While no one has believed that Disney is a perfect company – far from it in fact – they are still a beloved institution in households across all social, economic, and political spectrums, and within the animation industry and community.
This month, Disney has received unprecedented flak for its long-criticized apathy and/or disdain toward LGBTQ+ representation and issues. In fact, it appears Disney is engaged beyond disdain, acting in intentional harm.
As Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill has passed through its legislature, it leaked that Disney is funding all of the bill’s sponsors and many of its other proponents, in addition to several Florida politicians opposed to the bill.
Abigail Disney, an activist, filmmaker, and effectively estranged member of the Disney family, tweeted out her disappointment after the news broke, saying “I could not be more unhappy with their [Disney’s] political activities, both in terms of whom they fund and how they lobby.” Abigail Disney is the granddaughter of Disney’s co-founder Roy O. Disney and a great-niece of Walt Disney.
President Joe Biden called the legislation “hateful” in a tweet, while White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the bill in a White House press conference, saying “Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom. Today [February 10], conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most.”
Many in the animation industry condemned the legislation. With some humor, Warner Brothers Animation Executive Producer Brendan Hay tweeted “I’d rather say gay and not teach my kids about Florida.”
Disney, however, stuck to their guns through Thursday, March 10. On Monday, March 10, Disney CEO Bob Chapek released a memo to Disney employees, transcribed in full below:
If, as Chapek says, “we all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world,” then Disney wouldn’t be funding politicians who don’t share in those goals. And if he truly believes “the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support,” he and Disney would not support politicians who actively work against that mission.
With the language in the bill, classroom discussion will have to omit children discussing parents who are gay or queer. Kids would also not be able to discuss television programs and film that have characters who are gay, gender non-conforming, or canonically or otherwise part of any LGBTQ+ community.
Moreover, if Disney truly wanted to support LGBTQ+ people, they would have used their lobbying ability to try and prevent passage of the bill, as the Animation Guild, the animation industry’s labor union, pointed out. The Animation Guild said in part, “As one of the world’s most successful brands and a family company that claims to care about its employees and customers, it’s disheartening to see Disney’s failure to take any action to help prevent passage of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida. Moreover, Disney CEO Bob Chapek did not unilaterally condemn this homophobic bill, but instead defended the company’s contributions to legislators who supported it.”
They continued, “The Walt Disney Company has the opportunity to be a leader in service to the LGBTQ+ community in a way that few other brands can match. The reach and scope of Disney’s operations mean that there are few avenues of everyday life where Disney does not reach. To quote one of Disney’s newly acquired properties, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ You have failed that test in Florida.”
But aside from the hypothetical omission or curbing of discussions, Chapek’s statements about supporting LGBTQ+ artists at Disney and using their “content” to speak their views rather than a toothless “corporate statement” appear to be lies.
On Thursday, March 10, “LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar and their allies” released a statement accusing Pixar’s parent company Disney of censoring content related to LGBTQ+ people, deleting representation from scenes in their films. Their full statement is below:
Today, March 11, Chapek relented, releasing a statement apologizing for being a poor ally and announcing Disney would no longer donate to politicians. His statement read in part, “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry…. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all.”
Chapek called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. No meeting has been set and DeSantis announced there is “zero” chance he will revoke the bill. Further analysis of Disney’s saga this week, including the new apology, has been reported by CNBC here. Further reporting on the animation industry’s reaction to the ordeal was compiled by Animation Magazine here.