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F for Film: James Gunn and the Age of Outrage

21 September 18 words: Ash Carter

Our Screen Editor's take on Hollywood's period of insanity... 

A famous guy did something dumb years ago, his employers found out about it, and he got fired. Once, perhaps, that would have been more than a one-day news story, but in the age of outrage, it’s basically a weekly occurrence. A famous guy did something dumb years ago, his employers found out about it, he got fired, and then re-hired after other famous people stuck up for him? That feels like a genuinely game-changing moment.

James Gunn, the director behind the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, was fired by Disney after some rather unsavoury tweets from a decade ago surfaced. In them, he joked about rape and paedophilia, which ruffled a few feathers at Disney HQ and saw him canned from the billion-dollar franchise.

Now is probably as good a time as any to point out that I definitely don’t think he should have been fired in the first place. Sent while he was still trying to make his name in stand-up comedy, his worst offence was that the tweets weren’t funny, but the fact that he was trying to be is the only thing that matters. People might get salty about the subject that’s personal to them being made fodder for jokes, but it’s subjective, and either everything is on the table or nothing is. And who among us would be happy to be judged for their actions from a decade ago? I did shit last year that makes me wince now, and I’m fairly certain re-reading this article in the year 2021, I will do the same.               

As depressing as it is, Disney were retaliating first to an outrage that could have been, keen to avoid any potential choppy waters with a potential merger with Fox in the pipeline. These waves of “controversy” may be an almost weekly occurrence, but it’s the only real moral currency we have left in the world. Outrage sells papers, and is the new yardstick by which we measure one another.

While I lazily scrolled through the initial news story of Gunn’s firing through one barely-open eye before falling asleep, the news story that followed a week later genuinely made me sit up and carefully consider every word. The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy had penned an open letter backing the director. Actual famous people, with something to lose, had backed their friend and creative collaborator, at the risk of their own professional livelihoods. The nameless, faceless people who cry offence and outrage at anything they dislike had suddenly been rendered meaningless, which in reality they always were. The likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Vin Diesel publically proved that they were willing to risk their own reputations for the sake of their friend.

At the time of writing, Gunn has not yet been re-hired, although momentum seems to be gaining toward that direction. I am acutely aware that this is hardly Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but it does feel like a watershed moment, a thin sliver of hope that we are moving toward the end of this period of insanity.

Ash Carter is LeftLion’s Screen Editor. Want to write for us? Email the bogger at [email protected]

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