The Guardians of the Galaxy director was fired after old, offensive tweets came to light. But who was behind the revelations, asks film journalist Seb Patrick

Amid the entertainment industrys recent wave of firings for inappropriate behaviour or comments, its rare to see a widespread outpouring of support for a sacked individual or for them to be seen as the wronged party. Yet thats what happened earlier this week, as the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 signed an open letter calling for James Gunns reinstatement as the films writer/director.

Gunn was removed as director of the third film in the successful Disney/Marvel series when a number of years-old tweets were dug up and spotlighted by alt-right conspiracists, spearheaded by the blogger Mike Cernovich previously best-known for the ridiculous Pizzagate conspiracy and with a track record for mendacious claims about left-leaning figures involvement in paedophilia.

In the tweets, Gunn made joking reference to rape and paedophilia, as well as using transphobic language. Disneys chairman, Alan Horn, moved quickly to declare the jokes indefensible and inconsistent with our studios values, and say that Disney had severed our business relationship with [Gunn].

In contrast with the firing of Roseanne Barr from the Disney-owned network ABC for a racist tweet made while in their employ, however, Gunns firing has sat rather less well. This isnt to say that the tweets are defensible they are unfunny jokes with little to offer beyond shock value, and certainly dont carry the satirical edge that would justify joking about such provocative subject matter. They dont reflect at all well on Gunn and his sophomoric desire to bust predictable taboos.

James Gunns former proclivity for shock humour should not have been news to a company who hired him to oversee a major creative property. Photograph: Handout/Getty Images

But in firing him so immediately, Disney has invited the question of why these sorts of jokes werent an issue when they hired the writer of such films as Tromeo & Juliet and Slither in the first place. The existence of the specific tweets themselves may not have been common knowledge, but Gunns former proclivity for shock humour should not have been news to a company who hired him to oversee a major creative property and nor should they have been unaware that he had already apologised for his tasteless humour in interviews years before he entered their employ.

Its easy to say this, of course, as a fan of the movies Gunn has been making for Marvel. The two Guardians films so far share one of the strongest authorial voices in the entire Marvel film franchise, and Gunns humour, directorial flair and even music choices were huge contributing factors to their critical and commercial success. From a creative point of view, it will be a genuine disappointment if the third instalment is not made by him.

If the anger and upset over the comments he made was in any way sincere, or if he had continued making these jokes while working on Marvels (largely) family-friendly films, then the decision to sack him would be justifiable over any creative concerns. That neither of these things are true, however, makes the situation difficult to stomach.

Gunn was targeted by Cernovich because of his public anti-Trump stance. He represented an easy scalp for the right, a prominent liberal figure who could be taken down in the same manner as Barr, as an eye for an eye, and to show that the right could weaponise the same kind of outrage they themselves face from so-called snowflakes.

There are no values or morals behind this brand of harpooning. How could Cernovich be offended by jokes about sexual assault when he has previously declared that date rape does not exist, and continues to show fervent support for Trump? All he actually seems to care about is ridding the world of prominent liberal figures in entertainment and politics.

But Cernovich and his ilk who, in the aftermath of Gunns firing, set about similar attacks on comedians Michael Ian Black and Patton Oswalt, albeit with much less tangible success will continue to get away with this strand of manufactured outrage for as long as it plays to the prejudices of their target audience. And Gunn will no doubt work again, whether on a Marvel film or elsewhere entirely. Its Disney, though, who find themselves in the most difficult position.

Their hand may be forced by the actions of the cast whose unity on the issue is striking, particularly since not all of the cast members in question are noted as being particularly left-leaning. They could press on and make a third Guardians film with the spectre of Gunns absence hanging over it, or they could rehire Gunn and invite criticism for back-pedalling from people like Cernovich who werent even going to see the film in the first place.

Either way, in their snap attempt to wash their hands of the affair, they have found themselves just as much the victims of Cernovichs hatchet job. Its hard to feel sympathy for them, however, when they have given equal weight to this type of disingenuous outrage as to the genuine concerns around abusive behaviour in the industry. It should not be forgotten that the company has happily continued to employ Johnny Depp despite the allegations of assault made by Amber Heard. That they have encouraged the proliferation of future disingenuous outrages while standing by far worse culprits reflects just as badly on them as Gunns tasteless old jokes do on him.

Seb Patrick co-hosts Cinematic Universe, a podcast about comic book movies, and is a contributor to Empire and Den of Geek

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