If you know James Gunn at all, you probably know him as the director of Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy films. Gunn was hired by Marvel in 2011 to develop the Guardians, a barely known C-list superhero team, into a new Marvel franchise. Gunn exceeded expectations, turning the two Guardians films into a global phenomenon that has earned over 1.5 billion dollars at the box office.
Gunn succeeded with the Guardians by drawing the team as a group of damaged misfits who must address their own scarred pasts to overcome conflict, and eventually bond into a family. They are arguably the most personal, auteur-driven films of the entire Marvel stable. Their powerful message resonated with many Guardians fans who identify as misfits themselves, fans who were touched deeply by the films' themes of hope, growth, and redemption.
Long before Gunn joined the Marvel team, he began his career writing schlocky, low budget horror films for Troma Entertainment, where he worked on films like Tromeo and Juliet. Troma's films, and the culture surrounding them, are steeped in shock humor, and so it should come as no surprise that Troma-era Gunn engaged in that sort of humor. During those years he shared a handful of particularly tasteless jokes on Twitter, which he later apologized for and removed. All of this happened before Gunn's relationship with Marvel began.
By all accounts, Gunn's behavior while working for Marvel was positive and productive. Outside the studio, Gunn continued to share his thoughts on Twitter, speaking out against what he saw as unjust political policies, in defense of persecuted minorities, and as a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. His political statements, particularly those criticizing President Trump, often drew the ire of the internet's "alt-right" movement. In July 2018, a group of online trolls dug up some of Gunn's old, tasteless jokes, and used them to manufacture a viral outrage campaign, which they brought to Gunn's employers at Marvel's parent company Disney. Gunn was promptly fired by Disney Chairman Alan Horn, with barely any thought or discussion or investigation.
It's often surmised that Gunn was fired due to especially bad timing: as this crisis arose in the very week that Disney was preparing to finalize its shareholder approval of its acquisition of Fox Entertainment, a mega-merger that would put Disney in control of nearly 50% of the film industry; and that Disney simply couldn't risk any controversy interfering with the merger.
In the wake of Gunn's abrupt and shocking exit, numerous people close to him came to his defense: a public letter of support was published and signed by the primary cast of the films, including Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Sean Gunn, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan and Michael Rooker. Selma Blair, Michael Rooker, and director Scott Derrickson all deleted their Twitter accounts in solidarity. Dave Bautista shared several angry Tweets supporting Gunn and lambasting Disney. Sean Gunn tweeted out a moving letter of support that emphasized his brother James' evolution as a person and as an artist. Dozens of articles were written about the shocking nature of Gunn's firing, and its chilling implications for all public figures who engage with social media.
The fans also spoke up. At the time of this writing, Chris Pratt's instagram post of the cast letter has over 1.4 million likes. Gunn fan Chandler Edwards started a change.org petition to rehire James Gunn which, as of this writing, has over 410,000 signatures. On Twitter, the hashtag #RehireJamesGunn has been in constant use for months following the firing. Fans designed their own #RehireJamesGunn t-shirts and started wearing them to conventions to pose with the Guardians cast. They authored passionate videos sharing their devotion to Gunn and the Guardians. They mailed daily postcards to Disney CEO Robert Iger, pleading with him to reinstate Gunn.
Despite all of this public support, Disney executives have stated that they have no plan to continue with Gunn. And yet, our passionate fan support still grows. Though our cause may seem hopeless, many of us imagine that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige — who has publicly said almost nothing on the matter — continues to quietly fight for Gunn's return, and that our public support will give him ammunition to continue the fight. We are encouraged by reports that Disney still plans to use Gunn's completed script for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and that Disney has been unable to find a replacement director for Gunn.
With all of this as background, our Guardians Family announces our new project: to place billboards outside of Disneyland and Disneyworld in order to draw even more attention to our cause. Perhaps we won't Save The Galaxy, but we hope that we can at least help Disney find the courage to do the right thing and #RehireJamesGunn.
Despite the off-color jokes that lead to his firing, James Gunn has not actually been accused of any kind of bad behavior. In fact, virtually everyone who has worked with him attests to his kind and caring leadership. Here are a few of his co-workers and peers that have publicly spoken in support of him. This is not a complete list – many other Hollywood celebrities have also spoken up in support (to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of fans!) Click any one to read about their endorsement.
James Gunn's firing arguably represented a dangerous new era in the weaponization of celebrities' social media histories. As such, this attack drew a hefty amount of news coverage and think pieces. The success of the attack on Gunn has already lead to similar attacks against other comedians with histories of shock humor, including Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, and Dan Harmon, the co-creator of Rick & Morty. Here is a partial timeline of news coverage of this story.