AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Late last month, the Walt Disney Corporation announced that former CEO Bob Iger would be returning to the company, replacing outgoing CEO Bob Chapek as stock prices continue to slide and financial numbers are lackluster. But while Disney executives and investors hope that a simple change in leadership will help the entertainment giant rebound, it is the company’s full embrace of wokeism that is the more likely source of its struggles.
Iger previously ran Disney for 15 years, taking the company’s valuation from $48 billion to $257 billion. He was considered one of the most successful Disney CEOs in history. Chapek, meanwhile, who ran Disney’s Parks and Resorts division, seemed poised to thrive when Iger stepped down in February of 2020. He led the company through the COVID-19 pandemic with only a few minor controversies. With parks reopening and the Disney+ streaming service adding more content almost daily, the company looked ready to take off by late 2021.
This optimistic forecast ground to a halt in March 2022. That month, the Florida State legislature passed the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” dishonestly referred to by mainstream outlets as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill prohibits schools from discussing sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity with students from kindergarten through third grade. Disney, like most corporations, had donated money to Democrats and Republicans to serve its business self-interests, including several individuals who supported the bill.
Once this was revealed to the public, mainstream publications, employees, and high-profile celebrities blasted Disney. A small group of employees demanded “leadership to immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to publicly denounce this legislation fully, and to make amends for their financial involvement.”
After initially refusing to comment, Chapek publicly blasted the bill the day after it passed. He pledged $5 million to a far-left LGBTQ+ advocacy group, launched new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives at Disney, and even restored a same-sex kiss to Lightyear, an upcoming film targeted at young children. The scene and romance between two women in the film had reportedly been removed because it was not a necessary part of the story.
Chapek’s willingness to wade into politics caused millions of American parents to reexamine just how infested Disney was with “woke” ideology. A series of leaked videos revealed that Disney had effectively become a content creator to push progressive themes. One top producer at Disney bragged about her team’s “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” and regularly “adding queerness” to kids’ shows.
While Disney has pushed woke ideology in its products for some time, the messaging became more explicit – and egregious – just as parents became more aware of it. On the relatively benign side of the spectrum, Disneyland Paris announced last January that Minnie Mouse would swap her dress for a pantsuit in the name of “gender neutrality.” On the more aggressive side, Disney subsidiary ESPN held a “moment of silence” during a women’s NCAA basketball game to protest the Florida bill. Disney has also removed classic titles like Peter Pan, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, and The Lady and the Tramp from kids accounts on their streaming service Disney+ and included “content warnings” for supposed “racist stereotypes.”
Though many longtime Disney fans made their displeasure over this hard-left lurch known on social media, nothing speaks louder than dollars. Overall, Disney lost more than $4 billion on Disney+ during the last fiscal year, contributing heavily to a miss in the company’s most recent earnings report.
Additionally, two major Disney animated films that openly pushed leftist messaging flopped horribly at the box office this year. The first film was the aforementioned Lightyear. The spin-off of the popular Toy Story franchise, which boasted an all-star cast, was projected to make $105 million on its first weekend. It grossed only $50.6 million.
After the Lightyear bomb, Disney released Strange World, a virtual ode to woke ideology. The animated film, which again is intended for young children in the 5-8 age range, features an LGBT protagonist who openly discusses sexuality. The entire plot of the movie is also a thinly-veiled warning about climate change. With a production budget of $180 million, the film is now expected to bring in less than $80 million – one of the biggest disasters in Disney’s history.
Many on the left have attempted to spin these fiascos as a failure on Disney’s part, or have simply asserted that too many Americans are racist and homophobic. But as conservatives have pointed out, parents simply don’t want their children exposed to mature sexual and political themes at such a young age, regardless of if its LGBT or not. The actual entertainment value of many of Disney’s products is now of only secondary concern – the most important thing for the company seems to be pushing a very specific ideological agenda.
It seems logical that Iger’s first task as CEO should be walking Disney back from the woke cliff. In his first town hall with employees, Iger hinted as much, stating that the company being embroiled in such controversies is “distracting” and “to the extent that I can work to quiet things down, I’m going to do that.” But as Fox Business noted, “Iger actually spoke out against Florida’s Parental Rights legislation a month before Disney did and has made it clear that he has no reservations about the company taking polarizing political positions.”
Iger’s return did increase Disney’s stock price slightly. Yet if he continues down the road Chapek paved, Iger may soon meet the same fate. For any entertainment company, the viewers are king, and they are sending a clear message: “go woke, go broke.”
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.