It’s a plot twist that no studio relishes: One of its high-profile stars sparks outrage with a controversial social media post. On Feb. 10, The Mandalorian’s Gina Carano became the latest member of the Disney fold to do so, joining a list that includes Roseanne Barr, James Gunn, Letitia Wright and Liu Yifei — each drawing varying degrees of action or inaction from the studio. And no studio faces greater scrutiny over its decisions than the family-friendly Hollywood giant.
In Carano’s case, the move to cut ties had been brewing for some time. In the months leading up to Disney’s investor day presentation Dec. 10, Carano’s agents at UTA were negotiating for the actress to receive a sizable bump for a planned spinoff of Disney+’s The Mandalorian that was to star her fan-favorite character, Cara Dune. The actress, who sources say made $25,000 to $50,000 per episode of The Mandalorian, was poised to be touted during the presentation, in which Kathleen Kennedy announced 10 new Star Wars shows, including Rangers of the New Republic, a series that seemed tailor-made for Carano.
But Carano was nowhere to be found during the lengthy presentation. In the lead-up to the event, Carano had become a lightning rod among Star Wars fans and a headache for Lucasfilm, after a series of tweets in which she mocked mask-wearing, suggested voter fraud occurred during the 2020 election and shared posts that some viewed as transphobic. “She was originally in that presentation when they announced all those things, and they pulled her off of it,” a source tells The Hollywood Reporter. A Lucasfilm source counters that Carano was never officially part of the Dec. 10 presentation and no negotiations for future work had taken place.
Two months later, the deal for her spinoff is dead, as is her relationship with Lucasfilm and UTA, both of whom dropped her after she shared a post suggesting that being a Republican today was akin to being Jewish in the time leading up to the Holocaust. Disney declined comment beyond Lucasfilm’s initial statement describing Carano’s posts as “abhorrent and unacceptable.”
Still, Disney’s decision to show Carano the door has prompted cries from the right, including from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and pundit Ben Shapiro, that the studio acts when the left is upset. Paired with events in 2018 when then-ABC president Channing Dungey called out as “abhorrent” a tweet from Trump supporter Barr that likened Obama administration alum Valerie Jarrett to a primate, such claims have publicists advising clients to steer clear of politics, especially anything leaning right.
“I don’t know what people at Disney personally believe or don’t believe with regard to politics, but as a corporate entity, they want to stay as trouble-free as possible. And anything that’s going to offend the left is a problem,” says crisis PR rep Juda Engelmayer. “I have clients who are making an extraordinary effort to post what the social left wants to see.”
Black Panther star Wright’s December tweets, which amplified a U.K. minister’s video that questioned the safety of the novel coronavirus vaccine and disparaged trans people, also garnered criticism, as did an August 2019 social media post from Mulan star Liu, who offered support of Hong Kong police during the Chinese government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests. Sources say neither actress was talked to by Disney, which opted to let both matters blow over. (Wright deleted her Twitter account and Liu steered away from the subject in the months leading up to Mulan’s release).
Politics, however, seemed to play a role in Disney’s move to sever ties with Gunn in 2018 after right-wing personalities resurfaced offensive, nearly decade-old tweets that included such eyebrow-raising jokes as: “I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.” At the time Gunn reiterated an apology, stating on Twitter: “Many people who have followed my career know, when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.” One year later, Disney brought him back to direct the third installment of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
The decision to banish Carano from the Disney kingdom went higher than Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau and was made by Lucasfilm executives. Carano, sources say, had repeatedly been warned by those around her about her social media behavior, with the actress even noting publicly in September that her Mandalorian co-star Pedro Pascal, who has a trans sibling, educated her about the use of pronouns after a social media flare-up. “She knew it was going to alarm people,” says one person in her orbit of her recent posts. “Why would you put Favreau in that position?”
Carano’s ouster had a domino effect, with Hasbro ending production on its popular Cara Dune action figures. (Hasbro says there are “no current plans to create more” Dune products.) Amazon appears to have pulled most of its Cara Dune toy merchandise. When asked why, an Amazon rep declined further comment. Meanwhile, the Dune action figures are seeing brisk sales on eBay at numbers well above the original list prices.
Insiders say Cara Dune wasn’t part of the Star Wars series next up, a Boba Fett spinoff, but expect that the character will be recast down the road, for both story and merchandising reasons. A source at Lucasfilm says that a recasting is not expected, however. For her part, Carano will be producing a film with Shapiro’s Daily Wire. “I am sending out a direct message of hope to everyone living in fear of cancellation by the totalitarian mob,” Carano stated Feb. 12. “I have only just begun using my voice which is now freer than ever before, and I hope it inspires others to do the same.”
Carano’s firing comes at an inflection point for Lucasfilm, which was previously criticized for not more strongly defending Star Wars sequel trilogy stars John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran from racist bullying online over the years. On Jan. 23, the company signaled a shift when it put out a statement of support for Krystina Arielle, the host of The High Republic Show, after she was subject to racist bullying and threats.
Industry observers note that for companies such as Lucasfilm, taking a stance against offensive behavior sends a signal to both employees and fans from marginalized backgrounds that they are valued. “You need an inclusive and welcoming tone set from the top,” says André Carrington, author of Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction and Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. One manager who has outspoken clients and has dealt with elements of cancel culture is advising vocal clients to cool it down politically. Says the manager, “If you’re too far on both sides, it hurts you.”
Feb. 16, 5:47 p.m. Updated to add a Lucasfilm source saying that the Cara Dune role on The Mandalorian is not expected to be recast and that she was not part of the Dec. 10 presentation, nor was she engaged in negotiations for future work.
A version of this story appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.