James Gunn has just been fired from Disney and Marvel over writing offensive tweets that date back to ten years ago. There’s a lot to unpack. Was Disney justified in its move? Why is this only now becoming an issue? And where does this leave the Guardians of the galaxy franchise?
It is worth noting that James Gunn has always been known for being someone who pushes boundaries. Prior to being hired by Marvel he had directed just two films, Slither and Super.
Super involves a man suffering from mental illness dressing up as a superhero and brutally beating people with a pipe wrench for breaking any social rules, eg cutting lines at the cinema. The film is littered with (as that example clearly suggests) a lot of dark humour. It even includes a scene where the male protagonist is raped by a much younger female sidekick.
Prior to these two films, Gunn worked for Troma, an independent film company that has a reputation for making boundary-pushing films. His original script for Scooby Doo was allegedly planned to be an R-rated movie featuring Shaggy as a pothead and Velma as a lesbian. The film was to be aimed at young adults, before it was reworked and made child friendly.
So while in recent years James Gunn has been far more restrained, there is no questioning that his filmic past has been provocative and boundary-pushing. It’s very easy at times for someone like that to step over the line, which, as is now very clear, he has done on a number of occasions. I challenge anyone who hasn’t seen the tweets to seek them out on Google. It won’t take long to find them. The tweets involve numerous references to paedophilia.
Since becoming a much more high profile director, these sorts of tweets have stopped and his humor has been much more toned down. Whether you feel this is because he’s working for Disney and has reigned in his behaviour to stay employed within the industry, or if you feel it’s because he has had a change of heart, is up to you to decide.
Politically, James Gunn is known for being on the far Left.
He is critical of Trump as you would expect, and has a reputation for taking numerous pot shots at the Republican party.
So it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that sooner or later they’d hit back.
The story was broken by Mike Cernovich, an alt-right media personality known for conspiracy theories and promoting misinformation. He is anti-feminist and pro men-empowerment. He has joked online about rape and has said stuff arguably as unpleasant.
Since the story broke, the geek community is split over whether Gunn should be supported or not.
Before you answer that question, it’s perhaps worth considering your response to Rosanne Barr and her firing after a racist slur. Here we have two celebrities that have been fired for poor online behaviour from opposite sides of the political spectrum. If you support one but not the other, ask yourself why?
We could also look at Seth Macfarlane, who has made plenty of jokes that fall into the category of bad taste. His comedy ”A million ways to die in the west” has a running gag about an underage girl looking for a husband. The key difference being that the film’s script was targeting an adult audience.
So this brings us to our next question. Was Disney justified in their move?
On one hand you have Gunn, a man who made Disney a lot of money, who admits the tweets were awful, apologises and says he’s now a different man. He has broken no laws, and the tweets, as awful as they may be, were long since deleted. Gunn had previously apologised for them.
On the other hand you have Disney, a brand that doesn’t want to be associated with content that has even the slightest hint of paedophilia. Given that a large chunk of Disney’s target audience is children, it’s easy to see a conflict of interest in having them employ a man who has joked about child molestation.
When the tweets were written we need to remember that Gunn was not a high profile director. Consequently there was no public outcry because nobody knew who he was. He had just two films under his belt as a director.
His reputation has now been tarnished and it will take a long time before the association between Gunn and the tweets disappears.
The issue thus becomes, should he have been fired over past behaviour which he claims is not reflective of the person he is now?
Dig deep enough and you’ll find most people have skeletons in the closet, whether it be posts on social media that show a poor lapse in judgement, a stupid joke, or something else that we now regret.
As for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, we’re now left with no director and potentially no script.
The film may be pushed back and reworked. Or it could even be scrapped altogether. It’s far too early to tell.
The other possibility would be for Disney to reverse their decision.
It seems very unlikely, but given the Star Wars fans’ boycott of Solo, Disney might fear a repeat performance. There is a campaign to have him reinstated, with many in Hollywood voicing support for Gunn. But it’s early days.
Whatever happens next, one thing is for sure: Gunn has just illustrated how we all need to be careful what we say online. What we write now will likely still exist decades later.
For more gloomy online controversy, check out this article on the firing of game developer Jessica Price.