The politics behind the James Gunn controversy

27 Jul 2018


In the past, political espionage was something only imaginable through media portrayals. As in the BBC’s House of Cards trilogy, we imagined dodgy deals, spying, blackmail and cold-blooded murder all in the attempt to gain power, defeat a foe or maintain one’s grasp. These fictionalisations of the real cogs of political systems might be quarter on quarter truths. In the modern world the destruction of a rising career can be achieved by the simple act of looking back through someone’s Twitter history.


This is the controversy that currently surrounds James Gunn, the prominent director famous for his work on Disney/Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, from which he was recently dropped after several offensive tweets he had posted in 2010-11 resurfaced. These tweets, which were meant to be humorous, related to molestation and rape. Not long after their publication on Twitter in 2012, Gunn was called out and subsequently apologised.


As his brother Sean Gunn (who also stars in the Guardians of the Galaxy films) highlights, James Gunn has changed for the better during his time working with the Marvel cinematic universe. He has abandoned his edgy tendencies and focused on his storytelling, which shows in his films. So why have these tweets resurfaced? And by their controversy forced the hand of Disney, already aware of their employee’s past actions and the press reaction to them, to act rashly? The answer: the Far Right.


James Gunn is no fan of the far-right President of the United States, having previously named him as worse as Thanos, the villain of the insanely popular Avengers: Infinity War. This, as with many popular figures, made him a target for far-right hate online including that of the infamous Mike Cernovich - a prominent figure behind promoting “Pizzagate”, a conspiracy theory accuing Hilary Clinton of running a child sex ring. He is cited as the one who dug up and exposed these previous tweets by Gunn, which led to Frankenstein-like rebirth of this story that went viral, leading to the demise of Gunn’s career with Disney.


This was especially “convenient” as the previous weekend had been the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), one of the largest and most famous Comic Cons in the world. A weekend jampacked with releases, previews and juicy news stories that every fan is dying to know. Seeing this issue arise so suddenly like the crew of the Titanic spotting the iceberg, they acted and saw fit to end their partnership with the filmmaker. Thus, the far right won a victory against James Gunn.


It is important to understand that people evolve and develop with time, something of which James Gunn is a clear example. Through the development of his Marvel films, he developed himself to become a better filmmaker and person. It is still important to note that every situation is different. Movements within the entertainment industry such as #MeToo are leading to harsher crackdowns on inappropriate behaviour, but we must remain wary of a person’s desire and ability to change and better themselves.  


James Gunn’s situation is being compared to the somewhat similar to that of Roseanne Barr, whose sitcom was cancelled after her racist Twitter attack on former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. However, this comparison is somewhat flawed as Gunn’s offences were intended to be humorous, something he’s repeatedly apologised for. By comparison, Barr’s comments were directly racist and were not followed by any apology.


Gunn’s situation is more comparable to SNP MSP Gillian Martin, who was recently denied a ministerial position within the Scottish Parliament because of transphobic comments she had made on her blog some years ago. She had apologised for her comments at the time and has done so since, but due to pressure from the Scottish Conservative Party was not given the position of Higher Education Minister.


Though the Scottish Conservatives are not as bad as Trump’s far-right supporters, it remains another example of the apparent ease with which the career and dreams of an individual - from politician to filmmaker - can be crushed so easily by poor past judgment and some clever thinking from the Right. The espionage of old has evolved into a new reality of trawling through Twitter accounts.


However, it is clear from earlier reports that Disney was well aware of Gunn’s tweets, so it remains something of a surprise that they acted so rashly on the situation. It might have been on the spur of the moment, aiming to avoid letting the situation bubble any longer in the extraverted atmosphere of SDCC where it could spread like a virus. Though quick action might have seemed the most sound, it was incredibly rash and will leave lasting damage if not averted. It is also hypocritical of Disney to throw out James Gunn due to his tweets when their own Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter has received many accusations of sexual harassment but managed to retain his position.


By his own words and those of his colleagues and friends, James Gunn seems like a good person. One who might have made some bad choices in the past, but one who has also pointed out the wrongs in his behaviour and has improved himself and his creative talent. In many ways he resembles the characters of his first Guardians of the Galaxy film, who start off as childish, brutish, rude individuals but through their situation and hard work become better, more mature figures. Disney should take this message to heart and reconsider their rash actions.


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