Untangling the Guardians of the Galaxy Firing Debacle: Political Grudges, Old Tweets and Outrage

With the ouster of director James Gunn from the franchise, once again a major shake-up in Hollywood brought on by tweets has people retreating to their partisan corners

By Natalie Finn Jul 23, 2018 8:57 PMTags

As long as there has been Twitter, there have been people apologizing for their tweets.

Well, maybe the social media platform had a few weeks of relative peace, but as far as room for potentially cataclysmic commentary went, put it right up there with the invention of the telegraph.

What hath Jack wrought, indeed.

Seemingly up until not too long ago, however, when prominent Twitter users were alerted to the error of their ways by an angry mob of varying size (often not enough people to actually qualify as a "mob"), the result would usually be—at most—the remorseful tweeter "leaving" the platform for awhile. Sometimes they'd delete their account, but invariably they'd be back at some point.

Now, however, in the land of hyper-partisan one-upmanship that Twitter has become, proverbial heads are starting to roll.

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Less than two months after Roseanne was canceled, fallout from a new handful of incendiary tweets (and one in particular) that star Roseanne Barr sent out into the ether, Disney fired Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn from the franchise's planned third movie after Twitter users with an agenda re-drew attention to some gross jokes he posted between 2009 and 2012. The indignation snowballed and, once again, we're having a conversation about free speech, humor, what crosses the line, outrage culture and, more so than with the Roseanne issue, whether Twitter is increasingly being used to take down one's political nemeses and just how terrifying a proposition that is.



ABC, of course, is owned by Disney, making this the second time in three months that the entertainment conglomerate faced a PR debacle thanks to 240 characters or less. There are many differences between the two incidents, but the end result was the same.

In Barr's case, she was punished for brand new tweets, the success of the rebooted Roseanne apparently not enough motivation to control her baser instincts. On the tail end of baiting Chelsea Clinton and attacking billionaire liberal political donor George Soros for the umpteenth time, out came a tweet comparing former Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who is African-American, to a baby made by an ape and the Muslim Brotherhood—so, offensive on multiple levels in addition to old-fashioned racist. 

Barr has insisted it was a joke gone wrong, that she was under the influence of Ambien when she fired that off, and last week in a weird (is there any other kind, at this point?) interview clip she exclaimed that she though Jarrett was white. She has received an outpouring of support mainly by folks who agree with her politically, many of whom are presumably cheering Gunn's firing as the correct response to his "vile," "immoral," "disgusting" tweets. How dare crazy, liberal Hollywood, oust our beloved Roseanne Barr when there's so much filth in their midst...

And while many thought she had reaped what she sowed, as did ABC by ignoring an already questionable Twitter portfolio that went back years, there was also a bit of concern thrown her way from those who are fully aware just how slippery a slope this whole Twitter business has become.

ABC, which fired Barr within hours of her online screed, is planning to move forward with The Conners, meaning Roseanne Conner is possibly headed for sitcom-mom heaven, where she'll join the likes of Valerie Hogan (cause of death: dispute with Valerie producers) and Donna Gable (Kevin Can Wait needed room for Leah Remini).

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A replacement for Gunn has not yet been named, but Walt Disney Pictures surely doesn't want to abandon a cash cow like Guardians of the Galaxy, the first two films in the series having grossed more than $1.6 billion worldwide.

But unlike the case with Barr, where many connected with Roseanne (including executive producer and co-star Sara Gilbert) expressed how disappointed they were in her behavior, there has been support from within the Marvel Universe for Gunn, albeit tempered with the fact that no one associated with Guardians is inclined to defend the tweets themselves.

Dave Bautista, who plays Drax in the franchise, was the first main cast member to respond to the news of Gunn's firing, tweeting on Friday, "I will have more to say but for right now all I will say is this..@JamesGunn is one of the most loving,caring,good natured people I have ever met. He's gentle and kind and cares deeply for people and animals. He's made mistakes. We all have. Im NOT ok with what's happening to him."

On Saturday, he didn't mince words. 


