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Disney executives have let Twitter trolls do their jobs for them by firing James Gunn – and that sets a terrible precedent

The James Gunn news can’t help but make me shudder at the thought of a future world transformed into an apocalypse wasteland of individuals made jobless because of stupid comments they made as 13-year-olds

Jacob Stolworthy
Monday 23 July 2018 14:57 BST
James Gunn fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 by Disney over offensive tweets

In 1995, Walt Disney Studios released a film directed by a convicted child sex abuser, Victor Salva. He had molested a 12-year-old actor on the set of his previous film, and was later sentenced to three years in prison. He was released after 15 months.

The decision was understandably met with controversy and horror, but the House of Mouse remained staunch – according to officials, they only learned of Salva’s imprisonment after production on the film, entitled Powder, had begun. They kept him on, apparently because there were no young stars cast in the film so they saw no risk in doing so. It was an unbelievable decision.

Now, the same studio has fired James Gunn – director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 1 and 2 – for a string of offensive tweets he posted up to a decade ago. The pendulum has swung the other way.

Unearthed by right-wing individuals with opposing political views to the filmmaker (who has long been an outspoken critic of Trump), the posts included disgusting remarks relating to rape and paedophilia.

Gunn, who previously apologised for such remarks in 2012, said in a now-deleted Twitter post: “I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore.”

Disney chairman Alan Horn deemed Gunn’s comments, posted between 2008 and 2012, “indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values”, which seems like a fair statement on the surface, but smacks as unconvincing the more it’s unpacked.

I’m not saying Gunn’s comments weren’t disgusting. They were then, they still are now – and however apologetic Gunn is, it’s astounding that he ever saw fit to post them on social media.

But the comments were also the words of an emerging figure known for pushing the envelope (his 2010 film Super – acclaimed by many – is a darkly comic tale with a similar tone to the tweets he posted). Gunn was hired to direct Guardians of the Galaxy by Disney months after showing the initiative to acknowledge and apologise for his mistake.

You could even argue that his envelope-pushing status within Hollywood was the very reason he was hired in the first place: a concerted decision by the studio to bring in directors who could apply a singular vision to its various Marvel properties.

It’s hard to believe that Disney didn’t know about Gunn’s comments. When pinning hopes on a director to lead a new franchise, there must be at least one person available to carry out a background check. It was their prerogative to research his past.

If they had then decided – even during production – that Gunn’s words were “inconsistent with their values”, and fired him, that decision would have been understandable. But to fire him after the dollar bills amassed from two bankable blockbusters have been cashed in seems dubious at best.

Is the studio attempting to get on the right side of things in the current Hollywood climate? Would Gunn have been fired this time last year, just months before the Harvey Weinstein scandal saw brave individuals putting their personal experience of sexual harassment in the spotlight, which (rightly) destroyed several high-profile careers?

My guess is no – and it’s decisions like these that are in danger of hampering wonderful movements of progress like #TimesUp and #MeToo.

This theory has been backed up by Selma Blair, who added that Gunn was one of the people who helped her come forward about her own horrific experience with screenwriter James Toback.

Blair, along with numerous others including Guardians actors Dave Bautista and Michael Rooker, tweeted her support of Gunn, calling him “one of the good ones”.

She directed her followers to a petition urging Disney to re-hire him. At the time of writing, it has amassed over 150,000 signatures.

This decision has set a terrible precedent, not least because the tweets were dug out by people in the hope he would lose his job. Are we to believe that Disney is on the cusp of sanctioning an entire new division dedicated solely to scouring through every crew member’s social media pasts, to make an example of them? Or will bosses continue to let Twitter trolls do their job for them?

Bear in mind that the majority of Marvel talent are people for whom social media was a new prospect 10 years ago; someone with a lot of time on their hands could likely write a gasp-inducing book comprising all the silly social media remarks these people once made.

There will soon be a day when everyone of working age will have had access to Twitter and other social media for their entire lives. The James Gunn news can’t help but make me shudder at the thought of a future world transformed into an apocalypse wasteland of individuals made jobless because of stupid comments they made as 13-year-olds.

Disney’s decision is as ill-judged as the original tweets. It’s now their turn to atone by cleaning up this mess and re-hiring a director they should never have fired in the first place.

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