With a family name known around the world, Abigail Disney is using the full power of that recognition to fight for economic justice. Most people first discovered the filmmaker and philanthropist when she called out the company’s CEO, Bob Iger, in a viral Twitter thread from 2019, in which she took no hits to call his salary. “crazy,” who that year was 1,424 times the average Disney employee. When her remarks went viral, she saw an opportunity to tell the story of American income inequality and corporate greed in the best way she had ever known – in a movie.
Taking a personal approach to what for her is a very personal matter, “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” follows Disney and her activist work for two years. Directed by Disney and Kathleen Hughes, the film, which debuted at Sundance in January, covers a wide range of topics, mixing the intimate struggles of real Disney employees with broad insight into how we got here. As she observes families failing to provide basic necessities on their meager Disney salaries, she searches for traces of the values her Grandfather Roy and Great Uncle Walt espoused.
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As she says in the film, even if a Disney CEO made huge changes to employee compensation tomorrow, the company would lose profits and the CEO would be out. It will take a huge shifting tide to quell the current tsunami of wealth disparity.
“Any system like this is made up of individuals, it’s like a wall is made of bricks,” Disney told IndieWire during a recent interview. “What if all the bricks decided not to stay there? What if all individuals made the decision to be different within this system? Each of us has the ability to behave differently within a system. This is how systems change. And it’s really hard to have an individual [to change]. It seems unnecessary. But build, build, build on people’s solidarity and feeling of alliance with each other, then you build power.
Although her primary focus is corporate greed, the filmmaker isn’t afraid to call out Disney for other missteps. The company made headlines earlier this year when it emerged that Disney had helped anti-LGBTQ politicians amid the fervor over Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill. When current Disney CEO Bob Chapek dismissed the initial response, thousands of Disney employees walked out in protest.
In response to the massive pushback, Chapek announced that Disney would suspend all political donations in Florida until further notice. As a longtime student of corporate behavior, Disney is skeptical.
” If the [paused donations], he has to prove to us that he did it,” she said. “I think for the past three years in a row there have been shareholder proposals around Disney to be transparent about their political contributions. And in all cases, management has recommended not voting Why? Why are they opposed to any transparency on their political contributions? It seems to me something that should be the law, that every corporation should be transparent about their political contributions. So if they are against transparency , I would venture to assume that they haven’t changed much.
She did, however, applaud the company’s recent response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which saw Disney join Facebook parent company Meta in pledging to cover staff costs associated with travel to gain access to abortion.
“I’m glad they said that. I hope it’s true. I mean frankly, for Disney, it’s a very brave position and I commend her,” Disney said. “There’s the thing being said in the business, and then how it’s actually set up for the people down there, and there’s always a gap between those things. That’s why I say it was a brave position to take. I have no way of knowing whether or not this will happen. … That’s a very significant number of conservatives who really, really, really love Disney and they’re currently in a position where they’ve been threatened with a boycott. So I felt that was a strong position for Disney to take.
“The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” will premiere in select theaters and digital platforms on Friday, September 23.
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