James Gunn has garnered quite a number of achievements through his work on the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but I don’t think even he ever expected to be named PETA’s Person of the Year.
Gunn has made it no secret about his love for animals since the beginning of his career, but he reached new depths by portraying the tragic story of breakout character Rocket Raccoon on screen.
Official press release below:
For using impressive and stunningly well-crafted CGI animals to inspire tens of millions of moviegoers—who flocked to theaters to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3—to have compassion for the millions of animals killed by experimenters in laboratories, director James Gunn is PETA’s 2023 Person of the Year.
The film, this year’s fourth highest–grossing theatrical release, showed audiences that Rocket Raccoon’s heartbreaking origin story wasn’t out of Knowhere—cruel, callous, and cold-blooded experiments on animals are real and go on every day. As PETA’s science staff point out, a staggering 90% of all basic research—most of which involves animals—fails to lead to treatments for humans, which is why the group pushes laboratories to pivot to sophisticated, state-of-the-art, human-relevant research methods. Gunn also helps combat the companion animal overpopulation crisis, in which dogs and cats fill the nation’s animal shelters, by encouraging his fan base to be true to the PETA slogan “Adopt. Never shop.”
“By telling the story of the millions of vulnerable animals abused in experiments, James Gunn has shown himself to be a true animal guardian,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA is delighted to honor him for encouraging exactly what the world needs: empathy for all living beings.”
After adopting his dog, Ozu, in May 2022, he kept his nearly 3 million Instagram followers updated on Ozu’s journey, tagging each post with “#AdoptDontShop.” “Less than 2 months ago, Ozu, after spending his whole life outside in a horde of 50 dogs, would hide from me, wouldn’t let me touch him, & wouldn’t eat, drink, or pee in front of me,” Gunn wrote in July 2022. “Today this is his face when he sees me & he doesn’t leave my side.”
Around 70 million dogs and cats are homeless in the U.S. at any given time. Many end up abandoned on the streets, where they may be hit by cars, infected with diseases, or hurt by cruel people—and leaving them to reproduce makes the companion animal overpopulation crisis worse.
Past winners of PETA’s Person of the Year Award include James Cromwell, Billie Eilish, Joaquin Phoenix, Pope Francis, Oprah Winfrey, and Anjelica Huston.
PETA—whose motto reads, “Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org, listen to The PETA Podcast, or follow the group on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, or Instagram.