Disney CEO Bob Iger—who over the summer described the demands of striking WGA and SAG-AFTRA workers as “not realistic,” then pulled back on that harsh statement by pushing to end the strikes quickly (as backed up by Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav)—has addressed some of his company’s most pressing matters as 2024 approaches.
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One of the things that immediately began to circulate online was Iger’s controversial take on the state of Disney films during today’s Q&A at the New York Times’ DealBook conference. He was quoted by CNBC writer Alex Sherman on X as saying Disney has “lost sight of what their jobs should be. One, entertain first. It’s not about messages,” and said this issue took a turn when he left as CEO and Bob Chapek took over. Films that came out during that time period included theatrical releases like Onward, Mulan, Lightyear, Encanto, and Strange World, and straight to Disney+ films like Turning Red and Luca.
But are creatives really to blame for those films’ middling to slow success and receptions? Encanto blew up once it hit Disney+ and Turning Red became a fan favorite, to the point many thought it should have been a theatrical title instead of the low-earning Lightyear. If anything these choices were seemingly made by higher-ups who didn’t understand how to market these releases adequately during a global pandemic—particularly films from creatives of color. Encanto had to lean on word of mouth and found viral success with the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” So Iger’s statement today is perplexing, especially when a film like Encanto was not only entertaining but successful because of the timeless messages its creators brought to its inclusive storytelling.
That’s just one mess. Disney’s year also included more legal drama between Walt Disney World and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a conflict that began during Chapek’s reign. Speaking at DealBook, and quoted by Deadline, Iger said, “the company, while I was gone, decided to take a position against the Don’t Say Gay bill that was moving through the Florida Legislature. I won’t comment about what I would have done or not done, but the company took that position against it. The governor got very, very angry at the company when it took that position and decided to punish the company by basically stripping its rights to a special district around Disney World that had been in place for decades”
He continued. “The question wasn’t even about the [bill, later law]. It was about does a company have a right to free speech. And if it exercises its right to free speech, it should not face retribution.” The situation has devolved into a petty back and forth battle, with DeSantis in particular embarrassing himself while harming his own state’s economy. Since returning to Disney, Iger said he’s expressed interest in speaking to DeSantis—but the interest doesn’t seem to flow both ways. “I offered at some point through intermediaries, the ability to have a conversation with him, but he did not take me up on that offer.”
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