Over the weekend, amongst all of the many, many stories to come out of San Diego Comic-Con 2018, was the very surprising news that Disney had fired James Gunn. The director is no longer attached to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and is not working with Disney on any future projects.
For those not familiar with this story, in 2008/2009 Gunn posted some very inappropriate tweets ‘joking’ (and I use that word lightly) about rape and paedophilia. Those tweets recently resurfaced, thanks to an alt-right activist sharing them online, and Disney quickly made the decision to part ways from Gunn.
As mentioned on Friday night, the decision to drop Gunn from Guardians 3 divided the internet. Some felt that this was exactly the correct way to handle the situation, others felt it wasn’t and now an online petition is doing the rounds to get him reinstated.
To make it clear, those 2008/2009 tweets were not a secret. Gunn had publicly apologised for them previously and this was prior to Disney hiring him to direct two Guardians movies for Marvel Studios.
Were the tweets unacceptable? Yes – and none of them were funny.
But the question that most people are asking is, should Disney have fired Gunn for something he didn’t hide and had previously apologised for? And therein lies the real crux of this issue.
If Disney didn’t fire Gunn, then many would be outraged that he was allowed to work on films that essentially are being aimed at families and children. But, by firing Gunn, Disney are effectively saying that no past comments – rightly or wrongly – are acceptable.
This is where things get a little muddy.
Now Disney themselves don’t necessarily have a squeaky clean record. Just take a look at say, Peter Pan (1953) for example, and tell me that the film doesn’t include material that by today’s standards is unacceptable.
There’s racial stereotyping in that movie that made me do a double-take when I last watched it. OK, so that movie is a film of its time, but it is still freely available to purchase on DVD, Blu-ray and digital even though the stereotypes it promotes are not acceptable today.
There are other examples of racial stereotyping in other Disney animated movies. Again, they’re products of their time, but is that an excuse?
Is racial stereotyping OK within a historical context, but the sort of ‘jokes’ that Gunn said not OK because there’s no historical context and the subjects are deemed worse? Alright it’s two separate arguments, but it’s still worth considering where you stand on this – is Disney fine to circulate offensive material, but Gunn not?
For the record, I don’t think what Gunn said was funny and I completely understand why Disney would see issue with it. That said, when Disney hired Gunn they knew his background was connected to near-the-knuckle material (Tromeo and Juliet (1996), James Gunn’s PG Porn (2008-2009) etc) and he had already apologised for the tweets.
Am I saying they should have kept him on the payroll?
Honestly? I’m still unsure how I feel about the whole situation, but I do feel there should have been more dialogue before a decision was made. Especially a decision based on a campaign to once again bring this to light circulated by the alt-right.
I don’t know James Gunn. I know as much about James Gunn as anyone else… who doesn’t really know him.
I follow him on social media and the person he has presented online (since I’ve been following him at least) has always been someone who seems decent. The message I got from watching his Guardians movies – especially Vol. 2 – is that he sticks up for people and is a pretty progressive person.
That’s not the kind of message I get from anyone who is an advocate of the alt-right.
People can say dumb things and people can change. If someone publicly admits their wrong doing and then demonstrates, over a period of time, that they are not the way they once were, shouldn’t that be something worth noting?
Again, I’m not saying it’s right what he said ten years ago, but maybe a little more conversation would have been better in this situation to establish why Disney had no problem with his tweets then compared to why they have a problem now.
I am certainly not comfortable with the alt-right gaining any kind of ‘victory’ in this whole affair.
The bigger picture
Regardless of what I, you or anyone else feels about this situation, I do believe it highlights a greater problem for Disney.
Disney is becoming a huge company. Far bigger than it’s ever been before.
In recent years we’ve seen the company buy Pixar, the Muppets, Marvel, Lucasfilm and at present its in the process of buying 21st Century Fox (The Simpsons, X-Files, Alien, Family Guy etc) and launching its own streaming service to rival Amazon, Netflix et al. With all these properties (some of which are certainly not squeaky clean) and huge investments to recoup, isn’t the company in danger of tying itself up in knots?
Will Family Guy be erased because of its inappropriate humour or will it be acceptable, so long as it remains under a Fox banner? Likewise, would Gunn have been OK if the Guardians pictures were made as Fox movies instead of as Marvel Studios movies?
I’m all for Disney not wanting to offend anyone – totally on board with the Mouse House stamping out racism, sexism and generally bad behaviour, but where does it end? With increasing overheads, will Disney always cut ties with anyone that ruffles feathers without having a greater dialogue about their reasoning?
Does the company’s response to the Gunn situation – whether right or wrong – open them up to future issues? Will they have to make this decision again – and where does the company draw the line?
I love pretty much all of Disney’s work (bar the old racial stereotypes of course), but I’m not sure I am comfortable with what could be on the horizon. I do worry that with the company becoming bigger and bigger, the need to please everyone could see decisions being made on a reactionary basis.
Also, with Disney having greater control over the movies we see on a yearly cycle (thanks to owning so many studios), could members of the alt-right influence what is hitting our screens and who is putting it there? What if a director is pro-abortion or has spoken out against the President or has had an affair etc?
For me, if decisions like the James Gunn firing are to be made then Disney needs to make it clear what is acceptable and what isn’t. If you want to fire someone, then that’s fine – but perhaps explain the reasons why they were hired in the first place and why they need to be fired now.