James Gunn wrote some pretty shitty tweets in 2008. This year, someone dug up those tweets. According to some articles, it was right-wing “cyber-nazi” trolls with the express purpose of ruining famous lives. According to others, the tweets simply “resurfaced.” However it happened, James Gunn as he was decades ago—a filmmaker in the midst of the “controversy wave” where any and all shocking, out-there, and generally offensive behavior was required to even be noticed in Hollywood—was exposed. In a move that seems reactionary and paranoid, Disney fired Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 almost immediately.
People Change All the Time in Real Life
One of the big lessons entertainment media has touted over the years is “People Don’t Change.” Whether it’s the villain who suddenly sees the error of their ways and wants to join the team, or the mean ex-boyfriend who went to jail, disappeared for a while, and has now returned to your small town unexpectedly and wants to have coffee and talk, the theme that runs through these narratives is “once a villain, always a villain.”
But that’s not always true. People change all the time in real life. They learn from their mistakes, realize they were wrong or ignorant, and they learn. The people who repeat their harmful actions are the people who don’t learn.
In cases like James Gunn, he learned. I’m not going to defend him, and I literally can’t defend his tweets. But, he learned.
The Roseanne Barr Example
In most of the reactions I’ve read over the course of this event, writers have used Roseanne Barr as an example: Roseanne Barr made offensive comments and tweets all the way to present times. All these decades, she continued to be a bitter old racist. Hollywood Reporter columnist Marc Bernardin wrote, in response to Barr, “You fire that person today for what she or he did yesterday.” James Gunn made offensive tweets for shock value ten years ago and was fired for them even though he realized he was wrong and grew as a person. He was fired today for what he did a decade ago.
Quoted in a National Review article by Jim Geraghty, Bernardin “points out that the current mentality — where year-old tweets can mean instant termination if they’re bad enough, regardless of how you treat people in real life — does not allow people to make awful decisions and learn from them and become better.” Bernardin writes, “Is the content of those past tweets revolting? Absolutely. Undeniably. And Gunn, now 51, was in his 40s when he sent them, hardly a kid. But so long as there has been no actual criminal activity, there has to be a difference between who a person was and who a person is. And we have to allow for the fact that people can change.”
James Gunn’s Apology
James Gunn has released a “refreshingly sincere” apology and statement addressing the tweets. As told to EW, his full statement is as follows:
“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.”
So, What Now, Disney?
The consensus of this entire ordeal seems to be a Gob Bluth-style “Disney has made a huge mistake.” James Gunn’s jokes were in extremely poor taste, but there’s no evidence he treats people that way in real life. Because of this, in Screen Rant writer Michael Kennedy’s opinion, “he’s not quite in the same realm of Hollywood disgrace as accused serial sex offenders like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.”
Currently, Disney hasn’t released any sort of statement about Gunn’s termination or plans for Guardians 3. In this author’s opinion, the immediate firing and lack of explanation make Disney look guilty and reactionary. Like they had something to hide. Here’s hoping a comment from Disney will come to us soon.