James Gunn and Skeptical Redemption
In summer 2018, James Gunn, director of the smash hits Guardians’ of the Galaxy I and II, had a series of offensive and inappropriate tweets from 2009 to 2010 dug up from his twitter and publicized to his now much wider fan base. Among the tweets was a slew of sensitive content in the sphere of pedophilia and molestation, among other things. Acting in the interest of protecting and uphold their brand and company values, James Gunn was promptly fired despite the success he had previously brought to the country and franchise. In a statement released from Walt Disney, they said “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values,”. After his initial firing, Walt Disney didn’t release much more on the subject, James Gunn offered his regret filled apologies, and many fans worried for the future of the Guardians of the Galaxy films. All in a fashion the media has seen many times before, thoughtless tweets from nearly a decade ago come back to put a wrench in someone’s career years later.
However, nearly 8 months after the initial decision to fire and cut ties with Gunn, Disney has made the unexpected choice to rehire Gunn to direct the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy III. This came as a great surprise to many, fans and industry members alike. Many question what exactly triggered this change, has Gunn been forgiven, or have Walt Disney’s ‘studio values’ changed and now Gunn realigns? In a statement from Disney Studio Chairman Alan Horn, he explained the Gunn had has been exonerated for his past mistakes. Further, there had been huge backing to rehire Gunn from members of the cast such as Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, and Zoe Saldana. This all culminated in the decision to rehire Gunn, and not hold him accountable for the mistakes he made years ago, and offer him forgiveness.
What Disney has done with Gunn is not something we often see. There have been many tweets dug up from celebrities that have ended careers and partnerships, such as Gilbert Gottfried's jokes about the Japanese Tsunami in 2011 getting him fired from being the voice of the Aflac duck, or Roseanne Barr’s bigotry filled tweets that got her fired from ABC, or the countless other celebrities who have gotten the boot from moments of complete ignorance and indiscretion. So what makes Gunn different? Why is he not paying the time for his crimes?
It appears that many factors went into Gunn’s rehiring, but most seem to hinge on his being a changed person with a new moral character that he didn’t have a decade ago, and his tweets perhaps not being damaging enough to have professional repercussions in the eyes of Disney. All this raises grand questions in the realm of industry repercussions for misconduct. I firmly believe that people have the capacity to change, but also that people should be punished for past misdemeanors as a tool to ignite change. It can sometimes be difficult to justify punishment when these discoveries are made decades later, after significant personal growth might have already have been achieved, sometimes, such as the situation with Gunn, many may question the benefit of punishment against the costs. But conversely, without punishment others might feel that they can act in anyway they want and never feel the damaging price of punishment. Not too mention that Gunn’s films have been very successful for Disney, with the first film grossing $333,176,600,and the second film grossing $389,813,101. Gunn’s films have raised over $700 million.
Ultimately, Disney made the decision they felt was best for their company monetarily, looking at what Gunn has done for the Guardians films. But, like with any controversy, especially a high profile one like this, there is room for skepticism of intentions. Did they really forgive Gunn, or are they just looking to make another blockbuster film and think his worth to the film is worth more than administering punishment?