Continuing to reverberate: the stunning take-down of director James Gunn by conservative journalists who bared years-old disgusting tweets that got Gunn ostracized from Disney’s Marvel Comics Universe. His banishment from returning for a third Guardians of the Galaxy film prompted this response from Dave Bautista, the former wrestler and mixed martial artist who began his ascension as an actor in that film series. Said Bautista on his own Twitter thread: “I will have more to say but for right now all I will say is this..@JamesGunn is one of the most loving,caring,good natured people I have ever met. He’s gentle and kind and cares deeply for people and animals. He’s made mistakes. We all have. Im NOT ok with what’s happening to him.”
It is admirable for the brawny Bautista to be one of few voices so far who would stand up for his friend, but really, what was Disney to do? I think what Gunn might have done was to own his narrative and directly and pre-emptively address this self-inflicted thorn that has long haunted his career. The moment he realized he was being set up to take a fall and that he was going to be punished for his own liberal opinions, he should have gotten out in front and discussed his past as a social media provocateur. He could have explained why he served up so many thoughts that are impossible to defend or even understand, how he has evolved as a person and artist and what it is like to live with a ticking time bomb like this that could have been used against him at any time, even though it was partly addressed several years ago when the weight of such words wasn’t as great as they are now. It might not have changed what happened to him. But Gunn did all those things after the fact, anyway, when it was too late. Disney, in the middle of acquiring Fox, had little choice but to disown him, the way the conglomerate did with Roseanne Barr.
This follows by a day Amy Powell’s firing as head of Paramount Television for allegedly making racially insensitive comments. That was just as abrupt a dismissal, but a look behind the curtain once again makes it understandable that her bosses had little choice here. My first thought when Powell was dismissed was, why not a reprimand? Why wasn’t she made to understand why people were offended, and why wasn’t she given a chance to apologize? How can you even run a creative meeting when every word you utter will be scrutinized and could be grounds for dismissal? Where are the second chances? Does everyone in this #metoo politically correct maelstrom deserve an instant guillotine?
I have heard since that the reprimand attempt was the first corporate move, but Powell was so adamant in her denial that she gave no ground and there was no point in seeking an apology or discourse, and that forced the hand of Paramount chairman Jim Gianopulos. This now will play out in a lawsuit and an eventual settlement, most probably, but neither Powell nor Gunn ever will be the same here, and along with Barr, they’ve been fired for … words.
Not everyone else watching freedom of speech fall down the rabbit hole will be as courageous as Batista in publicly confronting whether all of this is OK or not. Hollywood studios aren’t known for courage: It wasn’t long ago that every other studio left Sony twisting when it was hacked by North Korea and embarrassing emails were disseminated to media because of the depiction of Kim Jong-un in The Interview. Media served up embarrassing private emails, that zeal only tempered when a fresh batch of Michael Lynton missives was topped by a cover letter promising that theaters playing The Interview might be firebombed. George Clooney tried to get studios to sign a petition in support of Sony and nobody would sign it.
There are no shortage of celebrity Twitter feeds filled with self-important Donald Trump-bashing thoughts. But not so many are addressing this earthquake in their own backyard, one that is consuming Hollywood right now, killing careers by the week. This is a dangerous course Hollywood is on, and perhaps these rash moves could be tempered by artists with clout, who might interpret whether it is OK that their masters are acting so swiftly in ending careers because of revelations that sometimes are supplied by those who’ve weaponized a worthy movement like #metoo and twisted the hunt for sexual predators into something else. There are no easy answers to what is happening, but would a corporation even consider weathering the storm of controversy now, when the next artists says something stupid? Is there no room for redemption and contrition?
I recall being stunned when Netflix dismissed an exec in children’s programming, simply for giving a careless an answer when asked by a stranger on the sidelines of a kids soccer game, why Danny Masterson was still working on a Netflix sitcom despite rape allegations. As I recall, the man was either coaching or watching his kid’s game when he gave a toss-away answer, somewhat understandable given that he was distracted and since he had nothing to do with Masterson or Netflix’s process in deciding whether to fire the actor. Rather than a reprimand and a demand he apologize, Andy Yeatman was instantly fired and his soccer-playing kid suddenly had a father who was unemployed and damaged goods, simply because he said the wrong thing to a stranger, who unbeknownst to him, was an alleged victim. I wondered what positive purpose was served with such a rash dismissal, other than, like Disney and Paramount, Netflix keeping itself on the right side of political correctness even though many would consider its leaders to be corporate cowards.
We saw the stakes when Netflix sacked its chief spokesman for using the N-word, and the controversy dragged down its stock price. These Twilight Zone-type events are now the new norm, and I expect past social media musings to be fair game for future take-downs.
Many in Hollywood will be tempted to whistle past the graveyard as they clean up past indiscretions, shrug their shoulders and recall a famous movie line from, ironically, an iconic film directed by another banished filmmaker, Roman Polanski, who finally was excised by the Academy not for words but for raping an underage girl in the ’70s and leaving the country before being forced to face the consequences.
“It’s Chinatown, Jake.”