Gunn’s Firing Sets a Bad Precedent
The issues with Gunn’s firing extend far beyond Disney and Marvel. To see any studio yield to the demands of the alt-right is a disappointment but it also sets a dangerous precedent. We have already seen what happens when hate groups launch campaigns against the pop culture they deride. Disney has enough experience with this following the extensive abuse lobbied at Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and the film’s stars, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran. Tran’s departure from Instagram after an extended period of online bullying drew major headlines and a continuing discussion over fandom toxicity.
For the most part, Disney has stood by their team in the face of online hate. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, herself no stranger to online abuse, has vocally expressed support for Johnson, and the films’ cast condemned the bullies who attacked Tran. What happened with Gunn is not entirely comparable, but the same tactics were used. The agenda was set – hurt James Gunn – and the goal was achieved, in part because Disney did not understand what they were up against. They assumed good faith on behalf of those dragging up Gunn’s past, seemingly unaware of how an ongoing culture war has made it impossible for anyone to play by the old rules.
If Gunn Returns, It Will Still Be Messy For Disney
It does not seem all that impossible for Disney to bite the bullet and let James Gunn return to the Marvel fold, with the latest rumors suggesting he take on a new franchise. At this moment in time, this would probably be the best course of action, even if it totally glosses over the complex situation surrounding the firing. Ultimately, every option available to Disney will yield further PR problems: either they don't bring him back and deal with the next couple of years of questioning headlines and a cast who remain vocal in their support of Gunn, or they sheepishly fold him back into the team and deal with how bad their original decision was.
The latter is obviously preferable here, but this is still Disney, a company unused to screw-ups on this level, and the PR rollout they would need to ensure a smooth transition would be difficult. There’s a lot Disney and Marvel will need to do before they get this far. Social media training should become an absolute necessity for past and future members of the franchise, and the company will need to get political on some level to combat the alt-right problem. This is not exclusively a Disney problem: it’s arguable that no studio can remain 100% apolitical on any issue but particularly one like this.
Disney and Marvel have more to lose on the James Gunn matter than the mere creative input of a popular director. This is something that will affect them across multiple levels: relations with fans and their own cast members; the political implications; the loss of a defining talent in their franchise; and the possibility of losing said talent to another studio. There is nothing to stop Warner Bros. from snapping up Gunn for the DCEU, or from Blumhouse signing him to an exclusive contract for a new franchise of unique horror films. That kind of hiring would send a major message to Disney, Marvel and the rest of the industry, one that Disney in particular can’t afford to ignore.
It’s not too late for them to make amends, but having already a mistake this major, Disney will have more to contend with than just James Gunn.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019