Over the last 24 hours, everything has gotten worse for Disney and its now-embattled CEO, Bob II. Following his mealy, both-sides memo addressed to Disney employees about the company’s stance re: Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, he is now facing backlash on multiple fronts. Let’s start with the shareholders.
The shareholders’ (virtual) meeting was yesterday. M emailed me a recap and of the discussion surrounding the Florida law, which involves Disney as one of the state’s biggest employers, and whose LGBTQIA employees will be negatively affected by the law, she said the following: “Bob Chapek's corporate-speak response to the passionate shareholder questions about the company's position and how it intends to protect and support the LGBTQ community and, especially, Disney employees was W E A K.”
So, the shareholders, to whom Bob II is responsible, had “passionate” questions, huh? And Bob wasn’t serving up satisfactory answers. Still trying to both-sides it, I see. As I said yesterday, this has gone too far for neutrality. People’s rights are being infringed upon, if not outright removed, and “staying out of it” might not be an option for those entities with the power to press for change. And it sounds like the (majority of) Disney shareholders don’t want Disney to stay out of it, that they want Bob II and his executives, and the company, to take a stance, to defend those employees being harmed.
For his part, Bob II did tell the shareholders that he “understand[s] our political approach, no matter how well intentioned, didn’t quite get the job done.” Yeah, no sh-t, Sherlock. It didn’t “get the job done” because your political approach sucked. That’s where all of this started, and I don’t really get the sense that Bob Chapek understands that. We are well past the middle of the road here, but does he, or anyone around him, really get that? Bob II went on to say that Disney signed a petition in protest of all the anti-LGBTQIA legislation, and donated $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign…
…Except the Human Rights Campaign refused their donation. Their statements reads in part:
“The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books.[…] While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida — including hardworking families employed by Disney — today they took a step in the right direction. But it was merely the first step. […] This should be the beginning of Disney’s advocacy efforts rather than the end.”
The HRC doesn’t want your money until you put it where your corporate mouth is and make a meaningful effort to make Florida, and states beyond, safe for LGBTQIA Disney employees and their families. Fair. But it is, from a PR perspective, a huge black eye for Disney and Bob II. That $5 million was meant to be a peace offering, to show Disney is now—finally—on the right side of a major human rights issue. Instead, it is now one more political football for Bob II to juggle.
Here is Disney's response to the HRC development: pic.twitter.com/6Y9F8kcYcw— Brooks Barnes (@brooksbarnesNYT) March 10, 2022
At what point, do you think, will Bob Iger ride to the rescue?
(I don’t actually think Iger would have done any differently regarding political donations, but I do think he would be finessing the situation much better.)
But wait, it gets worse! Because the Disney employees are still, rightly and justly, mad. The “LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar and their allies” wrote a letter to the Disney brass, opening with, “…we hoped that our company would show up for us. But it didn’t.”
BREAKING: Today's statement by @Disney CEO Bob Chapek against the "Don't Say Gay" bill has failed to satisfy many Disney employees— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 10, 2022
A letter from @Pixar staff to Disney leaders, obtained by https://t.co/Gl6evXRDcZ, details their anger and demands
Follow along if interested pic.twitter.com/GJnne22mdy
In his memo, Bob II said that content is how Disney supports the queer community, by telling inclusive stories with inclusive characters, but the Pixar letter contradicts him, stating, “We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were, Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”
Pixar’s queer representation is as scarce as any other Disney production’s, boiling down to side characters and brief moments that are easily changed or excised for international distributions in markets where LGBTQIA rights are even more precarious. But this is also PIXAR, Disney’s platinum-standard production company, their most reliable hitmaker AND tastemaker. If the folks at Pixar are pissed and going on the record about it, you have to imagine everywhere, all the way down to the divisions who do not have the profile or pull of Pixar, are also furious.
And this is the heart of Bob Chapek’s miscalculation. I’ve already said “both sides” won’t work because one side is doing material harm to people, often kids who are already vulnerable. But a more refined point about why it won’t work, and why it’s a HUGE problem for Disney, specifically, is that the younger generations do not see a difference between human rights and LGBTQIA rights. The very children that Disney most wants to get hooked on its content to create a new generation of lifetime consumers, are children who do not see this a POLITICAL issue. They see it as a HUMAN issue.
And that is the defining difference that I am not sure Bob Chapek, or anyone around him, grasps. This isn’t a political fight that can be resolved between Democrats and Republicans. This is a human rights fight that can only be resolved by the full recognition of equality for the queer community, and either you are defending that equality, or you are not. And the youths, they’re not super interested in you if you’re not. And they have more entertainment options than ever, and they don’t even choose movies and TV shows as their number one method of entertainment. It’s not even their second preferred method. Movies and TV are FIFTH among Gen Z for entertainment choices. The entertainment industry is already losing these kids, and if Disney continues bungling its response to the Florida situation, they will be all the way out the door. Along with, perhaps, a fair portion of Disney’s employees.