A post Gunn made on his website back in February of 2011 has garnered him a fair bit of controversy with female members of comic book fan and professional community. When the controversy hit, Gunn removed the post from his site, but, the Internet being what it is, it still lives on in a cached form.
The post consists of the results of his second annual polling of his fans for the 50 superheroes, male and/or female, they’d most like to have sex with.
Personally, I have never been one to sexually fantasize about comic book characters. Yes, this might strike you as being hard to believe but I can’t get into that sort of thing because A) they aren’t real and B) they are usually drawn in such an exaggerated way that makes them seem even less realistic. But, hey, if other fans are into this sort of thing, more power to them.
So, if Gunn just stopped at running the list, it might have not received any attention. They’d even let slide the fact that he took pride in finding the most sexually charged images for the 35 female entries on the list.
But, unfortunately for Gunn, he had make comments on the entries to the list. And his comments start vulgar and get worse from there. Here is a sample, starting with the winner of the poll, Wonder Woman (WARNING: The language is crude and vulgar):
It gets worse from there. Men aren’t spared either. Here’s Gambit:
Zatanna (for the full effect, flip the words of the last sentence):
And, finally, Batgirl:
These are the most egregious entries on the list. Thankfully, Gunn appears to lose interest in including these pithy sayings after entry #25 or else there could have been a lot more.
As to why a blog entry that is almost two years old would get so much attention comes down to two things. One, Gunn was just handed his highest profile assignment to date with Guardians of the Galaxy, a film many in the comic book fandom are eagerly anticipating and want to see done right. And, two, sexual politics are a hot-button topic in the comic book community after a tale of sexual harassment of a cosplayer at October’s NYCC and two comic creators speaking out publicly about “fake geek girls,” attractive women who dress up as popular geek-centric characters just for attention and without any knowledge, affection or affinity for the characters or the worlds they live in. These examples are used to as an indicator of the misogyny of males in geek culture. Gunn’s post, though old, is simply another log to the still raging fire.
While Internet reaction might not have been immediate, it has been strong. Susana Polo of the The Mary Sue, a blog that looks at the world of comic from a female perspective, had this to say:
Lets be clear: there’s nothing wrong about running a poll for the most sex-able superhero on your site, especially one where you embrace the fact that Batman and Gambit come in within the top five. There isn’t anything wrong, in that context, of choosing art that sexualizes the characters in it. There isn’t even anything wrong with talking explicitly about sex in your commentary on the poll results. What’s wrong is the sheer amount of slut-shaming (on only the female characters) and anti-gay language that Gunn directs towards the majority of the male characters. These are not opinions befitting somebody who’s been given the task of bringing a major part of the Marvel Universe to the big screen (a set of characters, I might add, that includes a lesbian superhero couple, not that they’ll be appearing in Guardians).
The screenshot at the top of this post is the entirety of what he has to say about Batwoman, which is both a reference to the idea that lesbians just need a good (read: streotypically masculine) man to have sex with them and they’ll be “cured” of their homosexuality, a delusion at the heart of an innumerable number of rapes; and a dig at Nightwing, one of the few male characters in comics who has actually gotten away with being drawn for the female gaze. Apparently, having been depicted as a female sex fantasy occasionally (and still with nowhere near the frequency that any given female character is drawn for the male gaze) instead of a male power fantasy literally makes him a woman.
Rachel Edidin, who has worked in the industry as an editor at Dark Horse Comics among other companies, contributed this:
Gunn’s notes are fucked up and miogynist and homophobic.
They’re also over the top to an extent that can read as a parody of nonsense like this in comics media (not gonna name names, but we all know who we’re talking about here, right?). I’ve heard from a source I trust—someone who’s much more familiar with Gunn as a professional and person than I am, and who’s generally loathe to give quarter to assholes—that the post was likely meant to be satire, which I’m willing to believe.
Let’s run with that hypothetical for a minute. Let’s pretend Gunn’s intentions here were in fact to highlight and lampoon the rampant misogyny and objectification in comics media, where lists like this pop up with astonishing regularity (if usually marginally more work-safe official commentary).
If Gunn’s list is satire, it’s bad satire, because it skews incredibly close to material that’s not only already out there, but that comes from official media and in some cases industry professionals. There’s a significant slice of the comics community that is that misogynist and homophobic, and says so loudly and frequently. It’s telling, I think, that so many people took what Gunn wrote at face value: this is material we’ve seen before, again and again, presented seriously.
Heidi MacDonald, one of the leading names in comic book journalism and a woman who has worked as an editor at DC/Vertigo and Disney took a more cynical view:
I guess I’m jaded because what Gunn wrote is no worse than what 90% of guys have thought at some point, and probably 90% of the people who have directed superhero movies that we all loved in the past have made similar jokes. I mean, I’m not exactly sure that Sam Raimi wanted to do Kitty Pride in the butt, but I’m sure somewhere, at some time, he had a picture of the Invisible Woman taped inside his notebook. Maybe even right this very minute.
Which isn’t to say that Gunn doesn’t need to come out and say mea culpa and Gamora is his favorite Guardian and he supports Malala Yousafzai. It’s a good consciousness raising exercise, and a heckuva introduction to his future fan base. I just feel that the outrage energy is better directed at getting more opportunities for women and less at stopping men from having inappropriate sexy thoughts about imaginary women, because that will never, ever stop. Sorry.
Now, the story has gone beyond the realm of comic book fandom. The Hollywood Reporter has quoted Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, who condemns Gunn’s words:
James Gunn’s blog post is offensive not just to LGBT people and women; but rather to anyone with even the slightest sense of decency. His tawdry post is not reflective of the character that someone charged with directing a film aimed at youth should exhibit. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Gunn has nothing better to do with his time than churn out graphic and homophobic dribble about imaginary superheroes.
Of course, if it was just this one post, it would still be fairly damning for Gunn. But the very next post, which was, of course, taken down by Gunn and can only be viewed in cached form, Gunn applies similar attitudes and language in listing the 15 super-heroines he personally would like to have sex with. And his most recent post, from July of this year, Gunn gloats over giving a female employee from the music department of the studio for his latest film, Movie 43, a hard time after she tells him that the studio cannot use a the title Gunn submitted for a song he wrote for the soundtrack because it would be too offensive. The title? “That Gay Fucking Cat.” Classy. That post is still active on Gunn’s site…for now.
While most of Gunn’s critics are calling on him to explain his words and point of view (which, since his immediate reaction was to remove the offending blog posts and pretend they never happened, is unlikely to take place unless he is forced to do it), some female comic fans are calling for stronger action. There is currently a petition on change.org asking Marvel Studios to replace Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy and replace him with a director who has more respect for women. The petition already has 4,917 signatures as of this writing.
As of this writing, there has been no comment from Gunn or Marvel Studios in regards to controversy. But, since the casting process is beginning on the film even as we speak, neither party can afford to have such a controversy go unanswered. I would personally be interested in seeing how Marvel reacts to this situation, as it is the first public dust-up the relatively new studio has had to deal with.
Shortly before 10pm EST, James Gunn posted this to his Facebook account: