When James Gunn, the co-writer and director of the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films, was fired in July by Disney (owners of Marvel and its Cinematic Universe), the news prompted a strong reaction on all sides.
Gunn’s dismissal came after some decade-old tweets of his were uncovered, tweets that contained jokes about rape and pedophilia. Some felt that the director had crossed the line into poor taste, and that the right decision had been made. Others felt that Gunn had been treated harshly, even suggesting that he’d been made a scapegoat because of his political views. But more on that later…
The tweets were offensive, and Gunn apologised for them, saying that he’s changed since making those comments.
Even now, the effects of Gunn’s firing are still causing the rumour mill to churn, with talk of Dave Bautista (Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 and 2) wanting to leave the franchise in protest at Disney’s treatment of Gunn. The main Guardians cast actually released a statement in support of their director, although without defending the content of the tweets themselves. There are even reports that Gun will defect to DC, and join their cinematic universe. He’s been touted as a possible director of the Green Lantern Corps, or the Flash solo outing.
My biggest concern though, isn’t what Gunn’s next project will be, or how his departure will affect the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise or the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. What worries me is that this sets a precedent, where the social media histories of those in the industry can be used against them, even many years down the line.
Critics of Gunn may say that if something is offensive, then it doesn’t matter how long ago it was said. On that point, I’d agree. Gunn’s tweets were crude and inappropriate, and for many, in making jokes about serious subjects like rape and pedophilia, he went too far.
Gunn himself would agree with this, seeing as said sorry for his comments. He didn’t attempt to defend the jokes, make excuses or engage in “whataboutery.” He held his hands up, admitted he was wrong and apologised.
It should also be pointed out that these tweets date back to before he directed Volume 1 of the Guardians franchise, which was released in 2014. I would argue that this makes it highly questionable tot claim that his ill judged tweets were having a negative impact on his work for Marvel.
Some also tried to claim that, if you supported the firing of Roseanne Barr following her racist tweets, yet defended James Gunn, then this makes you guilty of hypocrisy. I disagree. It would only truly be hypocrisy if their tweets concerned the same subject matter, and you supported ABC’s decision to fire Barr and drop her sitcom, but were defending Gunn.
This brings me on to another important difference between the Barr and Gunn situations. Barr’s tweets were unquestionably racist, in comparing Valerie Jarrett, an African American former Obama adviser, to an ape. Making jokes, even tasteless ones, about rape and pedophilia doesn’t make a person a rapist or a pedophile. However, making a racist comment does make a person racist.
Barr’s tweets were also current, whereas Gunn’s were not. That’s an important difference. It’s far harder to claim that something isn’t representative of who you are anymore when it’s contemporaneous. Just as crucially, whilst Gunn apologised, Barr offered nothing except excuses, and even then her explanations changed.
It’s really a question of where we’re happy to draw the line. Should a person be punished for offensive social media posts made many years in the past, perhaps at a time when they were less mature? If the answer is yes, then I think that’s a dangerous road down which to travel.
What happens if those past comments were political in nature, and when they come to light, those of the opposing political view demand that person be fired. Wouldn’t that be an example of wanting to punish someone, just because they hold views with which you don’t agree?
This brings me back to Gunn’s political views. He’s made no secret of his dislike for America’s current Commander-in-Chief, and there are some that hold to the view that this is actually what got him fired. They can point to the fact that the Chairman of Marvel, Ike Perlmutter, is a close friend of Donald Trump. Obviously, firing someone for their political views would be hugely controversial, but those old tweets may have given the Marvel/Disney bosses the perfect excuse to get rid of James Gunn.
We’re also forgetting that people are allowed to change. I’m sure we can all look back at our past behaviour – on and off line – and we’ll find things that we shouldn’t have said and done. I know I would.
People will make mistakes, and will continue to make errors of judgment. If those mistakes are criminal in nature, then of course, they should be dealt with according to the law. But we should always leave room, where appropriate, for rehabilitation.
It’s also interesting, and more than a little sad, to note how some people seem more offended by the misguided tweets of a filmmaker than they are by some of the things that come out of the mouth of the current occupant of the Oval Office.
These days, I think it’s less about what’s being said or done that’s offensive, and more about who it is that’s saying it. This is a classic example of situational ethics, and can help explain why Trump supporters were mortified by Michelle Wolf’s act at the White House Correspondents Dinner, yet jump through hoops to defend Trump when he says or does something outrageous.
It looks as if James Gunn is being held to a higher moral standard than the President of the United States. It truly is a strange time we’re living in where offensive jokes made over Twitter a decade ago will cost you a role directing a film, but offensive tweets (or comments caught on tape, to give just one more example) aren’t seen as indicative of personal traits that should make you unfit for political office.
Offensive material can say much about those responsible for it, even if they do go on to change their ways. However, offence is taken as well as given, and what we choose to get offended over, as well as what we tolerate, says a lot about us, and about the world we’ve become.
As always, please feel to leave your comments below : )