Disney vs. conservatives: the latest chapter of the war on ‘woke’

No doubt company is becoming increasingly political, in a way that rankles with many people

Protesters holding placards reading 'Disney - speak out against Don't Say Gay'
Walt Disney employees and demonstrators during a rally against Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill in California on 22 March
(Image credit: Alisha Jucevic/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There’s no denying it now, said Rod Dreher in The American Conservative. The Walt Disney Company is, as critics of the supposedly family-friendly entertainment group have long suspected, seeking to indoctrinate the young with “woke” ideology.

The proof comes in the form of leaked footage from a Disney teleconference in which executive producer Latoya Raveneau boasts of incorporating pro-LGBT material into a show she directs. Everyone she has worked with, she says, has welcomed her “not-at-all-secret gay agenda”, which is to add “queerness” to shows, including her series The Proud Family. Wake up, parents. “Disney is the enemy of your family and your children.”

Conservatives have leapt on this leaked tape, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times, seeing it as powerful ammunition in their burgeoning culture war with Disney. The company has been in their sights since it denounced Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Law – dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics – which restricts classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity to older year groups. Disney, which is one of Florida’s largest employers, with about 80,000 workers, has suspended political donations in the state in response to the law.

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Raveneau’s comments were clearly tongue in cheek; and the results of her “agenda”, such as it is, seem “sweetly anodyne”: one character in her show has a gay friend; another has gay dads. It’s harmless stuff, given most people these days are relaxed about the presence of gays, lesbians and transgender people in public life. But the Right has seized on the remarks as proof that Disney is out to sexualise children and corrupt their minds. On Fox News, host Laura Ingraham called it “propaganda for grooming”. Yes, the QAnon conspiracy theory that liberals are “a cabal of paedophiles has gone mainstream”.

Disney may not be out to corrupt children, said Sheila McClear in Los Angeles Magazine, but there’s no doubt that it is becoming increasingly political, in a way that rankles with many people. Last summer it removed all “gendered greetings” from its parks: no more “boys and girls”, now it’s “Hello, friends”. And in a company-wide Zoom call last month, Disney’s general entertainment head Karey Burke said that “as the mother of one transgender child and one pansexual child”, she wanted to ramp up queer visibility within the Magic Kingdom.

No wonder a recent poll found that 65% of Americans believe corporate wokeness has gone too far, said Harrison Rogers on RealClearPolitics.com. Parents don’t want a “pansexual Lion King” or a “trans Cinderella”. They “just want quality content”, devoid of sexual and political messaging.

This is what happens when corporations start staking out positions on legislation, said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. Disney was encouraged to weigh in on the Florida bill by progressives who think it has the whip hand over the state. They’re wrong. Corporations do wield influence when it comes to lobbying for things like tax breaks; but on “major issues, where the public cares a lot, a million votes matter far more than a million corporate dollars”.

Disney’s criticism of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has had no discernible effect on Florida Republicans, other than giving them a handy target to rail against. “After all, why should they care what Disney thinks?” It’s not as if the company can up sticks and move Disney World to another state. The resort is roughly the size of San Francisco. The company won’t find a developable site of that size again. Disney would have done better to stay out of this fight.

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