This f-ckin’ mess. On July 20, the shocking news broke that James Gunn was fired by Disney, to be immediately removed from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which he was writing/directing. It’s an exhausting story that involves the alt-right and America’s ongoing culture war—here’s a good rundown from our friends at Pajiba about the particulars, and here is why no, it’s not like Roseanne (but that surely weighed on Disney, lest they be seen as biased as they tiptoe their anti-trust nightmare Fox merger past a mercurial president currently disinclined to take notice. No way in hell Disney wants to attract his ire right now).
I’m not here to defend James Gunn. He made a bunch of bad jokes in terrible taste, that are, frankly, indefensible. What I want to talk about is where Gunn fits into the willy-nilly post-#MeToo punishment zone, and particularly how Disney needs to get off its f-cking high horse because they have ZERO moral ground. Their house is VERY untidy and sacking James Gunn does not even things out for sh*tcanning Roseanne Barr. This does not make Disney any kind of zero tolerance paragon of f-cking virtue. (Two words: JOHN LASSETER.)
We’ve talked before about the lack of consistency in the post-#MeToo era, and at this point we’re basically in punishment free-fall. The executive class SHOULD be the ones to step up and set some kind of standard operating procedure for what to do when someone is accused of improprieties, be they in the real world or social media. But the executive class is a little busy being accused left and right of improprieties themselves, so that is not going to happen. Short of them, maybe the agents could do it? Or the MPAA? The Academy? A high school drama teacher from Norfolk, Virginia? Just someone, ANYONE, please provide a little direction because things have gotten so silly a f-cking alt-right cyber mob just took down one of the most successful filmmakers of the last half-decade over bad tweets. No one knows what to do and so every decision is a panic response.
There are very serious allegations being levelled at titans of industry. Most recently, longtime CBS boss Les Moonves has been accused by six women of harassment, as revealed in another Ronan Farrow expose. CBS parent company Viacom is hiring multiple outside investigators to look into these accusations, and Moonves will almost certainly be sacked (ironically he was on the brink of a massive golden handshake deal to leave CBS after a power struggle with Viacom honcho Shari Redstone. If he had just f-cking retired, all this could have been avoided). Stephen Colbert, whose show airs on CBS and who was greatly supported by Moonves when he took over from David Letterman, called for accountability, saying, “Accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody.”
This is true. Accountability IS meaningless unless it’s for everybody. The problem is, it’s not for everybody. “Accountability” has been a vague and half-hearted principle to this point. Let us look no further than Disney for an example. John Lasseter, until lately the head of Pixar, was exposed for years of harassment and fostering a toxic work environment for women—former Pixar designer Cassandra Smolcic detailed how crushing it was to work in that environment. Surely, with Disney’s hair trigger and zero tolerance for impropriety, they booted Lasseter out within hours of the first allegations being made, right? LOL no. He was put on sabbatical and then shunted into a “consulting role” until December 31, at which point he will retire from Disney/Pixar. Upon announcing Lasseter’s eventual exit, Disney chief Bob Iger said, “John had a remarkable tenure at Pixar and Disney Animation, reinventing the animation business, taking breathtaking risks, and telling original, high quality stories that will last forever. […] We are profoundly grateful for his contributions…”
So John Lasseter harasses women for DECADES and creates a work environment so hostile it is almost impossible for women to succeed (see also: Brenda Chapman), and when he is finally called on the carpet, what does he get? A soft-serve slap on the wrist, a golden parachute, and kind remembrances from the CEO. Oh, and also? There is apparently nothing in his exit deal to bar him from going to another studio or otherwise competing with Disney. He could very well be welcomed with money-laden open arms from a rival animation house on January 2, 2019 and go on like nothing happened at all. Accountability: It’s a pipe f-cking dream.
There are other examples at Disney. Post-Gunn, Bobcat Goldthwait pointed out his own history of dodgy humor and asked Disney to remove his voice from a theme park attraction, in the spirit of fairness, since they now give a sh-t about what their talent is saying on their off time. And, of course, there is the scarf-shaped elephant in the room: Johnny Depp. One year after Amber Heard accused Johnny Depp of domestic violence—and brought receipts—Disney released a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Currently, Depp is being sued for punching a dude on set, but Disney still has another Pirates in the works, and Depp’s face is all over the theme parks courtesy the Pirates ride. Are they going to remake the Jack Sparrow animatronics to look less like Depp? Will they sh-tcan the next Pirates movie? Will they take the high road as rival Warner Brothers keeps Depp on as a prominent figure in their Wizarding World cinematic universe?
James Gunn is going to be fine. He has a lot of sympathy on his side, including support from the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves, calling for his reinstatement in an open letter signed by the cast. It’s a bigger gesture than I expected, frankly, and only the tip of the iceberg in terms of current Marvel-Disney relations, but as the principle cast is under contract, they can’t actually walk if Gunn isn’t brought back. It’s a symbolic gesture of support and solidarity that will probably help Gunn to get his next job more than anything. (Also, leave Taika Waititi out of the “who will replace James Gunn” conversation. Besides the fact that he is not enthusiastic about doing more Marvel movies, he is currently making a movie in which he stars as Adolf Hitler, a German boy’s imaginary friend in World War II. How do you think that will go over with this crowd?)
It’s unlikely Disney will rehire Gunn as the nature of his old tweets and their family-friendly reputation don’t mix which is pretty f-cking rich when the guy behind their beloved Pixar classics was groping his female staff for decades uninterrupted but whatever. This is not really about accountability. It’s about a complete lack of consistency in who is held accountable and how that accountability is applied. On the one hand, bad tweets get you summarily dismissed, on the other hand, feeling up your female employees gets you a graceful exit out the side door.