Disney, built on fairy tales and fantasy, faces the real world

Since its inception in 1923, Disney has stood alone in Hollywood in one fundamental way: its family-friendly movies, television shows, and theme park rides, at least theoretically, have always been noticed. EveryoneEntrepreneurial avoidance with potential political and cultural damage.

The Disney brand is to wish the stars and find true love and live happily ever after. If fairy tales are too subtle, Disney theme parks promise to escape reality with welcome signs that read, “Here you go today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

Lately, however, the ugliness of the real world has become more and more entrenched in the realm of magic. In this hyperpartic moment, both sides of the political divide are jumping on Disney, endangering one of the world’s most famous brands – a symbol of America for many – as it seeks to navigate a rapidly changing entertainment industry.

In some cases, Disney has voluntarily jumped into cultural issues. Last summer, to the applause of progressives and to the right of Snarls, Disney decided to announce gender-neutral loudspeakers in its theme parks, removing “women and gentlemen, boys and girls” in favor of “dreamers of all ages”. But the entertainment giant has also dragged itself into conflict, with recent unrest over a new Florida law that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity among many, and has been labeled by opponents as “don’t say gay.”

At first, Disney at least tried not to publicly take the side of the law, which provoked an employee revolt. Disney then aggressively denounced the bill – only to find itself in the crosshairs of Fox News host and Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, who sent a fundraising email to supporters saying “Uk Disney has lost any moral authority to tell you” what to do. ” Lawmakers are threatening to repeal a 55-year-old law that would allow Walt Disney World to operate primarily as its own municipal government.

Trying to upset someone, Disney apparently lost everyone.

“The Disney brand’s mission has always been clear: don’t do anything that might annoy or confuse family audiences,” said Martin Kaplan, a Norman Lear professor of entertainment and media and society at the University of Southern California and a former Walt Disney studio executive. “It’s fun for everyone. Nothing offensive. Let’s all transform with magic wands. But we are so divided today, so revived that even Disney is having a hard time uniting us.”

Avoiding socially divisive issues, of course, reflects a particular worldview in itself. After all, the founder of the Walt Disney Company was an anti-union conservative. Main Street USA patriotism is on display at Disney theme parks. The traditional Christmas story is told every December at Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California with candlelight vigils, Bible verses and more.

It took the company until 2009 to introduce a black princess.

But in recent years, there has been a marked change. Robert A. Eger, who served as chief executive from 2005 to 2020, has pushed the world’s largest entertainment company to focus on casting and storytelling. He mentioned inclusion and equality at Disney’s 2017 Shareholder Meeting: “We can embrace the values ​​we value socially and indeed change people’s behavior – to make people more diverse and culture and race and more acceptable to all.” I can lift 6 Other aspects of our lives and our people. “

In essence, entertainment as an advocacy.

Mr. Iger is the one who led the global blockbuster “Black Panther”, which had almost complete black cast and a strong Afro-centric story line. During her reign, Disney focused the “Star Wars” franchise on female characters. An animated movie parade (“Moana,” “Coco,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Soul,” “Encanto”) showcases different races, cultures and ethnicities.

The results, for the most part, have been one hit after another. But a section of the Disney audience has been pushed back.

“Eternals”, the $ 200 million Disney-Marvel movie, “review bomb exploded” in the autumn because it depicted a gay superhero kissing her husband, online trolls are browsing the internet movie database with hundreds of homophobic one-star reviews. In January, Disney was accused of being trafficked to stereotypes by actor Peter Dinklage and others following a live-action “Snow White” movie – until it was revealed that the company planned to replace the seven dwarfs with digitally created “magic creatures”. , Which, in turn, provokes complaints from others about the “removal” of dwarf people.

Disney executives dismiss such incidents as snow on tea leaves: the trend today, replaced by a new complaint tomorrow. But even the medium online storm can be a confusion within the company. Meetings are held on how and what to respond to; Boring talent partners must be reassured.

As Disney prepares to launch its streaming service in 2019, it begins an extensive review of its film library. As part of the initiative, known as the Story Matter, the Disney Company has added a waiver to the defined content as “a negative image or abuse of people or culture”. Examples include the 1970 episode of “The Muppet Show” and the 1941 edition of “Dumbo”.

“These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” the rebuttals read.

