James Gunn was hastily fired by Disney from his director role on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in July 2018. This happened after a series of ten-year-old tweets were unearthed by conservative personaties online, tweets that made light of pedophelia and rape. Disney, the studio behind the realization of the Marvel comics team of heroes as a movie franchise, made the announcement in the midst of San Diego Comic-Con 2018.
In an equally surprising move, Disney has now reinstated him.
The firing was controversial, with Guardians of the Galaxy stars including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper and Dave Bautista signing an open letter asking for the James Gunn to be rehired. Bautista, in particular, had been outspoken in his support of Gunn.
Disney began putting feelers out for new directors, but by mid-fall, it became apparent that they weren’t having much luck. What almost nobody knew was that Marvel/Disney had gone back to Gunn, talked it out and made a deal. Everyone concerned kept a lid on this; Disney’sacting so quickly without digging into the facts had its consequences, and they obviously felt needed a social media time out while they sorted everything out.
When Gunn was fired, he issued a statement apologizing for his previous tweets.
“My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative,” his July 2018 statement read. “I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some timeMore to come.
It’s probably worth noting that this story was broken by conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich— perhaps best known as one of the most active promoters of the fake “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory — who dug up some of Gunn’s old tweets, some going back nearly a decade. In the tweets, Gunn makes a number of jokes about pedophilia and molestation. In Pizzagate, right-wing media personalities like Cernovich pushed the idea that Hillary Clinton and other members of Democratic leadership were running a child-molestation ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, DC. They promoted the absurd theory so fiercely that eventually a man who bought into Cernovich’s rhetoric opened fire in the restaurant with an assault rifle.
This isn’t the first time Cernovich has used old Twitter posts to target what he perceived to be outspoken progressive voices. In 2017, he launched a similar smear campaign against MSNBC contributor Sam Seder over a sarcastic tweet Seder had posted regarding Roman Polanski back in 2009. MSNBC initially responded by cutting ties with Seder, though two days later, it reversed course. Gunn, it should be noted, has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and the GOP in general, making him a ripe target for someone like Cernovich to attempt to silence.
Disney has now also reversed course, probably mostly due to the fact that finding a replacement for Gunn turned out to be impossible – but possibly also because they’ve had time to think about who the source was, and came to the realization that they were being trolled.