On July 20th, Walt Disney Studios issued a surprise announcement that it was firing James Gunn, director of the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Guardians of the Galaxy and its 2017 sequel. The studio was responding to an unearthed series of off-color jokes he made on Twitter between 2008 and 2012. Those tweets made light of pedophilia and child abuse, leading to online outrage.
Gunn issued an apology on Twitter, stating in part, “Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over.”
Gunn’s cast on the Guardians films initially responded to the news cautiously or obliquely, if at all. Actor Michael Rooker, who plays alien pirate Yondu Udonta in the first two films, deleted his Twitter account in solidarity, stating on the service: “This account will be inactive after today. We’re very tired & upset over the ongoing BULLSHIT… neither I nor my rep will use Twitter again. Twitter sucks and I want nothing to do with it.”
Dave Bautista, who plays Drax the Destroyer, responded on Twitter with outspoken anger and sarcasm. But today, the cast has issued a collective open letter to Disney, posted to various Twitter and Instagram accounts, expressing their support and calling for Gunn’s reinstatement.
The open letter, signed by Guardians actors Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, and PomKlementieff, in addition to Bautista and Rooker, specifically references “the growing political divide in this country” due to the widespread perception that Gunn was targeted for his outspoken, public stance against Donald Trump. The tweets that got him in trouble were found and publicized by a group of alt-right media personalities, most notably, Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, who had previously used a similar tactic to persuade MSNBC to fire contributor Sam Seder. A few days after firing Seder over a satirical tweet about director Roman Polanski, MSNBC reversed the decision.
Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy collaborators are clearly hoping Disney follows suit. In a recent article about the petition, Variety suggests that Disney’s failure to name a new director for the third movie in the Guardians series — which was scheduled to begin production in early 2019 — might suggest a plan to reinstate Gunn, but no decision is likely to be made until Walt Disney chairman Bob Iger returns from vacation.