Several years after being fired from the Disney-produced Star Wars show, The Mandalorian, over a series of controversial tweets, actress Gina Carano is attempting to sue Disney—with financial backing from Elon Musk—for wrongful termination.
Rather than position Carano as an avatar for seething political and ideological outrage, or see her decision as a spear thrust into the bloated underbelly of a corrupt progressive monolith, I’m instead going to try and break the situation down in a measured and balanced way.
The actress claims the entertainment giant discriminated against her for voicing right-wing opinions on hot-button issues. And herein lies the rub. Free speech is as American as a bald eagle in a stars and stripes sweater swooping down from Mt. Rushmore to peck at an apple pie.
But America is also the land of free enterprise—a sphere in which competitive businesses develop their own culture, expectations, and internal policies.
Disney—once the very embodiment of American capitalism and schmaltzy, sentimental mainstream entertainment—is beset with hypocrisy, cynicism, and prissy ideology; but it is nonetheless a private business, and has the right to be hypocritical, sanctimonious, and cynical, and make decisions as it sees fit, to uphold whatever threadbare value system it has, and to look after its interests.
There is also a difference between having strong opinions on hot-button issues and HOW you express those opinions. There is also the context of expressing those views while you’re working for a private employer with its own internal values and policies, and there is also the cumulative effect of expressing those opinions across the gamut of social issues.
Americans have a constitutional right to free speech, but that comes with an implicit understanding that you might have to modulate the tone of your free speech in certain ways to keep from alienating your employer. You cannot, for example, shill for a rival brand to the company you work for. There are non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to prevent criticism and leaks. And it’s not going to fly if you’re advocating for fossil fuels while you’re working for a sustainability firm.
Most obvious of all, if you’re an arch-conservative signing up to work for Disney, you must know that many of your views are going to egregiously clash with the company’s internal principles.
It’s not an all or nothing crusade for civil liberties—no one is forcing Carano to work at Disney, she wasn’t living out of her car, she wasn’t expected to promote overt progressive ideology against her will—she was working FOR the company, and had the enshrined American value of freedom to leave whenever she wished to get a gig elsewhere.
“Some of us have been unjustly singled out, harassed, persecuted, and had our livelihoods stripped away because we dared to encourage conversation, asked questions, and refused to go along with the mob,” Carano said in a statement.
The persecution language here is over the top and grandiose.
It’s not that crazy a notion: if you’re working for the House of Mouse, don’t post an image of Jews getting rounded up by the Nazis, and make a hyper-provocative, clumsy analogy about it.
Now, this is what I term the ‘gloss-over’ moment—the moment when a typical right-wing streamer or YouTuber, in their tacky, neon-lit filming grotto will shrug a shoulder and say, “I don’t think what she posted was all that bad,” before moving swiftly on to extoll Gina Carano as a libertarian Xena warrior princess about to smite Hollywood.
A proper look at the issue necessitates a proper look at the evidence.
Lucasfilm in 2021 announced that Carano would not be returning to the hit series after sharing a post in which she said, “Most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”
As someone part-Jewish myself, if you’re invoking images of Jews getting rounded up in neighborhoods or the ghetto, such images are searingly potent, and you’d better have a sensible, articulate, and sensitive reason for pressing them into your argument.
In Carano’s case, she managed the double feat of positioning anti-vax (or simply conservative-minded people) in such an analogy, and also positioning those opposing or seeking to stifle conservative and dissenting voices, i.e., liberal, progressive people. My libertarian friends—of which I have many these days—might find this assessment disappointing, but Carano’s was a clumsy and blunt effort at performative victimhood.
The actress and former MMA fighter had published a long string of posts that drew the ire of social media users for positions seen as right-wing on hot-button issues—like mocking government mandates to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. I disagree with her, but I support her right to express that view. In isolation. So anyone championing her rights over that, then have at it.
When she falsely suggested that voter fraud occurred during the 2020 presidential election, again, have at it, if that’s your thing.
But if you’re using Nazi analogies, and complaining about mandates, and you’re questioning an election, and you’re posting about pronouns in a way that is both cavalier and deliberately provocative—then is it unreasonable for Disney execs to haul her into a room in the building of their private enterprise and say, “We don’t feel that you’re the right fit for Disney?”
To be sure, Disney executives were no angels in the way they dealt with much of this. A Lucasfilm spokesperson said in a histrionic statement that Carano’s “social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”
The suit also alleges Disney required Carano to meet with 45 employees who identify as LGBTQ+, as well as representatives of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, and also demanded a public apology. If true, it is a heavy-handed approach.
There’s also the issue of corporate hypocrisy. Mandalorian lead actor Pedro Pascal took to Instagram a few years before the Carano incident to compare supporters of President Donald Trump to the Confederate States of America, as well as Nazis. Though Pascal’s post was a one-off, as opposed to a string of posts, he at least deserved some kind of commensurate reprimand and calling out.
In the end, employees in the private sector tend to face an uphill climb in garnering damages for terminations over problematic online posts deemed offensive and to contravene workplace policies. Unlike employees in the public sector, such workers are not shielded from discipline under the First Amendment.