Op-Ed: The Day Disney and Politics Stopped Being on the Same Team

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If the Walt Disney Company were a person, it’s no secret who they’d be voting for. It’s very easy to look back at the company’s history, specifically the last few years of Iger’s reign as CEO, and figure out which side of the political gambit Disney is playing on.

What’s interesting is that the political party and beliefs the Walt Disney Company so clearly supports, is the same party keeping Disneyland closed.

Let’s look at Florida and California. Politically, these states are on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (who many compare to President Trump), has been supportive of Florida’s theme parks reopening since, what seems to be, day 1 of the shutdown. He did whatever he could, got whoever he could on board, to support the parks reopening as safe and as soon as possible. But it’s not because he wanted to take his family for a ride on Splash Mountain, it’s because he knew the long term damage that it would cause Florida’s economy if these parks remained closed. Specifically the travel and tourism industry.

Almost immediately, task forces were assembled and Walt Disney World wasn’t just given reopening guidelines from the state, they essentially got to create their own. Florida’s Governor left it up to the theme parks to figure out their own guidelines, all of which would have to be approved by the state before reopening.

Florida’s theme parks successfully reopened in July and to date, there have been no cases of COVID-19 linked to a single park. Isn’t it ironic, a state that’s run by a Governor whose political beliefs and policies Disney would most likely disagree with (or speak out against) has been reopened since July and its theme parks are now reaching their limited capacity?

With the flick of a magic wand and an extremely well-calculated “welcome home” campaign, Walt Disney World was open for business once again.

Then there’s California. There is no “welcome home” campaign. In fact, a literal war is happening right now between Disneyland and California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom (a Governor who many would compare to former Vice President, Joe Biden). A governor who’s reopening task force committee Bob Iger was apart of since the moment it was first assembled. One would even say Iger occupied the biggest, and perhaps most influential, seat at the table.

Long story short, when Disneyland announced plans to reopen the Anaheim resort, it had not yet gotten approval from the state. According to Gov. Newsom, California would reopen with a 4 phase approach, and theme parks were categorized under the final stage. At the time, stage 4 was so far down the road that the state hadn’t released official reopening guidelines for its final stage. And so Disney’s backtracking began. Downtown Disney would reopen in phases, but Disneyland’s official reopening date was canceled and a new reopening date was never given. But the house of mouse, one of the state’s largest employers and a major source of tourism revenue, did not let up in its campaign to reopen—waging a three-month battle with California that has at times caught workers in its crossfire. Go figure, California’s governor wasn’t as supportive as Florida’s governor when it came to the reopening of our country’s biggest vacation destinations.

In September, as rumors swirled that the company internally planned for a late-month reopening. But after a surge in summer cases, the state had revamped its reopening protocols, with a state-wide tier system for reopening businesses. What wasn’t revamped was phase 4, where California’s theme parks remained.

Just a few weeks ago, I sat on an invite-only virtual meeting where I witnessed Walt Disney World executives talking about how successful their reopening has been, and Disneyland executives, including Chairman of Disney Parks, Products, and Experiences- Josh D’Amaro, essentially pleading their case with the state of California to let them reopen.

Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, during a video update on the company’s operations during the coronavirus pandemic. D’Amaro removed his mask after explaining he was filming alone in Disney California Adventure Park.

During his segment, D’Amaro said; “To our California government officials, particularly at the state level, I encourage you to treat theme parks like you would other sectors and help us reopen. We need guidelines that are fair and equitable so we can better understand our future and chart a path towards reopening. The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact will be to Orange County and the Anaheim communities, and to the tens of thousands of people who rely on us for employment.”

So wait, had Disneyland not even been given guidelines from their home state yet? What’s obvious is that their Governor wasn’t just going to let them make their own guidelines, as Gov. DeSantis did for Florida.

Then came the inevitable, company-wide layoffs. Days after Disney announced plans to lay off 28,000 domestic workers, almost all from theme parks, most from California, D’Amaro claimed the company’s financial struggles had been “exacerbated in California by the State’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.”  On October 2, California released a draft for phase 4 reopening guidelines. A clear sign they weren’t going to work for Disneyland, was when Bob Iger quit the reopening task force committee after taking one look at the draft. The California Attractions and Parks Association, a trade group that includes Disney, called on Newsom to postpone the release and engage with the industry “in a more earnest manner” and “listen to the park operators’ expertise.”

As of right now, Disneyland does not have an official reopening date.

Let’s get back to the politics of it all. For years, many fans have said Disney has become too political. What’s odd is that by not wanting to offend anyone, Disney somehow got caught up in our society’s cultural wars. In fact, many conservative voices have accused the company of taking a political position by applying a more lenient standard to liberals. While many on the left accuse Disney of not standing up to those on the right. Then there’s the obvious, what Bob Iger thinks of Donald Trump. One quick google search of those two, and it’s all there in black and white.

As much as I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion of whichever side of politics they support, I’ve also said that I wish Disney would just keep politics out of the parks and its movies. For example, when Disney was working on Frozen 2, many demanded that Disney have Elsa come out as a homosexual. I would have been all for that, after all, love is love. But if she was to come out,  I wanted it to be Disney’s choice and not because they gave in to a bunch of online petitions. I wanted Elsa’s sexual preference to be historic, and I wanted it to be done in a way to make her a role model to the millions of little boys and girls who look up to her. I didn’t want it to be done as a political statement. In the end, Disney decided to not address her sexuality at all.

Need another example? Let’s touch on the decision to reimagine Splash Mountain into Princess and the Frog. I can’t ignore the fact that Disney made the announcement of the ride change as riots were at an all-time high in this country and Black Lives Matter was mentioned every 5 seconds on national, state, and local news channels. Disney claims that plans had been in works for years to reimagine the attraction, but many questioned Disney’s timing of the announcement. At this time, their theme parks hadn’t even reopened. I completely support a Princess and the Frog attraction, in fact- I believe it’s a completely underrated movie, but Tiana is such a kick-butt princess and role model, I wanted her to have her own original attraction. She deserves more than something being “reimagined.” Just like Tangled deserves more than a restroom, but that’s another article for another day. Again, I just question Disney’s timing of the announcement.

Many will disagree with me, and say Disney isn’t playing politics at all. Many will say that as a company, DIS has every right to take political stances. But many people will agree with me and this article. That’s the beauty of our country, freedom of speech, and entitlement to our own opinions. I welcome any and all comments, as long as they are kind and respectful.

I just can’t ignore the fact that, in my opinion, a company that seems to support one side of the political spectrum, is now being kept shutdown in California by those very people and policies they seemed to support. If anything, Walt Disney World and how Florida has handled the reopening of these theme parks should be a shining example to the state of California. If something doesn’t give, and soon, I worry there will be more layoff announcements and the long-term effects to Orange County’s tourism industry will be devastating. I truly believe that this is a case where politics need to be removed and Disneyland needs to reopen as soon as possible. Disneyland IS an essential business. Not because we love the attractions or Mickey Mouse, it’s because the livelihood of thousands of people depends on this park.

 

 

Kristi is the Media and PR Director for The Kingdom Insider. She's a lifelong Disney fan and grew up spending her family vacations at the Happiest Place on Earth. She resides in Florida with her husband and two boys, ages 4 and 6.