"What will you do when the #cybernazis attack you? Who will stand by you?" Bautista wrote. "Who will cowardly distance themselves from you? Who will punish you for horrible JOKES in the past instead of defending you for INSPIRING millions? MILLIONS!!! #Redemption #injustice @JamesGunn."

In response to a question about whether a cast boycott was feasible should Gunn not be re-hired, Bautista replied, "What happened here is so much bigger then G3, @JamesGunn ,myself,@Disney etc. This was a #cybernazi attack that succeeded. Unless we start to unite together against this crap, whether people are offended are not! ...it's going to get much worse. And it can happen to anyone."

What happened was, an alt-right Twitter personality with hundreds of thousands of followers who made a name for himself propagating conspiracy theories, someone who decidedly does not align with Gunn—an outspoken critic of President Trump, etc.—politically, dug up the goods (or the bads) on the filmmaker, who in the past had made tasteless cracks about underage sex, child molestation, rape and other things that many people probably feel should never be joked about.

Especially if those jokes are coming from someone who didn't vote the way they did.

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"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," Gunn, whose feature directorial debut was the shlocky, gross-out horror comedy Slither, tweeted by way of explanation Thursday night in a five-part thread, before he was fired.

"As I have discussed publicly many times, as I've developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. [2] 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. [3] In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies. [4] For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn't living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. [5] Anyway, that's the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don't anymore. I don't blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all."

Upon news of Gunn's firing, Twitter took to its sides like clockwork, with those who don't care for Gunn's politics cloaked in smugness and all too happy to retweet screengrabs of his lamest, not-funny-then-or-now missives. His attempts at provocation, or whatever. Noticeably, no one who agrees with Gunn's politics are treating his so-called jokes like a window into a deranged mind, as those who do not agree with him are. 

But because we now live in a world where we're forced to take Twitter seriously, since no one less than the president of the United States uses it as his own personal bullhorn, common-variety bad decision-making can't be so easily dismissed as it used to be.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for A&E Network

Not that being retroactively scolded is a new thing, of course—including for Gunn. With the release of the first Guardians of the Galaxy still two years away, the director was compelled to apologize in November 2012 for a Feb. 17, 2011, blog post he wrote titled "The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With: 2nd Annual Poll Results" over some parts that were considered sexist and homophobic.

"A couple of years ago I wrote a blog that was meant to be satirical and funny. In rereading it over the past day I don't think it's funny," Gunn said in a statement to GLAAD at the time. "The attempted humor in the blog does not represent my actual feelings. However, I can see where statements were poorly worded and offensive to many. I'm sorry and regret making them at all."

"People who are familiar with me as evidenced by my Facebook page and other mediums know that I'm an outspoken proponent for the rights of the gay and lesbian community, women and anyone who feels disenfranchised, and it kills me that some other outsider like myself, despite his or her gender or sexuality, might feel hurt or attacked by something I said. We're all in the same camp, and I want to do my best to make this world a better place for all of us. I'm learning all the time. I promise to be more careful with my words in the future. And I will do my best to be funnier as well. Much love to all."

Marvel Studios

He seemingly kept that promise, while also directing two of the best-reviewed films in the entire Marvel Universe, but stuff he wrote even before he was ranking superhero desirability has come back to bite him. With, of course, help from people who dug up the raw meat to throw in front of the wolves.

"'Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters. Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.' JAMES 1:19," franchise star Chris Pratt tweeted this morning, turning to the Bible to gently chide the insta-outrage culture that is judging people right and left.

"It's been a challenging weekend I'm not gonna lie," co-star Zoe Saldana tweeted as well on Monday. "I'm pausing myself to take everything in before I speak out of term. I just want everyone to know I love ALL members of my GOTG family. Always will."

Bautista replied to Saldana, "When it's time you will speak from your heart like you always do. Until then #weareGroot love you hermana." Pom Klementieff, Mantis in GOTG Vol. 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, posted a video showing her hand writing out "We are Groot...We are a family...We stand together," punctuated with a heart.

Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula, tweeted, "Love to every single member of my GOTG family."

Yet while they all remain to tweet another day, Michael Rooker, who played warrior Yondu, wrote that he was done with the entire medium. "This account will be inactive after today," the actor tweeted, per Just Jared. "We're very tired & upset over the ongoing BULLS--T...neither I nor my rep will use Twitter again. Twitter sucks and I want nothing to do with it. Thank you to all who gave kind words & support."


