In 1996, the city of Anaheim took on a $500 million bond, in part to build a parking structure for the Walt Disney Company. The city leased the land to Disney for $1 a year and let Disney keep the tens of millions in revenue even as the city struggled to care for its citizens. Over the next two decades, the company secured $1 billion in grants and tax breaks from Anaheim.
As shareholders and executives reaped the rewards and saw this as a golden era of profitability, Disney employees often had to work two jobs or live off their cars, struggling simply to stay afloat.
“The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” takes a critical look at Disney as a replacement for the rest of corporate America. What’s particularly notable about the film is that it was directed by Abigail Disney, Walt’s great-niece and Roy’s granddaughter, who co-founded the company.
Abigail Disney has long been a social activist, both as a philanthropist and a documentary producer. “American Dream” was inspired by a Disney employee who contacted her about the company’s low salaries. But Disney, whose huge wealth comes from the business but has no active involvement, is going even further this time. She co-directs but she also takes center stage in front of the camera, challenging herself and viewers to see her family business for what it really is.
“Abby talks about inequality and says, ‘Tax me more’ while working for systemic change for decades,” says co-director Kathleen Hughes. “The minute she started hearing from the workers and learning what was going on, she started tweeting about the issue. Then she wrote an op-ed and testified before Congress. We made this movie because we can’t talk about it enough.
The film is not only filled with heartbreaking stories of families on the brink, but it notes that Bob Iger’s $65 million compensation was 1,424 times the employee’s median salary while there. 55-year-old Roy Disney, including stock options, was doing 78 times the low. worker’s compensation.
In a statement for this story, a Disney spokesperson said, “Our incredible cast members, storytellers and employees are the heart and soul of Disney, and their well-being is our top priority. We work hard to ensure our team is supported in a way that enables them to grow their careers, care for their families and thrive at work – that’s why so many people choose to spend their entire careers with us. . It all starts with a competitive salary and top-tier entry salaries, but also includes affordable medical coverage, access to tuition-free higher education, subsidized childcare for eligible employees, as well as personal and professional development paths. We are committed to building on these impactful programs by identifying new ways to support our Cast Members and our communities around the world.
But the Disney corporation here is a springboard to a larger problem, and the directors show how the rich and powerful began to systematically push for changes in culture and then legislation, weakening unions and workers’ rights while enacting a mentality of every man for himself and the idea that more government is always a problem.
Their favorite cut in the film is of the Republican congressmen calling Abigail Disney a Marxist while declaring that the entire American workforce benefited from this recent era of prosperity to Disney employees who went to a food bank to survive. .
Disney recently spoke via video about the film and the issues it addresses. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. The movie really uses the Disney corporation to examine the history of corporate greed and wealth inequality over the past half-century. Did you think about this overview from the beginning?
I figured this whole thing out before Ralph texted me. But he took what I knew in the abstract and worked on as a philanthropist and rubbed my nose that it was right in front of me basically in this business that embodies this whole problem . I’m sure Sigmund Freud would have a lot to say about why I pretended it had nothing to do with me and my family. It was very hard to come and face him. And that’s why I decided to make this film.
Q. Your film notes that the Harvard Business School motto was “Make a Decent Profit – Decently”. Is there a way to get back to CEOs who serve their business and society as much as their shareholders?
My grandfather fought with the unions and probably would have done something horrible if he could, but he couldn’t because the unions were strong, but also because public opinion, the societal norms and the government have held it back. The standards were changed very deliberately out of a desire to build a more pro-corporate culture emphasizing and praising the highly individualistic view of how people should make their way through life.
When Michael Douglas stood up on ‘Wall Street’ in 1987 and said ‘Greed is good’, they cheered, Gordon Gekko was the bad guy, but all those stock traders and people thought it was the best thing ever. they’ve ever heard. The standards had changed so drastically that a villain could be mistaken for a hero.
]The men who now run businesses – and they are mostly men – came of age at the height of [free-market guru] Milton Friedmann. They have been given a moral blanket by this mantra that if businesses are doing well, everyone is doing well, so stocks are the only way to understand success and they should prioritize stock price over everything. They told themselves that they were doing good to society by doing good to their businesses.
But we now know that is clearly not true. They can’t disentangle themselves from this ideology and we need a new generation of people with a different set of principles: that a business is nothing without humans and that humans must be their top priority and that requires a step change in the way we structure business and social norms and regulations.
Q. How do you respond to people at the bottom who often seem to vote against their own economic interests?
I want people to look at it clearly. Take the politics out, just look at where we are, look at who has what and who doesn’t and why. Let’s just talk about what an economy is for and around whom should it be organized. The rules of this game are now written for the powerful and the wealthy and we need to rethink that.
Q. You cannot remove the policy from it. Sure, the Democrats curry favor with corporate donors, etc., but it’s the Republicans who have tried to shut you down and call you a socialist and it’s their policies that so clearly favor the rich and powerful?
I have to laugh when they call me “socialist” because it’s an attempt to reduce an incredibly complex story to a slogan that doesn’t even fit this situation. There are so many adjustments we could make aside from socialism to make it a better and fairer system.
The right has consciously and systematically disempowered any government entity that might push back against corporate interests. We need to rebuild these structures.
Q. Does the recent success of the Amazon syndicate and the efforts of the Biden administration give you hope in this area?
Marty Walsh being appointed Secretary of Labor was encouraging as he is clearly pro-union.
We must ensure that the government intervenes and defends the interests of all and not just the interests of management and shareholders.
The deal they helped broker between the railroads and the unions was massive – the terms were abhorrent and conductors and conductors will be so much better off because of it. It seems to me that this administration is on its way and supports the unions when they negotiate in good faith.
Q. Were you nervous about putting yourself and your family on screen, putting a target on yourself?
It’s terrifying. You can reject a woman by saying she’s looking for attention or by saying she’s crazy. Say what you want about me as a person, but tell me about substance. I’m right about that. I am right. And if I’m right, what kind of Disney princess would I be if I didn’t defend the little guy?