Disney unlikely to rehire ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn (EXCLUSIVE)

Despite a cast letter asking for James Gunn to be reinstated as the director of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” Walt Disney Studios is currently not planning on rehiring the filmmaker who it recently fired after a series of offensive tweets surfaced, according to multiple people familiar with the studio’s current thinking. The feeling within both Disney and Marvel is that the dozens of so-called jokes that Gunn made about pedophilia and rape are unacceptable in the #MeToo era and are not in line with Disney’s family-friendly image.

The studio recognized that “Guardians” cast-members such as Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana stopped short of threatening to quit the series, but there is widespread belief that the actors will show up for future installments, regardless of their personal feelings about Gunn. For one thing, most are under contract and would face legal action if they opted out of a sequel. Still, the public endorsement of the director was notable for its vociferous support.

“We were all shocked by [Gunn’s] abrupt firing last week and have intentionally waited these ten days to respond in order to think, pray, listen, and discuss,” the letter reads. “In that time, we have been encouraged by the outpouring of support from fans and members of the media who wish to see James reinstated as director of Volume 3 as well as discouraged by those so easily duped into believing the many outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding him.”

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'Guardians of the Galaxy' director James Gunn
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'Guardians of the Galaxy' director James Gunn
ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 25, 2017: In this handout photo provided by Disney Resorts, director James Gunn attends the grand opening of Guardians of The Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction on May 25, 2017 at Disneys California Adventure in Disneyland in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - DECEMBER 18: Film director James Gunn is seen upon arrival at Haneda Airport on December 18, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jun Sato/GC Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 25: James Gunn arrives at the Premiere Of Disney And Marvel's 'Ant-Man And The Wasp' on June 25, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: James Gunn attends the premiere of Disney And Marvel's 'Ant-Man And The Wasp' on June 25, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10: James Gunn attends the Premiere Of Disney And Marvel's 'Thor: Ragnarok' - Arrivals on October 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13: Film director James Gunn attends a keynote discussion about building worlds across entertainment mediums during the Electronic Entertainment Expo E3 coliseum at the Novo LA Live on June 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04: Director James Gunn and actress/model Jennifer Holland at the El Capitan Theatre Hosts Screening Of Disney And Marvel Studios' 'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2' held at El Capitan Theatre on May 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04: Writer / Director / Producer James Gunn attends the fan screening of Disney and Marvel Studios 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol1. ' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' at the El Capitain Theater on May 4th, 2017 in Los Angeles, Californial (Photo by Brandon Williams/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 27, 2017: American film director James Gunn speaks at a press conference to promote his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom Geodakyan\TASS via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 24: James Gunn attends the European Gala Screening of 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' at Eventim Apollo on April 24, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Joe Maher/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 24: (L-R) Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Pom Klementieff, Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, James Gunn and Michael Rooker attend the UK screening of 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' at Eventim Apollo on April 24, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 24: Director James Gunn (R) and guest attend the UK screening of 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' at Eventim Apollo on April 24, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 21: Writer/director James Gunn (L) and actor Chris Pratt at the Chris Pratt Walk Of Fame Star Ceremony on April 21, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 20: Director James Gunn at the 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' Press Conference at the London Hotel on April 20, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)
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At this point, the letter does not seem likely to save his job. Gunn’s firing was approved by Disney Studios chief Alan Horn, with his boss, company CEO Bob Iger weighing in on the final decision. The involvement of the highest levels of Disney signals that the cast pressure to rethink the Gunn ouster will struggle to gain internal support. “I don’t see Disney re-hiring him,” says one person close to the matter. “Those tweets were so horrible and Disney has a different standard than other studios.”

Gunn’s comments were nearly a decade old and were recently resurfaced by alt-right agitators, including the blogger Mike Cernovich. The tweets included messages such as, “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!'” and “I’m doing a big Hollywood adaptation of The Giving Tree with a happy ending – the tree grows back and gives the kid a blowjob.” Others made light of AIDS, the Holocaust, and 9/11.

Disney insiders say the company was not aware of the offensive tweets and were taken aback when they were recirculated.

