A big star is coming to Utah for FanX, with controversy in his past

The actor-director is appearing at his first-ever fan convention, FanX organizers say.

An internationally known actor and Oscar-winning director is coming to Salt Lake City’s FanX Comic & Pop Culture Convention in September — and he’s someone with controversy in his history.

Mel Gibson, the star of the original “Mad Max” films and the director of “Braveheart,” will be making his first-ever appearance at a fan convention at FanX, organizers announced Wednesday.

FanX, set to take place Sept. 26-28 at The Salt Palace Convention Center, said it will host Gibson for a photo op and autographs.

Dan Farr, one of the co-founders of FanX, said the convention is working on getting Gibson to participate in a panel as well.

“One of the things that really helps us in building great talent as a show is the reputation of the fans in Utah,” Farr said.

After Wednesday’s announcement, fans shared their thoughts on Gibson coming to FanX. “Disappointed in your choices ...” one fan wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Another said, “Seriously reconsidering going.” Others showed excitement about Gibson attending, inquiring about specifics in the replies.

Farr said celebrities’ agents all talk, and word spreads about which conventions are popular and fun. “One thing about the Salt Lake fans is they’re energetic and excited without being as overwhelming,” Farr said. “That’s one thing that is kind of a special magic to our people here.”

That’s what happened with getting Gibson to FanX, Farr said — his agent reached out and said Gibson was thinking of doing his first convention and they wanted it to be in Salt Lake City.

During his career, Gibson, 68, has faced sharp criticism for past antisemitic, homophobic and racist comments — and has routinely denied accusations from people, such as actor Winona Ryder, that he said such things. Even so, the criticism has been so loud that the Hollywood trade publication Variety posed the question in 2020: “How Does Mel Gibson Still Have a Career?”

One controversy in Gibson’s career is more recent. He is listed in the Internet Movie Database as one of 28 executive producers on “Sound of Freedom,” the 2023 drama, distributed by Provo-based Angel Studios, that purported to tell the story of anti-trafficking crusader Tim Ballard. Since the movie — for which Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes allegedly wrote a scene — was released on July 4, 2023, Ballard has been accused of sexual abuse and assault by women he worked with at the group he founded, Operation Underground Railroad.

Farr said the FanX staff has had conversations about keeping the convention a respectful place for fans, and having figures that can be seen as controversial at it.

“That’s always a tough question,” Farr said. “Because where do you draw the line? You’re looking at diversity and wanting to bring people in from a lot of different fan groups, different backgrounds and everything. Diversity is a full spectrum, not just on one side of an issue or another.”

Farr added that “a lot of Mel’s issues are quite a ways in the past. … I’m a big believer in redemption, and people have a chance to learn and improve and become better people. The things that we have been told about Mel is that he’s a very, very nice person and he’s good to people.”

The agent who booked Gibson for FanX made a promise, Farr said, that Gibson is “not going to say anything demeaning to fans, especially unprovoked.”

Besides the “Mad Max” films, Gibson’s other major acting credits include the “Lethal Weapon” movies, “The Year of Living Dangerously,” “Signs” and “Braveheart.” He has won two Academy Awards, for directing and being a producer on the Best Picture-winning “Braveheart.” His other directing credits are “The Man Without a Face,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Apocalypto” and “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Gibson’s next movie as director is the thriller “Flight Risk,” starring Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Dockery and Topher Grace. Lionsgate is scheduled to release the movie on October 18.

Farr said it means a lot to be chosen as Gibson’s first convention, and he has pride in all the people — fans and celebrities — who attend FanX.

This is not the first time FanX has hosted a celebrity or pop-culture figure who has been subject to scrutiny.

Last year, action star Gina Carano was featured in a spotlight Q&A panel, and was met with an adoring crowd. Carano was fired from “The Mandalorian” for comments she made on social media. In one post that was deleted, she compared the political climate in the United States to that of experiences of Jewish people during the Holocaust. She also mocked the use of preferred pronouns, and shared misinformation in 2020 about voter fraud and COVID-19.

Farr said, “We always strive to improve and make [FanX] bigger and better each and every year and I think we’re on track.”

Other celebrity guests who have been announced for this year’s FanX include Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale,”) Elijah Wood (“The Lord of The Rings”), Marisa Tomei (”Spider-Man: Homecoming”), Susan Sarandon (”Thelma & Louise”), Jameela Jamil (“The Good Place”) and Bonnie Wright (from the “Harry Potter” films).

This year marks the 11th iteration of FanX, which started in 2013. Tickets and passes are available at fanxsaltlake.com.