“Why are they averse to any transparency on their political contributions?,” the filmmaker and outspoken shareholder said to IndieWire.
With a last name known round the world, Abigail Disney is using the full might of that recognition to fight for economic justice. Most people first became aware of the filmmaker and philanthropist when she called out the company’s then-CEO Bob Iger in a 2019 viral Twitter thread, in which she pulled no punches to call out his “insane” salary, which that year was 1,424 times the average Disney employee’s. When her remarks went viral, she saw an opportunity to tell the story of American income inequality and corporate greed the best way she knew how — in a film.
Taking a personal approach to what, for her, is a very personal issue, “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” follows Disney and her activist work over the course of two years. Directed by Disney and Kathleen Hughes, the film, which debuted at Sundance in January, covers a wide range of topics, blending the intimate struggles of actual Disney employees with a broad overview of how we got here. As she watches families fail to afford basic necessities on their meager Disney salaries, she searches for traces of the values her grandfather Roy and great uncle Walt espoused.
As she states in the film, even if a Disney CEO made enormous changes to employee compensation tomorrow, the company would lose profits and the CEO would be out. It will take an enormous shifting tide to quell the current tsunami of wealth disparity.
“Any system like this is made up of individuals, it’s like a wall is made of bricks,” Disney told IndieWire during a recent interview. “What if all the bricks decided not to stand there? What if all the individuals made the decision to be different inside of that system? Each of us has the capacity to behave differently inside a system. That’s how systems change. And it’s really hard to get one individual [to change]. It feels useless. But building, building, building on people’s solidarity and feeling of alliance with each other, then you build power.”
Though her primary focus is corporate greed, the filmmaker isn’t afraid to call out Disney for other missteps. The company made headlines earlier this year when it came to light that Disney contributed to anti-LGBTQ politicians amidst the fervor over Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill. When current Disney CEO Bob Chapek waffled the initial response, thousands of Disney employees walked out in protest.
In response to the massive pushback, Chapek announced Disney would pause all political donations in Florida until further notice. As a longtime student of the way corporations behave, Disney is skeptical.
“If he has [paused donations], he needs to prove to us that he has,” she said. “I think in the last three consecutive years, there have been shareholder proposals around Disney being transparent about their political contributions. And in every case, management has recommended against voting for that. Why? Why are they averse to any transparency on their political contributions? That seems to me something that should be the law, that every corporation should have to be transparent about its political contributions. So if they’re against transparency, then I would dare to assume they haven’t changed much of anything.”
She did, however, applaud the company’s recent response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which saw Disney join Facebook parent company Meta in pledging to cover employee costs associated with traveling to obtain abortion access.
“I’m glad they said that. I hope it’s true. I mean frankly, for Disney, that’s a very courageous position and I commend it,” said Disney. “There’s the thing that gets said at corporate and then the way it actually gets put into place for people at the bottom, and there’s always a gulf between these things. That’s why I say it was a courageous position to take. I have no way of knowing whether or not in fact it’s going to happen. … It’s a very significant number of conservatives who really, really, really love Disney and they are in a position right now where they have been threatened with boycotts. So I felt that it was a strong position to take for Disney.”
“The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” premieres in select theaters and digital platforms on Friday, September 23.