‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and James Gunn: Stop Writing Sexist Scripts
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The release date for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” has been up in the air since writer-director James Gunn was fired from the franchise last July for past offensive tweets he made from 2009 to 2011. In an interview with CinemaBlend on Feb. 22, the president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige recently confirmed that Gunn’s script for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” will still be used for the production of “Vol. 3”, which “Guardians” star Chris Pratt said earlier this month.
According to The Verge, the aforementioned tweets were dug up by a conspiracy theorist with a history of using old Twitter posts to target outspoken progressive voices. Gunn was 42 years old when he first began making these tweets. Several of the them included inappropriate jokes about children, sexual misconduct, and casual uses of rape against his friends and celebrities.
Gunn made an apology through Twitter two weeks after his removal from the project, expressing that he accepted Disney’s decision. “Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today,” Gunn said. “Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself.”
In response to Gunn’s firing, a majority of the “Guardians” cast signed an open letter asking for the reinstatement of their old writer-director to the production of the trilogy’s finale.
Yes, Gunn may be fit for the role of directing the third movie because of his involvement with the previous two installments. But his return to the franchise—which is unrealistic considering Walt Disney Studios’ firm denouncement of James’s Twitter feed—would promote a message that making jokes about serious issues is permissible and yields little consequence.
Gunn’s offensive tweets did not seem to detrimentally affect to his Hollywood career as Warner Brothers Entertainment picked him up to direct a sequel to DC’s “Suicide Squad”in October 2018, a mere three months after he was fired from Disney.
Gunn has expressed that he has changed from the person that made jokes about rape and pedophilia, saying, “I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago.” Nevertheless, his scripts for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1” and “Vol. 2” still contain a saddening amount of misogynistic jokes.
For example, prior to assembling and identifying as The Guardians of the Galaxy, the main cast is thrown in jail and begin to fight amongst each other as Drax exacts a long-held vendetta by choking Gamora. The main character, Peter Quill, then attempts to placate Drax by recalling his short-lived relationships with women. “Look,” he says, pointing to an old scar, “this is from a smoking-hot Rajak girl. Stabbed me with a fork. Didn’t like me skipping out on her at sunrise. I got, right here, a Kree girl tried to rip out my thorax. She caught me with this skinny, little A’askavariian.”
Peter’s promiscuity and making light of his experiences and wounds from women are meant to be charming and comedic, but at the cost of villainizing women for wanting relationships that transcend one-night stands. The descriptors he tags onto the women—”smoking-hot” and “skinny, little”—effectively belittles their identities, contributing to Gunn’s intended comedic effect. Peter’s stories and the context they are framed in also paint women as violent and impulsive for wanting committed relationships. They lay blame on women’s reactions instead of the cause for them: Peter’s lack of communication regarding love.
Another “comedic” moment appears when The Guardians, sans one member, Rocket, have infiltrated the villain’s ship. At this point of the story, they have all learned each others back stories and have gained each others trust. So, when Drax verbally acknowledges their collective friendships, the moment feels earned. He says, “I want you all to know that I am grateful for your acceptance after my blunders. It is pleasing to once again have friends. You, Quill, are my friend….This dumb tree, he is my friend. And this green whore, she, too—”
Justifiably angered by the epithet of “green whore,” Gamora yells back, “You must stop!”
Drax’s brusqueness in this scene does align with the curt and frank personality Gunn has created for this character. But Drax’s choice of words here commits a disservice to the relationship of trust and respect he and Gamora have built up tot this point. Furthermore, he has no evidence to repudiate calling her a whore which only emphasizes the cheapness and inappropriate timing of this joke. Gunn has then sacrificed the sentimentality of the scene to include an unnecessary slight against “The Guardians’” only female teammate.
There are almost a dozen other instances of jokes made at the expense of women throughout “Vol. 1” that possess the same sentiment as the scenes described above.
A similar pattern is seen in “Vol. 2.” Take for instance halfway through the film when Kraglin, a ravager, asks Nebula, one of the antagonists, what she will spend her cut of a bounty on. She shares her story of emotional and physical trauma at the hands of her father Thanos and, indirectly, her sister Gamora. Growing up, Thanos would have the two sisters spar each other, and everytime Nebula would lose, he would replace one of her body parts with a robotic equivalent.
But Gunn undercuts the horror and tragedy of her backstory through an abrupt tonal shift when Kraglin voices his awkward surprise. “I was talking about, like, [buying] a pretty necklace…Something to make the other girls go, “Ooh, that’s nice!”
Since it has been confirmed that Gunn’s script will still be used for “Vol. 3,” the concern becomes when and how many misogynistic jokes will appear in the franchise’s third installment.
In an era with both the Times Up and #MeToo movements, Gunn’s firing becomes aligned with tenets focused on ending institutionalized misogyny and sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry and society as a whole. Both movements focus on punishing overlooked acts of sexual violence and promoting intolerance for them. As an extension, a standard should be set for the use of language surrounding these topics. Gunn’s scripts then become a pertinent text of interest in regards to this.
The issue of political correctness finds its place in this discussion of extricating misogyny as a vein and vehicle for humor. Rebecca Shaw published an article for The Guardian about the development of comedy in recent years and the movement away from jokes disparaging certain identities. Shaw has identified the younger generations (i.e. Millenials and Gen Z) for pushing a more PC culture. She says, “[Younger generations] are figuring out how to do comedy without…making the easy joke…They are being funny under a lot more scrutiny, and they are succeeding. This is not about being overly sensitive, it is simply about growing and adapting to what the audience will accept, and figuring out how to be funny within those parameters.”
Neil Howe, a writer for Forbes Magazine also identifies younger generations, especially college students, for championing political correctness. “[Critics call] for students to toughen up. They presume a certain level of emotional fragility among young people…Where Gen Xers once touted resilience and grit, Millennials tout tolerance and inclusiveness.” This Anti-PC criticism that calls millennials and Gen Zers as “emotionally fragile” and “oversensitive” seems to skim over one of the underlying reasons behind being PC: respect.
When asked about PC in relation to the James Gunn controversy, a second-year UCLA Pure Math Major Brooke Visagie said, “I support being PC, and it’s not hard to not make a joke about rape. Political correctness is about constructing a respectful sphere of communication. It’s about holding people responsible for what they say and the context of when they say it.”
Considering Gunn’s offensive, sexist humor in the previous two installments, we can still expect to see this same humor in his Vol. 3 script and, potentially, in his future “Suicide Squad” sequel. However, the search for a new director for the film is still on, and this begs the question of how much of Gunn’s script will be altered once the new director is hired. Hopefully the new director will have the sensitivity to remove and replace any sexist jokes Gunn’s script may have.
There are endless amounts of ways to make people laugh without alienating or disparaging a group of people. Jokes about misogyny, rape, pedophilia, and racism should never have been and can no longer be tolerated, and pressure should be put on writers and comedians who make light of these issues for an easy laugh. This standard should hold true not only for the film industry, but all other forms of entertainment, media, and comedy as a whole.