In this day and age, though it doesn't solve the problem at hand, it's baffling as to why prominent people, especially in Hollywood or sports (see: Josh Hader at the MLB All Star Game) have such dumb tweets live on their feeds until it's too late. Is it that hard to hire someone to wipe the slate clean? Is everyone that confident in his or her past funniness or decade-old grasp on world affairs? Even Barr, presumably with some urging, deleted a whole bunch of old stuff (though it's not as if ABC didn't know it had once been there).

Taken as a matter-of-fact statement, there is no excuse for Gunn tweeting in 2009, "I like it when little boys touch me in my silly place." But he obviously wasn't being serious. It was a dumb joke, a crass joke. One that everyone has a right to be offended by if they're so inclined.

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel

But couldn't Roseanne Barr's tweet about Valerie Jarrett have been a bad joke, too, people might ask? Well sure, but it was a racist joke. And she made it in 2018, with no regard for the cast and crew of Roseanne, all of whom were counting on her to just be the Roseanne Barr they used to know, not the one who retweeted about Pizzagate and other off-the-wall conspiracy theories concocted to take down Hillary Clinton, or who repeatedly disparaged the transgender community.

None of which means people shouldn't be held accountable for truly bad behavior or terrible things that they said, even if it was years ago. If Disney was truly concerned it had a bad apple on its hands (or actual box office poison), then by all means—out he goes. But was there enough time to predict how many people wouldn't see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 because its director had tweeted gross stuff a decade prior?

No one can defend Gunn's tweets with, "well, see, in this case he had a point..." They were disgusting jokes. But in case you hadn't noticed, comedians are telling so-called disgusting jokes all over HBO, Netflix and in person at comedy clubs, night after night. Gunn isn't a comedian, he was a filmmaker aiming to be "provocative," but context is context. CNN's History of Comedy has a whole episode devoted to the history of pushing the envelope, of what qualifies as too offensive or as an untouchable subject. (Not including eye-opening episodes devoted to the evolution of profanity in comedy and racial and ethnic humor.)

Did Disney fire Gunn for fear of being perceived as biased against a Trump voter (even though Barr was certainly handsomely rewarded initially) and too forgiving of left-wing talent? Were these situations different enough to mark Gunn as salvageable and Barr as disposable? Surely Disney executives are aware that Gunn was joking, albeit badly, years ago? (And did no one think to check the tweets when they hired him years ago...?)

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"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 (who hosted President Barack Obama at a Democratic fundraiser at his home in 2014) said in a statement Friday.

In response to his firing, Gunn said in a statement obtained by E! News, "My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since—not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don't reflect the person I am today or have been for some time.

"Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be: accepting, understanding, committed to equality, and far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse. To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies. Love to all."

People are fired all the time for acting stupid, so was Gunn's past online stupidity simply a fireable offense, unbecoming to company standards?

No one cared, of course, until they were forced to look by Twitter users trying to take Gunn down. Which they succeeded at doing, much to the dismay of anyone who was under the impression that you could be an offensive but otherwise seemingly harmless d-bag a decade ago and not get fired for it today. Then again, plenty of people on Twitter, political affiliations not immediately apparent, are insisting it's also possible to hate the game and the players. Sure, it was a take-down perpetuated by a guy with an agenda whom many find despicable—but he found something, didn't he?

But did he?

Selma Blair, who launched a Change.org petition urging Disney to reconsider, tweeted on Saturday, "I stand by the very decent man @JamesGunn is today. He is a wonderful example of a man committed to owning past discretions and being a stand up person, to say the least." A bit later she retweeted his lengthy explanation from Thursday and added, "I thank you for your talent, your decency and your evolution as a man. You propped me up when I was in a scary place, and guided me towards the decent and right thing to do. You have shown strength of character more than most anyone I know. You understood."

It's getting harder and harder to ascertain who understands what anymore. Lazy, offensive humor may get you fired, but if you want to get serious about being vile, certain pockets of Twitter will welcome you with open arms.

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