Disenchantment in the happiest place on earth. The scandal stains Disney a few days before the Oscars ceremony, which will be held next Sunday in Los Angeles. The communication and entertainment giant, owner of the largest studio in Hollywood, is not being a topic of conversation these days due to the dozens of nominations that its productions add up to this year’s edition, including three in the category of best feature film animated, but because of the internal revolt that has been unleashed in the company due to its lukewarm position against homophobia and its lack of commitment in favor of the rights of the LGTBIQ + collective. A few minutes after 11 a.m. last Tuesday, dozens of company employees walked off their jobs for 15 minutes at the company’s headquarters in Burbank, California, as a sign of rejection of their position that the CEO, Bob Chapek, showed before the approval in early March in the State of Florida – which is home to four Disney theme parks – of a bill that prohibits talking about sexual and gender orientation in classrooms before the third grade , when children are between eight and nine years old. Described as homophobic by the US president himself, Joe Biden, the rule has been dubbed the Don’t Say Gay law.
Chapek took over from Bob Iger two years ago as head of the company. Unlike his predecessor and the precedent, Michael Eisner, the current CEO came to the company with no television or media experience. He had worked his way up through the company to head of video sales and then head of amusement parks. At first, Chapek avoided publicly positioning Disney on the norm promoted by the Republican party. The gamble on the low profile, which the executive thought he was neutral, sparked such a wave of outrage that he was forced to apologize to employees for “letting them down.”
But the matter did not end there. The internal anger uncovered a scandal that added fuel to the fire: several employees of the Pixar studio, owned by Disney, revealed on March 9 that the company had censored sequences of their films that showed displays of affection between characters of the same sex. The scandal caused Disney to decide to bring back a kiss between two women that had been cut from the next Pixar release, Lightyear, prequel of the successful saga Toy Story.
Chapek also promised to turn off donations to politicians who support the rule in Florida, where the group runs, for example, Walt Disney World, its most profitable amusement park. During 2020, an election year, the company doled out $4.8 million between Republicans and Democrats. In Florida, the conservative party, which governs the state, received $913,000. The one in opposition received $313,000. The Daily Wirea right-wing media outlet, assures that the company is preparing a campaign to condemn a Texas law, another Republican stronghold, that persecutes families seeking sex change treatment for their children.
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“We are not talking about Bruno, but we are talking about LGTBIQ+ rights,” said the banner of a protester in the protests last Tuesday, in a nod to the title of the song There is no mention of Bruno, composed by Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda for the film Charm, produced by the group. This film is nominated in the categories of original song, soundtrack and animated feature film, where it competes with two other titles from the house, Luca and Raya and the last dragon. Since 20 years ago a statuette for animated films began to be awarded, the studio has reigned in that section with 29 nominations between Pixar and Disney.
Disney’s influence in Hollywood, however, is not limited to cartoons. His tentacles are behind other favorite movies this year, like West Side Story, Tammy Faye’s eyes and the alley of lost soulswhich were produced through subsidiaries such as Searchlight and 20th Century.
Cartoonists and artists from Pixar, Lucasfilm (which the studio bought in 2012) and the Disney animation studios joined the demonstration on Tuesday waving flags of the LGTBIQ+ collective. Marvel, another valuable property the group acquired in 2009, also posted a message of solidarity on social media. “We strongly denounce any legislation that violates the basic human rights of the LGBTIQ+ community,” the company wrote on its Instagram profile.
“The pressure is intended for the company to permanently cancel donations to those who support this law,” the group of workers that has led the protests said on Twitter, who assured that some employees were prohibited from using a Mickey pin with the flag of pride.
The company, which employs 200,000 people worldwide (whom they call “cast members”), organized a virtual meeting 30 minutes before the protest in Burbank last Tuesday for employees to argue, through an “honest conversation” , how to “rebuild trust” within the company and with minority rights bodies. Employees in Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires, London, Paris, Bombay, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo were summoned.
The controversy has caught Disney’s rivals at the Oscars by surprise, who could benefit from Sunday’s gala and has cast a shadow over the three titles of the house that compete for the statuette in the section of best animated feature film. One of those competitors is the Dane Jonas Poher Rasmussen, director of Flee, a critically acclaimed film that narrates the real odyssey of a homosexual Afghan migrant to arrive as a refugee in Denmark. The European filmmaker has been in the United States for three weeks, where he is rushing these days to close the campaign to get the statuette.
“Gay characters should appear naturally in stories, instead of being added to meet a series of quotas,” he reflected a few days ago in a conversation with EL PAÍS in a Hollywood cafe. “Both in Flee like in The Mitchells vs. the Machines [otra película nominada en el mismo apartado] it is natural that the characters are homosexual, it is nothing exotic. I’m glad there are two threads in the category that address the topic like this. It is a great step forward and I hope that Disney can learn from this, ”said the director. Flee has made history because it also competes in the sections of best international film and best documentary. Despite this milestone, many wonder if entering these three categories at the same time did not also make it deserving of a nomination for best picture.
Disney will know on Sunday if an Oscar win is enough to defuse weeks of tensions. “People usually vote for who gives them work,” a marketing executive recently assured EL PAÍS. The prediction is made.
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