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James Gunn and Jenna Fischer during their marriage
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James Gunn and Jenna Fischer during their marriage
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 28: James Gunn and Jenna Fischer attend The Los Angeles Premiere of 'Blades of Glory' at Mann's Chinese Theatre on March 28, 2007 in Hollywood, CA. (Photo by ANDREAS BRANCH/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Jenna Fischer and James Gunn (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)
James Gunn and Jenna Fischer during 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Red Carpet at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)
Actors Jenna Fischer and James Gunn arrive at the 2006 Women's Image Network awards gala honoring Senator Barbara Boxer. (Photo by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, CA - JULY 02: Director James Gunn (L) and actress Jenna Fischer arrive for the Los Angeles Film Festival's closing night premiere of 'Little Miss Sunshine' at the Wadsworth Theater on July 2, 2006 in Brentwood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
James Gunn and Jenna Fischer during 'Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed' Premiere at Grauman's Chinese in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 9: Actress Jenna Fischer (L) and her husband director James Gunn arrive at the premiere of Universal Picture's 'Slither' at the Vista Theater on March 9, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Jenna Fischer and James Gunn (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)
Jenna Fischer and James Gunn 12864_SG_1275.jpg (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
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As for replacing Gunn, Disney feels no pressure to immediately find a new director, according to sources, and is willing to wait until the right A-list filmmaker comes along. For one, the studio never gave the film an official release date, even though it was widely expected to hit theaters within the next two years. Depending on how long it takes to land the right director, Disney may in fact wind up pushing back the film’s original February 2019 start date.

Spokespeople for Disney and Marvel declined to comment for this article.

So far, the studio has yet to meet with any Gunn replacements. There have been rumors that Marvel regulars like Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”), or the Russo brothers (“Avengers: Infinity War”) might be enlisted, but sources say that many of the usual suspects are busy with prior obligations. That means that there is a higher likelihood that Disney will reach outside the Marvel family to find a director with the kind of off-beat sensibility to handle the comic-book franchise.

Replacing Gunn won’t be an easy task. Although largely unknown when he took the “Guardians” gig, having made a few cult favorites such as “Slither,” Gunn quickly proved to be more than a gun for hire. As both a writer and a director, he was seen as having a key role in nailing down the film’s light-hearted tone, giving the standard “heroes on a mission” genre a poppy makeover by including ’70s rock favorites on the soundtrack and peppering in lots of jokey asides. When “Guardians” was announced, some questioned its commercial prospects. The characters were low-profile and the band of interstellar warriors included a gun-tooting raccoon and a tree. But the film and its sequel were massive successes, earning more than $1.6 billion globally.

This wasn’t Gunn’s first social media scandal. In 2012, the director apologized for a blog post he wrote in 2011, titled “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With.” In the it, Gunn speculated that Iron Man could “turn” the lesbian Batwoman into a heterosexual, labeled Gambit a “Cajun fruit,” and called Batgirl, who is a teenage mother in the comics, “easy.” Facing a backlash, Gunn said he regretted making “poorly worded” statements.

The Gunn firing comes as studios are struggling with how to handle the personal issues of movie stars, given a new “zero tolerance” climate. The sexual harassment reckoning that has toppled media figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, and more, has made these companies less likely to put up with talent that has been accused of assault, or has made impolitic or offensive comments. For instance, ABC, which is owned by Disney, quickly fired Roseanne Barr last spring after she made racist remarks about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, and Paramount laid off TV chief Amy Powell after she allegedly used racially charged language in the workplace.

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Amy Powell out and about
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Amy Powell out and about
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 23: President of Paramount Television Amy Powell attends the Big Brothers Big Sisters of greater Los Angeles' annual Accessories For Success spring scholarship luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on April 23, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 23: President of Paramount Television Amy Powell attends Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles' annual Accessories for Success spring scholarship luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on April 23, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 08: President of Paramount Digital Entertainment, Amy Powell and executive producer Jonathan Stern arrive to the premiere of Hulu's 'The Hotwives of Orlando' at the Sherry Lansing Theatre at Paramount Studios on July 8, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 26: Singer/producer Katy Perry (L) and Paramount Pictures' president of digital entertainment Amy Powell arrive at the premiere of 'Katy Perry: Part Of Me' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on June 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California. The premiere also included a special live performance by Katy for the first-ever Pepsi/Billboard Summer Beats series. 'Katy Perry: Part Of Me' will be released by Paramount's Insurge Pictures on July 5, 2012. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 09: Amy Powell, President of Digital Marketing at Paramount Studios, speaks at the 'Marketing Innovation: Finding and Keeping Your Audience,' at the Produced By Conference at Sony Studios on June 9, 2012 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/WireImage)
Amy Powell (Photo by John Sciulli/WireImage) *** Local Caption ***
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On social media, Disney has been hit for working with Johnny Depp on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Alice in Wonderland” films. Depp was accused of assaulting his ex-wife Amber Heard. However, there are no sequels to either franchise in development at Disney, nor does Depp have any films in the works at the studio or an overall production deal with the company. It seems unlikely he will going back to work at the studio in this climate.

Perhaps with good reason. Warner Bros.’ decision to include Depp in its Comic-Con presentation for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” raised heckles on social media, particularly because Heard took the stage roughly an hour later to promote “Aquaman.”

“WB brought Johnny Depp out for the Fantastic Beasts panel (as a surprise!!!) immediately proceeding their Aquaman panel, featuring Amber Heard,” tweeted Entertainment Weekly correspondent Dana Schwartz. “That makes me nauseous.”

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