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James Gunn, Roseanne Barr, and Disney’s apparent Twitter myopia

James Gunn, Roseanne Barr, and Disney’s apparent Twitter myopia
James Gunn [Photo: Flickr user Anthony Quintano]

As you probably heard, James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 after a series of offensive tweets in which the writer/director joked about such topics as pedophilia and rape. The tweets were old, some dating back almost a decade, but they resurfaced courtesy of a far-right blogger.

Once the tweets started making the rounds, Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, did not waste time expressing its outrage. “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,” the studio’s chairman, Alan Horn, said in a statement.

The debacle has conjured up a fair amount of déjà vu because Disney also owns ABC, the broadcast network that severed ties with Roseanne Barr a few months ago over her own series of offensive tweets.

As Twitter outrages often do, the Gunn controversy quickly morphed from genuine shock over Gunn’s tweets (the jokes were especially vile and unfunny) to criticism of Disney’s handling of the situation–or rather of both situations. While it’s hard to find anyone defending either Barr’s or Gunn’s behavior (though I’m sure I could find examples if I tried harder), depending on which side of the political spectrum you’re on, the firing of either one may feel either completely justified or like a gross overreaction.

Certainly, there are differences between the two stories, but the through line is Disney’s seeming inability to do basic due diligence with the people it works with. It can pretend, in hindsight, that it didn’t know about Gunn’s morbid sense of humor, or Barr’s penchant for racism and spreading conspiracy theories, even though both of these things were pretty well known. But it can’t pretend to carry the banner of a premium, forward-thinking entertainment brand when its only consistent HR policy seems to be firing people when it’s convenient.

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