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Pod: Disney, the Heiress and a Hot Mess

Pod: Disney, the Heiress and a Hot Mess

Abigail Disney has sharp words for Chapek and Iger, plus a new challenge: put a low-wage worker on the corporate board

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Disney in 2018. (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

For subscribers: read the full transcript here.

Today’s Ankler Hot Seat podcast is hosted by Tatiana Siegel and welcomes guest Abigail Disney, Fork Films CEO, philanthropist, granddaughter of Roy O. Disney and grandniece of Walt Disney. The woman who is perhaps the single biggest thorn in the side of Disney’s two Bobs – former CEO Bob Iger and current CEO Bob Chapek – has been at it again, eviscerating the mega-conglomerate and its “botched” response to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Disney, who recently wrote an op-ed on the subject for The Washington Post, weighs in on why she won’t sit by idly on the sidelines. “The bear needed poking,” she tells The Ankler Hot Seat. “[Chapek’s] response was so flatfooted and ill-considered. The first round of response was, ‘Oops. Well, we're neutral anyway. So don't yell at us.’” First of all, you're not neutral if you're giving money to those particular politicians. I know about their records. Nobody who gives them money should be surprised at all by their stance on this issue. There is no neutral. The right-wing in the case of transgender and LGBTQ people have been coming for their very existence for a long time now.”

She says Disney’s leadership that well pre-dates Chapek often backs right-wing politicians in its shameless pursuit of profits. “Politicians in general have always benefited by the largesse of Disney in California and Florida and federally as well. But they lean Republican in who they support because Republicans, generally speaking, and politicians on the right are more supportive of what is generally called a pro-business agenda, which means lower taxes, less regulation and more autonomy for companies,” the heiress says. “So, I don't think Disney was necessarily thinking about [Florida State Sen. Dennis Baxley’s] record when they gave him money. They were thinking about his record on business.”

Disney also talked about the mindset behind directing the Sundance documentary The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales, about “America’s dysfunctional and unequal economy” focusing on her family’s story as a prism to view systemic problems. The project began in 2018, and it rankled corporate brass. (“I had a film crew with me when I went to testify [before Congress]. I know there was a Disney lobbyist there trying to prevent me from testifying,” she recalls.

She recounts how she reached out to then-CEO Iger about her concerns about the company’s drift towards inequity only to have her emails go unreturned. “It started before I started the film when I wrote a long email to him about my concerns. And of course, my concerns are not the concerns of a person who went to business school. But I think that's partly why they need to be heard. Right? His response to me was really actually dismissive and tiny bit insulting. I wrote him a second time and then I just never heard from him again.”

Finally, in this podcast she challenges Disney to put a rank-and-file worker on the board to represent employee interests. “I don't know why boards are always filled with managers when the lion’s share of workers are [low-level] workers. Their interests should be represented at the board level.” Instead, the company’s top tier, particularly Iger, accumulated fabulous wealth on the backs of those workers (Iger and Chapek’s comp packages were reported at $45.9 million and $32 million respectively in 2021). “Bob Iger never took a risk in his life,” she notes. “He took risks by purchasing other companies, but was he ever in danger of losing his house. Never. So to get rewarded that way [and] having never taken that kind of risk, it feels wrong.”

Representatives for the Disney Corporation did not respond to requests for comment.

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