Despite a cast letter asking for James Gunn to be reinstated as the director of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” Walt Disney Studios is currently not planning on rehiring the filmmaker who it recently fired after a series of offensive tweets surfaced, according to multiple people familiar with the studio’s current thinking. The feeling within both Disney and Marvel is that the dozens of so-called jokes that Gunn made about pedophilia and rape are unacceptable in the #MeToo era and are not in line with Disney’s family-friendly image.
The studio recognized that “Guardians” cast members such as Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana stopped short of threatening to quit the series, but there is widespread belief that the actors will show up for future installments, regardless of their personal feelings about Gunn. For one thing, most are under contract and would face legal action if they opted out of a sequel. Still, the public endorsement of the director was notable for its vociferous support.
“We were all shocked by [Gunn’s] abrupt firing last week and have intentionally waited these ten days to respond in order to think, pray, listen, and discuss,” the letter reads. “In that time, we have been encouraged by the outpouring of support from fans and members of the media who wish to see James reinstated as director of Volume 3 as well as discouraged by those so easily duped into believing the many outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding him.”
At this point, the letter does not seem likely to save his job. Gunn’s firing was approved by Disney Studios chief Alan Horn, with his boss, company CEO Bob Iger weighing in on the final decision. The involvement of the highest levels of Disney signals that the cast pressure to rethink the Gunn ouster will struggle to gain internal support. “I don’t see Disney re-hiring him,” says one person close to the matter. “Those tweets were so horrible and Disney has a different standard than other studios.”
Gunn’s comments were nearly a decade old and were recently resurfaced by alt-right agitators, including the blogger Mike Cernovich. The tweets included messages such as, “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!'” and “I’m doing a big Hollywood adaptation of The Giving Tree with a happy ending – the tree grows back and gives the kid a blowjob.” Others made light of AIDS, the Holocaust, and 9/11.
Disney insiders say the company was not aware of the offensive tweets and was taken aback when they were recirculated.
As for replacing Gunn, Disney feels no pressure to immediately find a new director, according to sources, and is willing to wait until the right A-list filmmaker comes along. For one, the studio never gave the film an official release date, even though it was widely expected to hit theaters within the next two years. Depending on how long it takes to land the right director, Disney may in fact wind up pushing back the film’s original February 2019 start date.
Spokespeople for Disney and Marvel declined to comment for this article.
So far, the studio has yet to meet with any Gunn replacements. There have been rumors that Marvel regulars like Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”), or the Russo brothers (“Avengers: Infinity War”) might be enlisted, but sources say that many of the usual suspects are busy with prior obligations. That means that there is a higher likelihood that Disney will reach outside the Marvel family to find a director with the kind of offbeat sensibility to handle the comic-book franchise.
Replacing Gunn won’t be an easy task. Although largely unknown when he took the “Guardians” gig, having made a few cult favorites such as “Slither,” Gunn quickly proved to be more than a gun for hire. As both a writer and a director, he was seen as having a key role in nailing down the film’s light-hearted tone, giving the standard “heroes on a mission” genre a poppy makeover by including ’70s rock favorites on the soundtrack and peppering in lots of jokey asides. When “Guardians” was announced, some questioned its commercial prospects. The characters were low profile and the band of interstellar warriors included a gun-tooting raccoon and a tree. But the film and its sequel were massive successes, earning more than $1.6 billion globally.
This wasn’t Gunn’s first social media scandal. In 2012, the director apologized for a blog post he wrote in 2011, titled “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With.” In the it, Gunn speculated that Iron Man could “turn” the lesbian Batwoman into a heterosexual, labeled Gambit a “Cajun fruit,” and called Batgirl, who is a teenage mother in the comics, “easy.” Facing a backlash, Gunn said he regretted making “poorly worded” statements.
The Gunn firing comes as studios are struggling with how to handle the personal issues of movie stars, given a new “zero tolerance” climate. The sexual harassment reckoning that has toppled media figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, and more, has made these companies less likely to put up with talent that has been accused of assault, or has made impolitic or offensive comments. For instance, ABC, which is owned by Disney, quickly fired Roseanne Barr last spring after she made racist remarks about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, and Paramount laid off TV chief Amy Powell after she allegedly used racially-charged language in the workplace.
On social media, Disney has been hit for working with Johnny Depp on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Alice in Wonderland” films. Depp was accused of assaulting his ex-wife Amber Heard. However, there are no sequels to either franchise in development at Disney, nor does Depp have any films in the works at the studio or an overall production deal with the company. It seems unlikely he will going back to work at the studio in this climate.
Perhaps with good reason. Warner Bros.’ decision to include Depp in its Comic-Con presentation for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” raised hackles on social media, particularly because Heard took the stage roughly an hour later to promote “Aquaman.”
“WB brought Johnny Depp out for the Fantastic Beasts panel (as a surprise!!!) immediately proceeding their Aquaman panel, featuring Amber Heard,” tweeted Entertainment Weekly correspondent Dana Schwartz. “That makes me nauseous.”