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James Gunn, Roseanne & Anthony Anderson: The Inexact Science Behind Disney’s Zero Tolerance

James Gunn made some tasteless jokes on Twitter. Anthony Anderson is still being investigated by the LAPD for assault. They both work for Disney. Correction: only one of them still works for Disney. Can you guess which one it is?

Variety reports that James Gunn…is still fired. This is only news because in recent weeks there was talk of Marvel Studios essentially filing an appeal on Gunn’s behalf, trying to act as a mediator between the ousted director and the man who ultimately made the decision, Disney studio chairman Alan Horn. Surely there’s a way this can be worked out, they were thought to be arguing, with such a peacemaking role being forced on them after the Guardians of the Galaxy cast publicly signaled their support for Gunn. It worked in so much as it led Horn to take a meeting with Gunn to air things out.

However, the result is still the same: Gunn is still not coming back. Marvel will be using his previously completed script for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Dave Bautista previously indicated he’d walk, lawsuit be damned, if they didn’t at least use Gunn’s script), but that’s it. The James Gunn-Disney saga is officially over.

They walk alone now.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the rest of the industry has been waiting for this moment. Rival studios have been lining up to hire Gunn, who is free to immediately start work for anyone else since Disney isn’t able to force any kind of non-compete clause on him. The only holdup has been the lingering question of whether Disney would change its mind and rehire Gunn. With that question settled, expect to see a rash of reports about Gunn taking meetings with [insert name of any studio] on [insert name of any franchise here].

So, the precedent has been set: anything you’ve ever said, regardless of whether it came during your employment or prior, that in any way exposes the precious Disney brand to backlash is grounds for immediate dismissal. Doesn’t matter if these damaging words from your past are dug up by some intrepid reporter or online trolls with an axe to grind. The effect in Disney’s mind is all the same.

Like it, hate it, at least understand it even if you don’t like it, whatever – them’s the rules these days. Everyone who in any way works for Disney now knows where the line is being drawn. The rest of the studios are free to set their own criteria in this new era of morality clauses and social media hitjobs, but the company Walt built has a higher standard to uphold.

Meanwhile, this is still happening:

That’s the headline from a Variety article dated 7 days ago. Around the same time Gunn was first fired by Disney, it was discovered a sexual assault charge had been filed against Blackish star Anthony Anderson. A woman who catered an event for him claims he assaulted her. He’s denied any wrongoing, “It’s unfortunate that anyone can file a police report, whether it is true or false,” his spokesman said. “The authorities have not contacted Anthony or any of his representatives about this matter. Anthony unequivocally disputes the claim.” (Anderson, it should be noted, was also accused of rape over a decade ago, but the case was dismissed when the judge declared a lack of probable cause).

Now, the LAPD has taken the allegation up to the District Attorney for review. The D.A.’s office is also considering assault cases against Steven Seagal and Harvey Weinstein. These are far from the first cases reviewed by the D.A. since #MeToo started, but a criminal charge has yet to be filed from any of them, partially for statute of limitations reasons.

Disney, which owns ABC, has been shockingly quiet about all of this. Same goes for everyone at ABC:

In grand ABC family sitcom tradition, Blackish did an episode set at Disneyworld. The fictional family’s VIP experience at the theme park would cost $22,155 in the real world, according to The Wrap.

Presumably, this was to duck questions about her handling of the Roseanne situation, but the question can be fairly asked that if Roseanne deserves to be fired for being a racist on Twitter what’s the company’s position for an actor who has actually been accused of a crime and is currently under investigation by the cops for said crime?

Of course, now I’m indulging in the same whataboutism rationale which led the alt-right to target James Gunn in the first place. There, he said bad things about them, causing them to fire back with, essentially, “Like you’re so perfect.” Such logic is usually used to deceptively draw moral equivalencies between things which aren’t at all actually equivalent.

In this case, however, when looking at a company’s high profile firing decisions it seems fair to ask where exactly the line is, especially as we stand on the verge of Disney owning just about half of Hollywood. Figuring out what is and what is not a firable or punishable offense according to Disney is about to be very damn important.

Blackish remains one of ABC’s most-watched sitcoms.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for the firing or suspension of Anthony Anderson. His case is making its way through the criminal justice system and should the D.A. press charges I imagine ABC will be forced to take action. Until then, ABC is free to do whatever it wants, and other shows and networks faced with similar situations haven’t exactly adhered to a uniform response. Heck, we see this in the Chris Hardwick case. A viral essay was all the proof/pressure needed for AMC to instantly fire him from his various talk shows, but NBC took a wait-and-see approach. He’s now again gainfully employed by both networks, but the truth is he never actually lost his job at NBC.

But the fact that Alan Horn is standing firm on his instantaneous decision to fire the guy who made Tromeo & Juliet and cracked some truly offensive jokes on social media and Channing Dungey isn’t even talking about Anthony Anderson nearly a month after he’s been accused of assault seems emblematic of the rather pragmatic problem facing Hollywood right now. Which is, if the studios and networks have been newly deputized as the industry’s morality police how do they decide which perceived crimes warrant punishment? The message from Disney right now is confusing unless that message truly is words speak louder than (alleged) actions.

Source: Variety


  1. Jim Hill said recently he expected Disney to let the controversy over James Gunn to die down over a year or 2 then bring him back into the fold – maybe to direct another MCU movie down the line. This is, of course, contingent on Gunn’s plans and how he wants to proceed. Hill also said Alan Horn’s (who is retiring soon) hand was forced because of Disney’s negotiations with Fox and they didn’t want continued controversy to sour any of their market value and ruin the Fox deal. Which kind of makes sense – often it’s all in the timing. Reportedly Disney saw the difference between his 8-yr-old Tweets when he was with the company that made the Toxic Avenger films, and the things Rosanne said and did in real time, but felt they had no choice. It’s actually pretty interesting from a corporate finance/politics perspective, but it’s too bad Gunn got caught in the middle – even if his tweets were prettty rotten.

    1. I’ve seen some similar reporting to that effect, although I hadn’t checked on Jim Hill specifically. My confusion regarding the “they’re doing it to avoid federal oversight” argument is I thought they already had approval from the Justice Department. It’s super sketchy and has drawn lots of raised eyebrows, but the Disney-Fox deal was approved on an expedited review by the Justice Department. Now the only thing stopping the deal from happening is the need to obtain some foreign government approvals, I assume related to the question over Sky in the UK.

      But as you point out it’s not about concerns over federal regulation, instead simple market valuation. The one thing the markets abhor more than anything is uncertainity, and a lingering controversy over James Gunn would certainly introduce that into proceedings. So, I get it. It’s just peculiar to me that Gunn would be so quickly dismissed while Anthony Anderson’s case continues to be ignored.

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