Why James Gunn’s Firing is More About Disney Than James Gunn

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Disney)

Sneaky Disney! Firing James Gunn, one of your star directors, on the first day of Comicon!

Last week, certain right-wing online influencers dragged up a few of Gunn’s old tweets, in which he made some frankly disgusting and inexcusable comments that I most certainly will not be sharing here.

In response, less than a day later, it was announced that Gunn had been fired as director on “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3”, and that Marvel was severing all ties with the creator.

This, naturally, left many fans of the series somewhat baffled. Why was Disney moving so quickly to oust Gunn when the company has never made such quick strides with creative types whose crimes are arguably worse.

Petitions have naturally been started, as fans and industry professionals alike attempt to save Gunn’s career. Yes, they argue, his comments from ten years ago were gross and inappropriate. But the punishment in this case doesn’t fit the crime.

For the record, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about all this. I can kind of see Disney’s perspective, but I don’t entirely buy their logic in removing Gunn so quickly from everything.

The timing of this is especially suspicious when you factor in that this all took place right as San Diego Comicon was kicking off. If ever a company wanted to try burying some unpopular news, that was the perfect time to do so.

I’m not accusing Disney of some big, grand conspiracy here. I don’t think the company deliberately orchestrated this whole situation.

As it stands, though, I do think we can learn a few things about the people who are running the House of Mouse from the way things played out.

A Victim of The Twittersphere

First off, let’s bear in mind that there is no way that Disney was not already aware of James Gunn’s tweets. These have been public since 2008, and any large organization does a background check on senior creators at Gunn’s level that would involve trawling through his social media.

Gunn even addressed these tweets himself back in 2012, already showing remorse for them. Thus, we know that Disney was very well aware of their existence, and decided they didn’t matter. This was a pre-#MeToo world, and a few tasteless “jokes” weren’t going to stop a white male director from ascending to the top of a major movie franchise.

So why did Disney react so quickly, and so harshly, when this latest storm blew in?

James Gunn Guardians 2
Source: Disney

We don’t know the political leanings of the entirety of the senior executive team at Disney, but we do know that many of them have somewhat conservative views. Take Ike Perlmutter for example. Perlmutter is a bigwig at Marvel, and is currently in charge of Marvel TV, “The Inhumans”, and all the other terrible stuff it’s producing. He’s also previously donated large sums of money to the Donald Trump electoral campaign.

In fact, he’s such a big deal within the Trump campaign that there’s speculation he may actually join the President’s cabinet at some point. He’s a big deal in Republican politics, to say the least.

I’m not criticizing here; I’m merely pointing out the facts. At least one high up decision maker within Marvel is a Republican. This is public knowledge.

Considering the wealth of the Disney executives, I’d assume Perlmutter is probably not alone, although this is admittedly a little more conjecture.

Jumping the Gunn

While studio executives at Disney are more right-leaning in their politics, creators instead sway to the left. Gunn is perhaps one of the more outspoken liberals among the current crop of Marvel moviemakers, which is likely why he was targeted in this way by conservative Twitter users.

Bear in mind that this next bit of my theory is entirely conjecture.

Imagine that you’re a conservative working in Hollywood. You’re going to get your news from right wing media sources, and you’re going to follow like-minded people on Twitter.

So when an online witch hunt surrounding James Gunn kicks off, your newsfeed is going to feature a concentrated dose of these tweets. You’re not seeing how the general public are reacting, as the debate in question is swirling around a minority of vocal commenters that just happen to swim in the online circles that you’re familiar with.

Thus, I suspect, Disney executives misread the situation, and immediately acted to stop what they thought was a global call for Gunn’s removal.

This would explain why other creative types haven’t been punished as harshly. Many people note that Gunn has been removed while (alleged) domestic abuser Johnny Depp is still in good favor with Disney. I would suggest that this is because the people who are angry at Depp’s involvement are not on Disney’s radar. The company’s executives are more focused on the opinions of James Gunn’s enemies.

Guardians Yondu
Source: Disney

Thus, I get the feeling that this is something of a misunderstanding, created because of the lack of diversity at the head of the biggest media empire in the world. Some voices shout louder than others, and this is made more complicated when decision makers are giving more attention to the voices that they already agree with.

Unrest in the House of Mouse

Of course, there is another possible theory.

As I pointed out, the Comicon timing for this entire scandal feels a little too convenient. It’s the best possible time of year to cut loose a problematic creator.

Considering just how quickly Disney moves to oust James Gunn, I can’t help but wonder if there was some existing beef behind-the-scenes that we’re not privy to.

This isn’t to say that I think some big political issue was brewing behind the scenes. Instead, I wonder if Gunn’s vision for the future of the MCU matched up with what Disney has been wanting.

Ravager Guardians Team
Source: Disney

It seems strange to me that Marvel is pushing so hard to set up a series of space operas. Following the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy”, this makes sense. But Disney also owns “Star Wars”, a series that arguably has even greater potential.

The “Star Wars” brand has been suffering lately, while Marvel’s cosmic star is on the rise. It made sense to give James Gunn control of a big chunk of the MCU as he built up not just one, but two “Guardians” franchises moving forward.

This is good news for Marvel, but bad news for Lucasfilm, who are still suffering from the double-whammy of “The Last Jedi” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story”.

The “Star Wars” Wars

Certain powerful parties within Disney might have a vested interest in killing off the space opera side of the MCU in order to keep “Star Wars” limping forward.

So perhaps this is all about politics after all, albeit not of the nationwide variety. Maybe some people at Disney want James Gunn removed because he’s making them look bad by comparison.

This would explain why Gunn was let go immediately, while (also alleged) sexual abuser John Lasseter was allowed a far more graceful, gradual departure from Pixar in order to save face.

I know this sounds petty and stupid and silly, but bear in mind, we’re dealing with billion dollar movies here. If there’s a chance to stab someone in the back and get a leg up on your competition, even within your own company, some of these executives will take that chance.

This, I suspect, is part of the reason why James Gunn has been fired, while Disney continues to do business with actors and directors who’ve committed far more egregious sins.