultimately not funny. They won’t be quoted here, but out of context they will convince people that, at best, Gunn is immature with dark obsessions and a terrible sense of humour. Some are understandable coming from a man who worked at Troma Studios making exploitation cinema for years, but to have constantly tweeted with these kinds of comments is highly problematic.
On the other hand, when you look at Disney’s handling of this situation it feels misguided. In 1995, Disney released Powder, directed by Victor Salva, a convicted child molester. Also, their chief creative officer, John Lasseter, was recently fired from Pixar for sexual harassment allegations but will stay working for them until December. Gunn made inappropriate jokes in provocative attempts at humour in the past that do not reflect who he is as an individual now. He has apologised for them twice previously and deleted them, yet he has been blacklisted. Although Gunn should be held accountable for these tweets, does it feel appropriate to potentially end his career? It also could be argued that Disney should have done a background check on him before he was hired so that the issue could have been properly considered and resolved.
Another issue is the origins and motivations of the original complainant. Giving into the demands of an active right-wing conspiracy theorist does not make Disney look good as a company, especially with their recent drive for diversity in their films. It also sets a bad precedent for them and other companies going forward. What if this allows anyone with a grudge or a petition the chance to influence companies and creative minds? It’s giving too much power to people who are either irresponsible or have bad intentions.
Whilst some reactionary internet campaigns have been successful in the past, normally there has been a worthy cause. Scarlett Johansson was set to star in Rub and Tug, the true story of Lois/Dante Gill, a woman who pretended to be a man and soon became a mob boss. In the end Johansson left due to internet criticism around the insensitivity of casting a cisgender actor as a trans man. The backlash was certainly heavy, but at least it was mostly spearheaded by people who wanted proper transgender representation in Hollywood.
How might this affect the new Guardians film? Thankfully it is in pre-production, so Disney has time to find a new director. They could even ask Taika Waititi of Thor: Ragnarok to direct, given how that film and the prior Guardians films were similar in tone and style. The main characters will reappear in Avengers 4, so their future is not diminished yet.
Gunn’s punishment makes him an unintentional pedagogue. The internet is a great tool and creates connectivity between celebrities and the public. But this is a double edged sword – one must be careful online otherwise things said in jest or provocation could cause you to lose great opportunities, be it working with a company, directing a film, or just upholding a job.