Disney’s Termination of James Gunn Empowers the Alt-Right

On July 20th, reports came out that Disney fired director James Gunn, best known for his work on the Guardians of the Galaxy films, due to tasteless jokes made on Twitter from 2008 to 2012. These tweets were dug up and promoted by alt-right personality Mike Cernovich (although he denies the label and considers himself part of the “new right”) as a response to Gunn’s criticisms of President Donald Trump.

These jokes hit all kinds of contentious issues such as pedophilia, rape, and AIDs, with tweets reading, “I’m doing a big Hollywood film adaptation of The Giving Tree with a happy ending – the tree grows back and gives the kid a blowjob,” and another that read “Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDs.” His firing has been met with major backlash, with much of it coming from the Guardians of the Galaxy cast and other public figures, including Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland and actor Patton Oswalt.

Recently, Warner Bros. and DC have hired Gunn to write and possibly direct Suicide Squad 2, which has brought back the conversation over whether Gunn deserves to be forgiven for comments made ten years ago. Many people have criticized this move as Hollywood studios being too forgiving and lenient towards a potential sexual harasser, rapist, or, worse, a pedophile, especially when the movie industry had been lenient towards problematic people in the past. It was only May of this year that Roman Polanski was finally expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for rape crimes that spanned from 1977 and are still being revealed today, and there was a surprisingly small amount of backlash against Asia Argento when it was revealed that she had sexually assaulted a 17-year-old in 2013, perhaps due to her status as one of the first women who accused Harvey Weinstein.

While these criticisms and Disney’s termination of James Gunn may seem valid on a surface level, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement and during an extremely sensitive time when Disney is in the middle of purchasing 20th Century Fox, it is extremely difficult to justify it. Gunn has moved on from being the person who made these jokes, and the people primarily behind the criticisms aren’t social justice advocates or feminists, but are white supremacists who advocated that date rape doesn’t exist.

One of the reasons why Gunn’s termination is complete unjustifiable is because it invalidates the years of maturity that he built on top of the person he once was. Even back in 2008 when Twitter didn’t have the influence it has now, he had already been called out for these comments by advocacy groups and has apologized multiple times since (including after he was fired), stating that he regretted making them all and that “’they don’t reflect the person [he is] today or have been for some time.’”

Beyond these comments, there is no evidence or accusations of him committing actual pedophilia from “victims” (a lesson Elon Musk should learn) and the lack of these types of tweets in recent years clearly shows his genuine growth as a person.

This isn’t to say that I and other defenders are dismissing or defending Gunn’s tweets. They are absolutely indefensible, unfunny at best, and at worst, triggering to people who have been in those situations. Rather, this outrage is coming from the understanding that Gunn has already fully accepted the responsibility of his actions and moved on from his past. As someone who has also said provocative stuff in the past and has moved on and matured since then, I completely sympathize with Gunn. If I were him, I too would want people to see me for who I am today rather than who I used to be.

The most damning thing that came out of Gunn’s termination, however, is Disney’s willingness to listen to the cybernazis who brought attention to Gunn’s tweets in the first place. Mike Cernovich has endorsed movements in the past that have resulted in nearly destroying hundreds of lives, including Gamergate, a massive harassment campaign in 2014 against hundreds of women in the video game industry, and Pizzagate, a false conspiracy that claimed the Democratic Party during the 2016 presidential election used a pizza restaurant for sex-trafficking purposes.

Cernovich has also used the same pedophile trick on anyone who would dare criticize our Supreme Leader Trump, most notably on comedian Michael Ian Black right after Gunn’s termination. By choosing to listen to someone who has clearly had a problematic history with minors and the left, Disney is silently promoting the alt-right movement and further enabling its widespread campaign of harassment and erasure.

While I am still disappointed that Disney terminated Gunn, I am glad to see a studio that understands the horrific implications of Disney’s decision and hire him; it shows that the past can be separated from the present and that the alt-right doesn’t have total dominance over the livelihoods of others (at least not yet). I, along with others, will be supporting Gunn in his future endeavors, including watching the sequel to a movie that doesn’t deserve one.

Ashley Zhou is a second-year software engineering major. She can be reached at adzhou@uci.edu.