Disney to Guardians cast: James Gunn is moot?

The cast of the Marvel Universe’s Guardians of the Galaxy films might be able to rescue the universe, but they likely won’t save the job of their director. Despite a joint letter signed by the entire cast, Variety reports that Disney will almost certainly not bring James Gunn back to helm the third installment of the popular film series. For one thing, the cast has little leverage in this situation:

Despite a cast letter asking for James Gunn to be reinstated as the director of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” Walt Disney Studios is currently not planning on rehiring the filmmaker who it recently fired after a series of offensive tweets surfaced, according to multiple people familiar with the studio’s current thinking. The feeling within both Disney and Marvel is that the dozens of so-called jokes that Gunn made about pedophilia and rape are unacceptable in the #MeToo era and are not in line with Disney’s family-friendly image.

The studio recognized that “Guardians” cast members such as Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana stopped short of threatening to quit the series, but there is widespread belief that the actors will show up for future installments, regardless of their personal feelings about Gunn. For one thing, most are under contract and would face legal action if they opted out of a sequel.

Also, Disney still has its own public image to maintain. That doesn’t involve hiring directors who make jokes about rape and pedophilia on social media platforms, no matter how abject their apologies later:

At this point, the letter does not seem likely to save his job. Gunn’s firing was approved by Disney Studios chief Alan Horn, with his boss, company CEO Bob Iger weighing in on the final decision. The involvement of the highest levels of Disney signals that the cast pressure to rethink the Gunn ouster will struggle to gain internal support. “I don’t see Disney re-hiring him,” says one person close to the matter. “Those tweets were so horrible and Disney has a different standard than other studios.”

There’s a third reason, one only briefly mentioned by Variety’s Brett Lang and Justin Kroll, which is the possible blowback from hypocrisy if they relent. Disney’s television unit ABC ostentatiously fired Roseanne Barr for her Twitter rant about Valerie Jarrett, even after she also apologized. They squeezed her into giving up her ownership stake in what is now known as The Connors in order to keep the cast and crew employed. Reversing on Gunn would reignite that controversy and put Disney in the strange position of attempting to define the moral differences between pedophilia and racism and jokes about each. There are just too many talented directors in Hollywood to have to take on that kind of public relations headache.

Even so, the issue raised by the Guardians cast about “weaponizing mob mentality” is one worth discussing. It’s too bad, as I wrote in my column at The Week yesterday, that James Gunn was one of the more enthusiastic of the pitchfork-and-torch brigade when it came to Roseanne and others:

On Monday, Gunn’s Guardians colleagues began a campaign to get him rehired. After waiting more than a week to let the outrage simmer down, most of the principal cast sent out a joint statement asking for Gunn’s reinstatement. “There is little due process in the court of public opinion. James is likely not the last good person to be put on trial,” they declare, expressing hope that “Americans from across the political spectrum can ease up on the character assassination and stop weaponizing mob mentality.”

Two months ago, though, Gunn didn’t mind weaponizing the mob for his own purposes. He demanded that ABC fire Roseanne Barr after her offensive remarks about Valerie Jarrett, remarks for which Barr apologized repeatedly. “I wish some of these so-called defenders of liberty would start to understand what freedom of speech is AND isn’t,” Gunn lamented in a tweet he later deleted. “Roseanne is allowed to say whatever she wants. It doesn’t mean @ABCNetwork needs to continue funding her show if her words are considered abhorrent.” ABC is, of course, owned by Disney — the same company that makes the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and decided not to fund Gunn after his own “abhorrent” words.

I guess Gunn is discovering “what freedom of speech is AND isn’t” today, as are his more earnest colleagues. Perhaps the Robespierres of social media should have first studied how setting fires and demanding heads worked out for the real Robespierre. Eventually, purity campaigns enforced by mobs end up eating themselves, and James Gunn is just one particular example of this phenomenon.

Meanwhile, the social media platforms themselves continue to move in the direction of the mobs rather than to protect individuals and the principles of free speech and debate. The success of claiming the heads of both Barr and Gunn will only make this weaponization even more fatal to public reputations and livelihoods. The best option is to exit the field until these platforms improve themselves by refusing to respond to the pitchfork-and-torch brigades. That’s why I’ve stopped engaging on Twitter, and won’t bother returning unless and until the Robespierres are all put into their proper place.

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