James Gunn Should Have Never Been Hired In The First Place
To support Gunn and define his firing as a purely political issue is to ignore the intersections of race, gender, and queerness in favor of privilege.
By Stephanie Tran
After hearing that “Guardians of the Galaxy” director and screenwriter James Gunn was fired by Disney for jokes referencing pedophilia and sexual assault on his Twitter account, my first response was surprise, then relief. After the casual misogyny and racism in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, I never managed to become a fan of Gunn or his work. It bothered me that so many fans of the Marvel series ignored issues which I found to be glaringly obvious and disquieting as a woman of color and a survivor of abuse and sexual assault. The fact that Gunn is an anti-Trump leftist and was purposefully targeted by Michael Cernovich, a “alt-right” conspiracy-peddling fascist and white supremacist, did not change my feelings on the matter.
Not everyone agreed with me: within days of Gunn’s firing, a petition calling for his re-hiring and an open letter penned and signed by the “Guardians of the Galaxy” cast supporting Gunn was being shared on Twitter by liberals, leftists, and white feminists alike. If I was initially surprised that Disney bowed to public pressure in firing Gunn, it was because I did not expect the company to care about Gunn’s displays of misogyny. My first instinct was right; Disney doesn’t care about Gunn’s bigotry, only its reputation. Meanwhile Gunn’s leftist supporters only care about winning politically at the expense of those with less societal power.
The backlash to Gunn’s firing and his initial hiring demonstrates a prioritization of white male privilege and non-intersectional politics over issues of bigotry. That another white man’s fake rage, and not the criticism of Gunn’s misogyny, racism, and homophobia by women, women of color, and non-binary people of color led to Gunn’s firing, says a lot about Disney and the film industry. In fact, Gunn’s homophobic and misogynistic blog posts, which were made prior to his hiring by Disney, weren’t even part of the reason Gunn was fired — Walt Disney Studios chair Alan Horn only refers to Gunn’s tweets in the official Disney statement on the decision. The amount of time it took for these tweets to cause a significant backlash against Gunn (nine years for the earliest ones!) and Gunn’s hiring by Disney—even after tweeting such jokes—reveals the white male privilege that Gunn enjoys. It’s unlikely that it would have taken close to ten years for any members of the “alt-right” to bring down a female director and/or a director of color who posted the same sentiments as Gunn’s. It’s also unlikely Disney would have hired a minority director with similar skeletons in their closet.
If you please, read the statement written and signed by The Guardians of the Galaxy cast in support of James Gunn’s reinstatement as director of GOTG Volume 3. pic.twitter.com/TjNA9RF6M8
— Zoe Saldana (@zoesaldana) July 30, 2018
Does Gunn deserve to be fired for tweets that he made years ago in jest? What about his “growth”? Gunn claims the title of provocateur and his supporters call his tweets satire. True satire, however, punches up, not down, and doesn’t use traditionally-targeted, marginalized, and vulnerable groups such as women, the queer community, and sexual assault survivors as the punchline. And though it should go without saying, jokes about sexual assault and rape are never funny.
I’m also unconvinced, as the “Guardians of the Galaxy” cast seems to believe and Gunn himself has claimed, that Gunn is a different person than when he joked about the rape of children at age 43. This is, after all, the same man who established a male character as thinking and speaking literally to the point of not understanding analogy or idiomatic expressions, yet had him call a female assassin played by afro-Latina Zoe Saldana a “green whore” in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” This is also the same man who took an Asian character (Pom Klementieff), wrote her as a “comfort woman” metaphor, and even had the guardians abuse and mock her in the sequel. Gunn and his supporters speak of redemption, of learning, of growth. I have yet to see any of that displayed in Gunn’s work, it is certainly not present when it comes to women or women of color.
It is disheartening to find women, people of color and feminists supporting Gunn by alleging that the decision will only embolden Cernovich and others on the “alt-right” to target other leftist people of color. Why should I or anyone else prioritize our political philosophies over our womanhood, our racial identity, our queerness, our existence as survivors? To support Gunn and define his firing as a purely political issue is to ignore the intersections of race, gender, and queerness in favor of privilege. That I refuse to do. As Clarkisha Kent put it, “Left-leaning politics do not…erase your personal, professional, or moral shortcomings.” Apparently, however, being a white man does…at least for some.
Author Bio: Stephanie Tran is a queer Vietnamese-American law student who got her start writing about race, gender, and identity for Women Write About Comics. You can follow her on Twitter here.
This article was made possible thanks to our patron Leslie Kay Jones, whose support on Patreon helps ensure that we can pay one writer every month!
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