July 30, 2018
So, I’ve been mulling over Disney’s recent firing of director James Gunn for inappropriate jokes he tweeted nearly a decade ago. While his tweets were dumb and insensitive – as Gunn acknowledged in an apology – they were from a long time ago, and seem to not reflect the judgment of Gunn today.
I was going to write up a piece on this today, but then I read two items that far more ably capture this matter and why Gunn should be rehired.
The first came from the always-sensible David French at National Review. He made some important points in a column titled The Difference Between James Gunn and Roseanne Barr, including some commonsense principles to follow on such matters:
• “Make no mistake, the tweets are offensive, terrible, and gross. Gunn ‘jokes’ about rape and pedophilia, among other topics, but there’s no indication that he’s guilty of committing any unlawful acts, there’s no indication that he continues to ‘joke’ in the same manner, and by all accounts that I’ve read, he’s been a consummate professional while directing one of Marvel’s premiere film franchises. As anyone who reads me know, I err on the side of protecting individual expression and grow extremely tired of the online shame campaigns.”
• “First, there is a difference between present and past speech. In other words, if I’m performing well and behaving professionally in my current job, then past offensive words shouldn’t be a firing offense.”
• “Second, when evaluating present-day speech, there is a difference between good faith and bad faith. As I outlined recently in the Washington Post, there is a big difference between employees who dissent from corporate policies or politics respectfully and those who are intentionally vile and malicious.”
• “Third, when in doubt, err on the side of protecting freedom of expression. Reasonable minds can differ on the offensiveness of any given tweet or post. Moreover, there is a difference between an impulsive mistake and a pattern of conduct. Read words charitably, if at all possible.”
• “Fourth, apply these principles equally — regardless of ideology. ‘Free speech for me but not for thee’ results only in tribal warfare.”
Solid advice from Mr. French.
For good measure, on July 30, the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy signed and released a letter calling on Disney to rehire Gunn. Among their key points:
• “We fully support James Gunn. We were all shocked by his abrupt firing last week and have intentionally waited these ten days to respond in order to think, pray, listen, and discuss. In that time, we’ve 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 around him.”
• “We are not here to defend his jokes of many years ago but rather to share our experience having spent many years together on the set making Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2. The character he has shown in the wake of his firing is consistent with the man he was every day on set, and his apology, now and from years ago when first addressing these remarks, we believe is from the heart, a heart we all know, trust, and love. In casting each of us to help him tell the story of misfits who find redemption, he changed our lives forever. We believe the theme of redemption has never been more relevant than now.”
• “There is little due process in the court of public opinion. James is likely not the last good person to be put on trial. Given the growing political divide in this country, it’s safe to say instances like this will continue, although we hope Americans from across the political spectrum can ease up on the character assassinations and stop weaponizing mob mentality.”
No need for me to add anything more to these spot-on declarations, except to reiterate that Disney should rehire Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, and at the risk of stating the obvious, free speech and redemption matter deeply to each one of us.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels, with the two latest books being Reagan Country: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel and Heroes and Villains: A Pastor Stephen Grant Short Story. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.