In case you haven’t heard the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, James Gunn, has recently been fired by Disney. What’s interesting about this situation is that it’s not really all that new at all. There’s an apparent tactic happening online that’s very strategic, and unfortunately both Disney and MSNBC have fallen for it. Nevertheless, while Disney may think there isn’t much of a bright side, I’m going to lay out what their next steps should be. Namely, they should rehire James Gunn by reflecting on the incredibly similar situation MSNBC recently experienced.
Quick Recap Of James Gunn’s Firing
Back around 2008 or 2009, James Gunn tweeted out a lot of disturbingly unfunny comments that were supposedly jokes referring to rape and pedophilia among other things. If you’ve followed James Gunn’s social media, then you’ll know he’s been very vocal with his more liberal, political opinions. Conservative bloggers, such as Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec, decided to expose Gunn’s past social media tweets. According to Gunn, he had made those comments with the intention of them being jokes and satire.
I think most people agree that the jokes weren’t funny (including Gunn himself), and for the time being, he’s not connected to any allegations or actions of following through with those jokes. Anyway, Gunn actually has apologized for those crude jokes back in 2012. Afterwards, Disney still decided to hire him to write and direct the Guardians of the Galaxy films and more. Despite his previous apology, Gunn apologized yet again when his tweets resurfaced, but it was too late. Disney snapped their fingers and severed ties to him. Since his firing, Gunn has accepted full responsibility, a number of people in the film industry have spoken out to defend him, and hundreds of thousands have signed petitions in support of Gunn. (Currently at over 250K signatures!)
MSNBC’s Similar Experience
Back in 2017, MSNBC contributor, Sam Seder, was fired from the cable network after the same far right activists brought attention to Seder’s tweet posted in 2009. MSNBC fired Seder, thousands of people protested by signing a petition, other hosts came out in support of Seder, and as a result MSNBC reversed their decision. In a statement by MSNBC President Phil Griffin, he said,
“Sometimes you just get one wrong — and that’s what happened here.”
Griffin took the moral high road and took accountability, and did the right thing by rehiring Seder. Yes, it was a gut punch for the company image. Nevertheless, it was one they survived.
The Problem With James Gunn’s Firing
One key issue is whether or not Disney knew about his previous comments/jokes before they hired him. For a company that really cares deeply about their image, I find it very hard to believe that Disney was completely unaware of Gunn’s past crude humor. If Disney was aware, and they still fired him after they “discovered” his old tweets, then that would be problematic.
If James Gunn was good enough for Disney to hire, and since has not reflected the same type of previous behavior or jokes, then I don’t see how it’s fair for Disney to essentially punish him again. Disney essentially would be creating a situation of double jeopardy.
The biggest problem Disney will have on their hands regardless is establishing trust with current and new film talent. This new precedent by Disney of folding under social media pressure (without contextualizing and fairly assessing the situation first) will create a very untrustworthy work environment. Why would any actor with a comedic background want to work for Disney, if a fringe Conservative group attacks the actor’s past, and Disney caves again? Why would any director of notoriety decide to trust Disney to fully support them after the way they treated a director who’s demonstrated a change for the better? What’s to stop fans from boycotting future Disney movies? Disney’s knee jerk reaction in firing Gunn only opened up new problems for the future.
How Disney Should Proceed To Rehire James Gunn
The very first thing Disney should do is simply take accountability for acting prematurely. Maintaining a positive image for any company is imperative. However, it’s unrealistic to maintain a perfect image forever. Companies, like people, make mistakes…and that’s okay. At the end of the day people will typically respect self-accountability more so than a faux sense of moral superiority.
Next step for Disney is to follow in MSNBC’s footsteps and rehire James Gunn. Disney’s already put themselves in a corner, so they have to go down the path of least resistance now. MSNBC chose to rehire Seder despite any right-wing Conservative backlash. As matter of fact, MSNBC has only been growing in total viewers ever since. Disney may piss off a tiny number of people, but pleasing the fans, and future talent will ultimately work out more in the bigger picture.
If some PR help is needed, all Disney would have to say is something like,
“We have had more time to review the situation and under deeper deliberation, we have realized that we acted too quickly in the matter. We’re not perfect, but we always strive to do what’s right; not just for our company, but for the many men and women that work very hard each and every day here.”
After issuing a statement like that, Disney could just leak something to press with a headline of, “Disney In Talks To Rehire James Gunn“. This way the “in talks” aspect of the headline keeps maintains the appearance that there’s some sort of rational negotiation happening. Then just flat out rehire James Gunn. When that’s done, sit back, enjoy the praise from fans and the media, and just mute the far right conservatives who have obviously neglected the concepts of forgiveness and redemption.