James Gunn, Troma, and Toxic Media
James Gunn was rehired by Disney to direct Guardians of the Galaxy 3 which, in itself is pretty damn amazing. Many people, self included, figured that Disney would stand behind this poor decision until they had completely tanked the franchise and it’s nice to see they finally came to their senses. As a writer and director Gunn has had an amazing career in independent and genre filmmaking and has done some incredible work now that he's in the mainstream. He's also a respectable person who took ownership of a bad situation (I will not call it a mistake) that got him fired in the first place and has been nothing but straightforward, honest, and humble which is more than you can say for most of the media outlets that have spent a week lambasting Troma and Lloyd Kaufman as if the entire affair was the work of the schlock cinema powerhouse that gave Gunn his start.
To summarize briefly, the incident began last summer when an online troll with an audience and political agenda spent a day scrolling through a decade's worth of Twitter posts by James Gunn to find something truly offensive and controversial to make an issue out of. And, being that James Gunn was at one time a new, upcoming filmmaker who wanted to stir up controversy to appear more edgy and garner some talk, it wasn't hard to find what was being searched for. A series of tweets and comments making light of a host of horrible things that would only be funny to degenerates... or anyone who has worked in the military or emergency services and uses black humor and comments like this as a coping mechanism to handle the absolute horror and trauma of life. Disney promptly fired Gunn from the Guardians of the Galaxy 3 film and thus began a torrent of social media butthurt between fans, pundits, and anyone who felt that their opinion on the matter actually meant anything to anyone. Where many people would have spent an inordinate amount of time and press trying to distance themselves from their statements, make excuses, or pass the blame, James Gunn did something truly remarkable: he owned up to what he said.
James Gunn has gone out of his way to take ownership of his comments, to explain why he made them, to acknowledge the nature of and the power that his words could have potentially had. At no time did he say anything disparaging about Disney or any company or individual. He took an online beating over jokes that were in poor taste a lifetime ago. And, the first person to immediately publicly defend James Gunn was none other than Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman is an auteur in the tasteless and vulgar (and I do mean that as a compliment) and his philosophy of "Just make the damn movie!" is one that has been taken up by so many talented independent filmmakers over the years. Troma will produce or back almost anything it seems and while that does mean they end up connected to a lot of films that aren't necessarily "good" in a classical sense, they definitely have some truly memorable and fun pieces that they have given audiences in the last 40 years. Troma also has a reputation for publicly flouting authority and the establishment of Hollywood and pretty routinely makes it clear that they don't have any interest in working within the cinematic systems of L.A.
And this, folks, is where the problem lies. James Gunn has become a mainstream director whose work on Guardians of the Galaxy has exposed him to a public atmosphere that he had previously been outside of. No longer is he the guy who wrote Tromeo and Juliet or directed Slither, he's the dude who made up Baby Groot's dance and turned Starlord into an almost likable human being.
Superhero movies and high concept horror rebranded as "thriller" have allowed genre entertainment and fandom to seep into the major studios and has opened a whole new world to audiences who may never have considered these films and concepts as art before. But independent film gets a bad wrap because, like Troma, it's going to be low budget, high concept, and littered with names and faces few if anyone has ever seen before. And in order to reconcile the fact that a person can grow, evolve, change, and become better than they were all while still being proud of their roots, outlets reporting on Gunn's return to the franchise have taken the opportunity to make blatant jabs at Kaufman and Troma as if they were a bad influence on the director rather than a driving force that helped him find his success.
I will not defend a word of what James Gunn wrote on Twitter a decade ago. I also will not take umbridge or offense to anything he wrote on Twitter a decade ago. Why? Because people grow, change, and become better. More importantly, it isn't my place or yours to pass judgement on him or anyone else for the words they create. And I’ll go so far as to suggest that trolling the Wayback Machine to try and find tawdry and lurid content to further your own agenda or fame is as despicable, if not more so, than actually having that history. Before you take that heavy hand and self righteous stance against anyone for words that passed their lips or hit a keyboard, look into your own past and remember the things which you're all too happy to hope no one ever learns about you.
As for Troma and Lloyd Kaufman, they stood by James Gunn when even some of his fans wouldn't. For whatever you think of the art they create, they're most definitely a better breed of people than the ones who started this whole mess and the outlets and reporters trying to tacitly blame them for it now that the status quo has been restored. Stand up against toxic media, against outlets and bloggers who would tear down others to build their audience and embrace independent artists and thinkers who want to create instead of destroy.
In honor James Gunn's return to Disney and Guardians of the Galaxy, go give Troma Now! a visit and enjoy the film that started it all, Tromeo and Juliet!