Updated: Disney has fired James Gunn – Special Features #26

James Gunn at San Diego Comic-Con

There are two updates to the story at the end of the article. Please have a look at them both. James Gunn has been reinstated.

Disney has released a statement, in which it is made clear that James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1 & 2, has been removed from his position as chief creative voice and director of the third film in the series – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3.

The Disney statement read:

“The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,”

In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, James Gunn said the following:

“My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time. Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be: accepting, understanding, committed to equality, and far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse. To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies. Love to all.”

James Gunn’s old tweets, which were crafted and released many years ago, are disgusting and offensive. He put himself in this position by tweeting what he did, and the decision to remove him from future projects is, from a certain point of view, understandable. From a business perspective, Disney probably did what they had to do. However, it should be mentioned that they were just dumb, immature jokes.

Furthermore, it would be safe to assume that Disney vetted the filmmaker and looked into his past before they hired him. Gunn was a known source of controversy, as he has previously had to apologize for insensitive jokes. I never knew of those tweets, and the person reading this article likely didn’t either, but Disney certainly did. They still hired him. They kept him in the position.

This is a complex issue. From the outside looking in, it certainly can look like Disney was bullied into firing the director, as he was the subject of a right-wing smear campaign, and other articles found online will probably argue that point more directly. From a certain point of view, this looks like a knee-jerk reaction from Disney.

Disney, itself, has a murky past. To say that it seems hypocritical of Disney to fire someone who has apologized for offensive statements previously and who, on the surface, seems to have grown as a person would, perhaps, not be entirely wrong.

Furthermore, to fire someone now for remarks they made close to a decade ago — remarks that the fired person has apparently previously apologized for years ago — seems odd. That approach doesn’t allow for personal growth. This isn’t new, those tweets weren’t made recently, and Gunn likely isn’t the same person he was a decade ago.

Gunn’s statement, as seen above, takes responsibility for and acknowledges his own mistakes. It is a well-worded apology from a man, who, it seems, has taken steps to become a better person.

Although his tweets are tough to defend, people have already come to the defense of James Gunn for being the man that he is today. Dave Bautista, who plays Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, tweeted the following after the news broke:

“I will have more to say but for right now all I will say is this. [James Gunn] is one of the most loving, caring, good-natured people I have ever met. He’s gentle and kind and cares deeply for people and animals. He’s made mistakes. We all have. I’m NOT ‘ok’ with what’s happening to him.” – Dave Bautista on Twitter

Journalists and critics have been quick to defend James Gunn for the man he is today, while some have also criticized the smear campaign that got him fired. Film critic Drew McWeeny tweeted the following:

“You want to know James Gunn’s heart? Watch [Guardians of the Galaxy] and [Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2]. And ‘SUPER’. And read his novel. You’ll know who he is. And he’s a better person than [Mike Cernovich]. That’s for fucking sure. Bad move, Disney.” – Drew McWeeny on Twitter

The Mike Cernovich that Drew McWeeny is referring to is an ‘alt-right conspiracy theorist’ who has been known to launch online campaigns to get liberal personalities fired. Cernovich was the person who first dug up the offensive old tweets and launched this smear campaign to get James Gunn fired.

Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films are about unlikely heroes, and the central protagonist in the films is a person who has run away from his old life to make a better one for himself. But that character is reminded time and time again of his past. They are films about family, friendship, acceptance, and personal growth.

James Gunn’s brother, Sean (who also appears in the Guardians of the Galaxy films) hit on that same note in a Twitter thread:

“I hope it goes without saying that I love and support my brother James. And I’m quite proud of how kind, generous, and compassionate he is with the people in his life, whether they are friends, family, colleagues, fans, or strangers.

Since he was a kid, it was clear he had a desire (maybe destiny) to be an artist, tell stories, find his voice through comics, films, his band. The struggle to find that voice was sometimes clunky, misguided, or downright stupid, and sometimes wonderful, moving, and hilarious.

Since devoting his entire life to the Guardians movies and MCU six years ago, I’ve seen him channel that voice into his work on those movies and seen him transform from the guy who made up things to shock people.

I saw firsthand as he went from worrying about “softening his edge” for a larger audience to realizing that his “edge” wasn’t as useful of a tool as he thought it was. That his gift for storytelling was something better.

I saw that he was more open-hearted than the guy who needed to get a rise out of people by making nasty or offensive jokes (or whatever you choose to call them–I don’t think his bluer material was ever his funniest and neither does Mom).

In many respects this change in my brother was reflected in the change that the Guardians go through. I’ve heard my brother say many times that when Quill rallies the team with “this is our chance to give a shit”–to care–that it’s the pep talk he himself needed to hear.

It’s part of what made working on the Guardians movies such a rewarding experience for the cast, myself included. We managed to find ourselves involved in a big-budget superhero movie that was, at its core, deeply personal. That’s a gift. And that’s why it’s good.

This isn’t new information, by the way. It’s all stuff that James has explained many times in interviews, in more detail and more eloquently. It’s not some new spin. It’s always been part of the story.

So I guess my hope is that fans continue to watch and appreciate the Guardians movies, not despite the fact that the filmmaker used to be kind of a jackass, but because of it. They are, after all, movies about discovering your best self.

Working on those movies made my brother a better person, and they made me one too. I’m proud of that. Peace.” – Sean Gunn on Twitter

Now Disney has to find a new director who can guide the films’ beloved characters onto the next step of their journey. Time will tell, whether or not Disney and Marvel Studios know how to continue their story without James Gunn, who understood these characters better than most.

UPDATE #2 – 15th of March 2019: Following an exclusive story from Deadline Hollywood, which claimed that Disney had reinstated Gunn as director of Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 3, James Gunn tweeted the following statement:

“I am tremendously grateful to every person out there who has supported me over the past few months. I am always learning and will continue to work at being the best human being I can be. I deeply appreciate Disney’s decision and I am excited to continue making films that investigate the ties of love that bind us all. I have been and continute to be incredibly humbled by your love and support. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Love to you all.”

In this article, I originally tried to be very objective. So, in this update to the story, I’d like to add that I am very happy about Disney’s decision. People close to me, and likely some of my readers, know that the Guardians of the Galaxy films are extremely important to me. Gunn’s first Disney-Marvel film got me through a very tough time in my life. I wouldn’t be the same without that film.

I was horrified and disgusted by the offensive jokes that he tweeted a long time ago, but I have no reason to suspect they were anything other than jokes. His films are about love, friendship, and personal growth. James Gunn grew up. Immature jokes shouldn’t haunt you for the rest of your life as long as you apologize profusely, acknowledge that what you did was wrong and change your ways. He grew up. We should all be allowed some room for personal growth. Disney made the right decision. I am very happy for James Gunn.

UPDATE #1 – 6th of August 2018: Actor Dave Bautista has, in an interview with ShortList, stated that:

“Where I’m at right now is that if [Marvel] don’t use that script, then I’m going to ask them to release me from my contract, cut me out or recast me”

Disney has yet to respond to an open letter that the Guardians of the Galaxy cast signed and is, reportedly, unlikely to rehire James Gunn for the job.

As of right now, the futures of Gunn’s career and the Guardians of the Galaxy film series aren’t the only things that are doubtful — Dave Bautista’s future with Disney could potentially be cut short due to this drama.

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