Disney has fired writer-director James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 after a right-wing media personality resurfaced a series of offensive tweets Gunn made, in many cases from 2009 and 2010. “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values,” Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, “and we have severed our business relationship with him.”
As noted by Polygon, conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich — perhaps best known as one of the most active promoters of the fake “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory — began resurfacing 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.
Cernovich also has a history of using old Twitter posts to target 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.
While Gunn’s jokes are by no means appropriate, nor the kind of thing that family-friendly Disney would want to be associated with, Cernovich’s assertion that they prove Gunn is himself part of a pedophilia ring seem just as absurd as the Pizzagate accusations. Anyone who has followed Gunn’s career knows that the filmmaker started in the world of low-budget, exploitation cinema, writing schlocky movies like Tromeo and Juliet before eventually climbing his way into the Hollywood studio system, where he wrote films like Scooby-Doo before finally breaking into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Offensive, shocking humor was one of the filmmaker’s trademarks early in his career, something he acknowledged in an apology posted to Twitter on July 19th:
1. Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.
2. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over.
3. In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies.
4. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it.
5. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.
This isn’t the first time the filmmaker’s sense of humor has led to outrage and concern. A 2011 blog post, “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With,” received harsh criticism for being both homophobic and sexist. The director was also taken to task by fans in 2015 for a moment in the original Guardians of the Galaxy in which Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is referred to as a “green whore.”
Gunn addressed his firing in a statement obtained by ABC. “My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative,” he wrote. “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 time. Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today.”
Update July 20th 5:15PM ET: Added James Gunn’s statement and additional details about Mike Cernovich.