Well that’s that. James Gunn has been officially and irreversibly fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. While many of his peers and all of his cast stated the case for James to be reinstated, Disney has decided to move on. Disney now faces the challenge of replacing one of the more talented directors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What’s more, The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Studios are now faced with a bit of a dilemma moving forward.
Gunn’s firing is a result of old posts he made to Twitter years ago. Regardless of how and why these tweets were uncovered (I’ll try to keep this as objective as I can), it seems as though Disney was more willing to sack a director than tarnish their impeccable public perception. In a statement Disney said, “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.”
On the one hand, Gunn should be held responsible for what he chose to put on social media. That which we choose to share in a public forum has long been considered part of our permanent resume. The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Studios are businesses after all. Anybody who has a job understands that all tweets, snaps, or whatever are all subject to review and scrutiny, and no “my thoughts are my own” will save you if you say something stupid. That is just what James Gunn did. He said something stupid. He made some bad jokes, had some questionable political takes, and a decision was made by the company to let him go.
Yet, what has become more troublesome as the days go on is where does Disney and Marvel go from here? What precedent has been set by firing Gunn? By his own admission, his past tweets were in bad taste and in no way representative of the person he is today. I believe James Gunn when he says these things, because we have all been in his position. While you might never know that level of fame and scrutiny, I’m sure we would all be embarrassed if somebody brought up past tweets and Facebook posts (or, God forbid, somebody had some screen shots of the AIM away messages I used to post in college).
Herein lies the problem for Disney and Marvel: If Gunn needs to be held accountable for his past actions and is no longer seen as fit to be a part of their company, who else should be on the chopping block? What is the statute of limitations for this sort of thing? Surely if you can be fired for something you said before you even worked for the company, Disney has some house cleaning to do, right? How about Josh Brolin for starters? If James Gunn can be fired for tweets, surely we can’t have Brolin in not one but TWO Marvel franchises after he was arrested for domestic violence in 2004, right? Even worse, what about Robert Downey Jr. who was arrested in 1996 for possession of heroin, cocaine, and a .357 magnum, was convicted, then violated his parole and went to prison? Oh, and let’s not forget that Johnny Depp is still gainfully employed by Disney.
“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.” -Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn
Whether we choose to accept it or resist it, the lasting effect of social media is a cross that we all have to bear, and James Gunn is no exception. The problem Disney and Marvel face at this point is that you cannot be offended only when something directly applies to you. If you want to take a stand, do so unilaterally. It can’t just be Gunn’s actions that are inconsistent with the values of your studio, it has to be everybody’s. There is no issue with Disney choosing to part ways with James Gunn. They are free to make the decisions they deem are best for their brand and bottom line, but that does not make them right.