The James Gunn issue is complicated. There are many layers to it, and while some see it as black and white, it is much more layered than that.
First of all, this isn’t like Roseanne. Roseanne said something awful in the moment. ABC reacted to it, in the moment. That was absolutely the right decision. Roseanne will get more work in the coming years, just as Hollywood has seemed to forgive Mel Gibson now. Gunn has been apologetic for his undeniably disgusting tweets, and Disney hired him with that knowledge. If Disney changed their mind on their own accord, then I would be fine with that, and we could all move on. But they didn’t. They felt pressure from someone who has made equally disgusting tweets, and doesn’t at all care that his beloved President has said awful things too. It was a purely political agenda, and Disney caving to that is what is truly disappointing.
The best way I can process James Gunn is through the prism of Howard Stern’s career. Howard Stern is an LGBT ally, feminist, and the best celebrity interviewer in the business. But he didn’t used to be. To most people who do not listen to Howard Stern currently, his old reputation precedes him. The reputation of him verbally abusing adult film stars who are not “perfect 10s” is what people know. Or Stern mocking gay people by going into “The Homo Room” as “Out of the Closet Stern” also comes up. Both of those things seem so foreign now. Stern has had years of therapy and he has become a better person because of it. His wife, Beth Ostrosky, has helped too. Beth has softened him, and now he cares more about rescuing kittens through North Shore Animal League than he does about judging naked women.
I am a Howard Stern fan. When I was young, I was a fan of the inappropriate and angry Stern. I was an angry, lonely, hormonal teenager, so it fit with what I wanted. But as I grew up and evolved into a better, more understanding person, so did Stern. His show is now the number one destination for people like J.J. Abrams, Tracy Morgan, Tina Fey, Sacha Baron Cohen, Claire Danes, Lady Gaga, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan to go for the premiere sit down interview. As opposed to 20 years ago, when The Howard Stern Show was the number one place to go if you could play an instrument with your genitalia.
On Sirius XM, old episodes of The Howard Stern Show play constantly. They have their own channel dedicated to it. When a really old segment plays, it feels like it is a completely different person hosting. If Stern was the same angry, misogynistic person he was on the air 20 years ago, I would not be a fan anymore. His celebrity interviews alone are worth the price for a Sirius subscription. Stern still talks about sex, and his show is still funny, but it is a more intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive show.
Stern takes huge chunks of his four hour show to fight for safe abortion rights for women. He also staunchly supports gay marriage and adoption. LGBT Icons like George Takei, Andy Cohen, Rosie O’Donnell, and Ellen DeGeneres have all thanked Stern for his support and consider him an ally.
Howard Stern has changed for the better. While I wasn’t exposed to James Gunn as much, it seems like he has too. But if you still aren’t sold on this, look no further than the company’s name sake, Walt Disney. Walt Disney was a Nazi sympathizer, among other things. This piece from Vulture highlights some of the disturbing facts about Disney. The corporation that holds his namesake has changed and evolved as well. They should recognize that, like Stern, Gunn has too. That is why this differs from the Roseanne situation. Roseanne said something in the present, and was swiftly and rightfully terminated. The past came back to haunt Gunn, but not because Disney had a change of heart due to a moral shift. It was because of political bullying from a man named Mike Cernovich, who joked about similar subject matter on Twitter and supports a President who makes fun of disabled people and the “Me Too” movement. There is no consistency in his call to can Gunn. It was not for moral reasons whatsoever. It was purely a selfish move due to a differing political opinion. If it was truly about Gunn’s undeniably disgusting comments, there wouldn’t be as much of an outcry here. But it is the political bullying from someone who cares nothing about the actual comments made, but used them as the fuel needed to spark his personal agenda.
If you are disgusted by what Gunn tweeted, I don’t blame you. They didn’t even come off as “jokes”. They were pretty dark, disturbing, and inexcusable. I am not debating whether he should have gotten fired. If that is the stance Disney wanted to take that’s fine, but they will have to fire a ton of people to remain consistent. It is the fact that Disney folded to someone with an agenda.
Publicly, it seems that Gunn has changed. He has put his past behind him, and was on a positive path. He put out some wonderful art that inspired other people. There is no denying he had dark thoughts, and if he kept on that path, then he absolutely should not have helmed the Guardians movie.
This is a complicated issue. The only wrong feeling is that Gunn is wrong when no one else you agree with politically, who says the same things that Gunn does, is.
This could be the start of a troubling trend for people who are trying to become better humans.
I’ll leave you with words from Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who: