On Monday, 10 days after Disney fired James Gunn, the creative force behind Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, the principal cast of the movies pledged their support for the director in a joint statement shared on the actors’ social media channels. Signed by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Sean Gunn (who is also James Gunn’s brother), Pom Klementieff, and Michael Rooker, the statement defends Gunn’s character in the wake of a series of his old offensive tweets—most of them bad jokes centered on pedophilia—surfacing, with the actors expressing interest in working with the filmmaker again. “In casting each of us to help him tell the story of misfits who find redemption, he changed our lives forever,” the statement reads. “We believe the theme of redemption has never been more relevant than now. Each of us looks forward to working with our friend James again in the future. His story isn’t over—not by a long shot.”
A few actors, including Pratt and Saldana, went a step further by expressing hope that Gunn will be reinstated by Disney for the third Guardians film, which he was in the process of writing at the time of his dismissal. “I’d personally love to see him reinstated as director of Volume 3,” Pratt wrote on his Instagram, while Saldana tweeted that the cast was “in support of James Gunn’s reinstatement as director of GOTG Volume 3.”
It goes without saying how unprecedented the cast’s letter is, and how far-reaching its effects could be. While the Guardians cast comprises an extremely small faction of The Walt Disney Company at large, the support for Gunn shown by Pratt and his costars is an act of defiance against the biggest entertainment company on the planet, a sign that they are unwilling to go along with the status quo. The actors could have simply thanked Gunn for his work on the first two films, expressed disappointment in the decision to terminate him, and moved on. But this letter is doing much more than that.
Specifically, it assures that Gunn’s firing will continue to be a story, 10 days after it happened—and it forces Disney to pick a side. “They’re looking for a quick out,” Los Angeles–based entertainment lawyer Douglas Johnson told The Ringer last week when discussing how companies like Disney manage scandals. Disney’s decision to fire Gunn was “a way out,” less about concrete solutions than finding a quick way out of the PR muck. Quickly severing ties to Gunn in the face of a sabotage campaign organized by a guy best known for peddling Pizzagate afforded Disney some semblance of a moral high ground, even as many criticized the company for virtually treating Gunn’s offensive jokes as the same as Roseanne Barr’s objectively racist comments. That high ground is now gone, however, and Disney is staring down a PR disaster regardless of the outcome.
Should the Guardians’ letter go ignored, Disney will face the scorn of the part of the fan base that sides with Gunn and furthermore will be risking a full-on mutiny from the people who star in one of its most lucrative franchises. Should Gunn be reinstated, it would no doubt result in backlash from Mike Cernovich and his alt-right peers—the same group Disney acquiesced to in the first place. Other plans to damage Guardians Vol. 3—boycotts, different forms of sabotage that movies like The Last Jedi and the all-female Ghostbusters were subjected to—would surely be hatched. Before the release of this letter, Disney was somewhere in between these two poles, having slightly bent to one and slightly disappointed the other. Now, Disney has to make a choice—action or inaction—with the knowledge that the latter will infuriate their own cast of actors, while the former will anger an aggressive base that has proved to be adept at online activism.
While the mantra for artists and entertainers going forward should be simple—never tweet—the Gunn firing is the first in what appears to be a trend. Just last week, Rick and Morty cocreator Dan Harmon deleted his Twitter account when the alt-right got wind of an offensive video from 2009, while Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson did a purge of all pre-2018 tweets from his account. This could be Hollywood’s new normal. However, if the Guardians cast has any say on the matter, Gunn won’t be going down as the sacrificial lamb.