James Gunn is back on top of the moviemaking world these days, calling shots on nine-figure blockbusters at both of Hollywood’s powerhouse comic book studios. In August, the writer-director-producer will release DC’s highly anticipated ensemble The Suicide Squad; he also and just wrapped production on its HBO Max spin-off Peacemaker. Later this year, he’ll roll cameras on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
It’s hard to believe that three years ago — to the month — Gunn’s career appeared on the verge of cancellation.
The filmmaker was at San Diego Comic-Con on July 20, 2018, when right-wing provocateurs upset with Gunn’s sharp criticisms of then-President Donald Trump unearthed a series of off-color and offensive tweets involving rape and pedophilia that Gunn had posted a decade earlier as what he labeled shock humor.
Within hours, Disney-owned Marvel had fired Gunn from Guardians 3. Following an outpouring of support from MCU stars and filmmakers, Gunn was eventually reinstated in March 2019 — but not before he had crossed the aisle and signed on with rival DC to write, and ultimately direct, The Suicide Squad.
Beyond his immediately apology, Gunn has said very little in the intervening years about the situation that found him on the outs from the franchise he created. That changed this week, as filmmaker finally addressed what happened in a pair of new interviews.
"It was unbelievable. And for a day, it seemed like everything was gone. Everything was gone," Gunn told the New York Times. “I was going to have to sell my house. I was never going to be able to work again. That’s what it felt like.”
Gunn recounted the conversations he had with Marvel boss Kevin Feige.
“I called Kevin the morning it was going on, and I said, ‘Is this a big deal?’ And he goes, ‘I don’t know.’ That was a moment. I was like, ‘You don’t know?’ I was surprised. Later he called me — he himself was in shock — and told me what the powers that be had decided.”
In a separate interview with Esquire Middle East, Gunn says he spent six months after his firing “staying in his space.”
“I didn't let it destroy me in any way,” he says. “I took responsibility for things that I had done. That was certainly not a blameless situation.”
The call Gunn received from Warner Bros. and DC to work on The Suicide Squad while on exile from Disney and Marvel changed everything.
“I’m baffled by where my life is right now, considering where it was almost exactly three years ago. It may sound stupid, but I thank God for all the stuff that I went through, because I really needed this movie. I needed to tell the story,” he says.
“I just needed this movie. I needed to break outside of where I was, because I was not the healthiest person at that time. I was getting distracted by things that didn't matter as much to me. With this, I really got back to just this pure creative spirit, which is why I made movies in the first place. And I think I had forgotten that a little bit.”
Asked by the Times if he feels he was a victim of what people now call “cancel culture,” Gunn was diplomatic.
“I understand people’s preoccupation with that term. But it’s such a bigger issue than that. Because cancel culture also is people like Harvey Weinstein, who should be canceled. People who have gotten canceled and then remain canceled — most of those people deserved that. The paparazzi are not just the people on the streets — they’re the people combing Twitter for any past sins. All of that sucks. It’s painful. But some of it is accountability. And that part of it is good. It’s just about finding that balance.”
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