The Stories Matter team has personally identified other characters as potentially problematic, with results distributed to senior Disney leaders, according to two current Disney executives who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information. Ursula was one of the villainous marine magicians in “The Little Mermaid” (1989). Its dark color palette (lavender skin, black legs) can be seen through the ethnic lens, the Storage Matter team warns; He is a “queer coded” character, partly inspired by real-life drag queen behavior.

Tinker Bell was identified as being cautious because he was “body conscious” and jealous of Peter Pan’s attention, according to officials, when Captain Hook could accuse Disney of discriminating against people with disabilities because he was a villain.

At least some people inside Disney are concerned that this kind of sensitivity goes too far. An official is concerned that looking at artistic creations through a “politically correct filter” could cool creativity.

Disney declined to comment for this article.

All of this comes at a dangerous time for Disney, which is in the process of rebuilding itself as a streaming titan as technology giants like Amazon and Apple sink deeper into the entertainment business and traditional cable networks like Disney-owned ESPN are slowly drying up. Dealing with a disruptive change in the Disney Guard, Mr. Eger resigned as executive chairman in December.

During his time as chief executive, Mr. Eger talked occasionally about hot-button politics. His successor, Bob Chapek, decided (in support of the Disney board) to avoid weight in the state political battle. Disney lobbyists will continue to work behind the scenes, as they did with Florida law.

“We have different stories Is Our corporate statements – and these are stronger than any tweet or lobbying effort, “Mr. Chapek wrote in an email to Disney staff on March 7.” I strongly believe that we have the ability to tell such stories – and to accept them openly. , Ears and heart – if our company turns into a political football in a debate, it will be reduced. “

In the case of Florida, the procedure was reversed, first with employee protests and walkouts and then with right-wing reactions. Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Disney had “a sex agenda for 6-year-olds” and was “horrible as hell.” Tweets with the hashtag #boycottDisney collected millions of impressions between March 28 and April 3, according to LisenFirst, an analytics firm.

Disney executives have long held the position that boycotts have minimal impact on a company’s business, if any. Disney is such a behemoth (it generates about $ 70 billion in annual revenue) that its products are almost impossible to avoid.

But the same huge acquisition that makes it difficult to boycott Disney makes it an increasingly visible part of the country’s cultural debate. Usually about a month goes by without any kind of dust-sand with sexual identity and sex as prompt.

Last summer, “Muppet Babies”, a Disney Junior series for children ages 3 to 8, gently explored gender identity. Denying Miss Piggy’s instructions, Ganjo wore a gown “Girls come as princesses and boys come as knights.” Out Magazine writes that the episode “sends a strong message of love and acceptance to kids of all genders!” And an ultra-right-wing Disney has exploded for “pushing the trans agenda” on children, launching an online brush fire.

At the same time, some LGBTQ advocates were criticizing Disney over the Disney + superhero show “Loki”. In the third episode of “Loki”, the title character briefly admits onscreen for the first time what comic fans have long known: he’s bisexual. But the blink-and-miss-it handling of information has angered some prominent members of the LGBTQ community. “It’s, like a word,” Russell T. Davis, a British screenwriter (“Queer as Folk”) said during a panel discussion at the time. “It’s a ridiculous, bizarre, weak gesture.”

The fight is sure to continue: the Disney-Pixar film “LightYear”, set for release in June, depicts a loving lesbian couple, while “Thor: Love and Thunder”, coming in July, will feature a major LGBTQ character.

Last month, when Disney’s most recent shareholder meeting was held, Mr. Chapek was brought to the scene by political left and right shareholders.

One person called on Disney to contribute to legislators who have championed bills that restrict voting and reproductive rights. Mr Chapek said Disney had paid “on both sides of the aisle” and was re-evaluating its grant policies. (He later discontinued all contributions to Florida.) Another representative of the shareholder advocacy group then picked up the microphone, noting that “Disney has represented a safe haven for children since its inception,” To exclude politicization and gender ideology “.

In response, Mr. Chapek noted the opposite concerns of shareholders. “I think all participants in today’s call can see how difficult it is to try to thread the needle into the extreme polarization of the political landscape,” he said.

“We want Disney to be a place where people can come together,” he continued. “My opinion is that when someone walks down Main Street to our park gate, they put aside their differences and see it as a shared belief – a shared belief in Disney magic, hope, dreams and imagination. “

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