Is Dave Bautista the unlikely hero to save Hollywood from itself?

Christopher Hooton

When your average Hollywood star sits down to their breakfast granola, opens The New York Times, and finds one of their colleagues has been exposed, shamed and duly fired, the response has been one of silence and deference. Calmly finish bowl; contact agent; monitor social media response; consider tweet distancing oneself from the accused.

All that changed in July with Disney’s exile of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who was abruptly fired after the discovery of dumb, tasteless and provocative jokes tweeted years earlier. Never mind that these were unearthed by an alt-right blogger relying on this very reaction; Disney declared his tweets “inconsistent with our studio’s values” and “severed [its] business relationship with him.”

But if it expected the franchise’s cast – who are the gateway to fans on social media and therefore box office sales – to fall in line, Disney was mistaken. In a jointly undersigned open letter, Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldana, Bradley Cooper et al started by offering their “full support” for Gunn and expressing a hope that he be reinstated, before going off on a quite stunning tirade against “weaponised mob mentality” and a lack of “due process in the court of public opinion”. They drew a line in the sand, but Disney met them at it, doubling down on its policy of zero tolerance towards both potentially offensive jokes and the concept of forgiveness.

The future of the franchise is now in limbo, and whatever happens next will be written in Hollywood history. The cast, who may or may not have mounted such a staunch and collegiate defence of free speech had Gunn not been quite so vital to the GOTG series, have for the most part gone quiet, after Disney’s Old Yeller-evoking “courtesy meeting” with Gunn to reaffirm his firing. Perhaps they will return with another screen-grabbed missive, but right now it seems as though all are accepting that their brave skirmish has been defeated.

All that is, except Dave Bautista.

One of the lesser known Guardians, Bautista potentially has the most to lose by sticking up for Gunn. A fall from favour within Hollywood could quite easily cut his blossoming film career short and send him back to the WWE ring. This would be particularly sad to see, as he is showing signs of adapting to acting better than perhaps any professional wrestler before him.

And yet, undeterred and unintimidated, he has continued to be vocal on the matter, describing Disney’s actions as “pretty nauseating” and accusing them of “empowering a smear campaign by fascists”. Most dramatically – during an appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show this week – Bautista suggested he might not return for a potential GOTG 3, saying: “[The film’s] on hold indefinitely. To be honest with you I don’t know if I want to work for Disney.”

He may be six foot six, weigh 290 pounds and look as though he could punch Mickey Mouse into the sun, but Bautista is proving an unlikely hero for what seems to be a silent majority in Hollywood: one fearful of the industry’s move toward a one-punishment-fits-all stance. Contractual obligations may ultimately compel the actor and his co-stars back to the set, but, if he rallies them to stand firm, Bautista could be the man who derailed a billion-dollar franchise, and put a stop to corporations being the moral arbiters of Hollywood.