Disney CEO Bob Chapek issued a rare mea culpa Friday, following two weeks of criticism over the company’s response to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In full damage-control mode, Chapek said via a memo to staff: “Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” he wrote. “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights.”
He continued: “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
Chaepk has taken heat from some in recent days over remaining silent over the bill, which would ban Florida teachers from discussing LGBTQ topics like sexual orientation or gender identity with students until after third grade.
At Disney’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday, Chapek said Disney was opposed to the bill and had been fighting it behind the scenes to no avail.
He said the company would donate $5 million to organizations to the Human Rights Campaign, which work to protect LGTBQ+ rights, and that he would meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss his concerns.
Meanwhile, employees of Pixar, Disney’s animated studio, circulated an angry letter, calling Chapek’s earlier claims that the company supported LGBTQ rights “hollow.”
They demanded that the Mouse House stop funding politicians who supported the Florida bill, and accused the company of censoring LGBTQ storylines in Pixar flicks.
The Human Rights Campaign echoed Pixar staff on the political contributions issue and said it wouldn’t accept the donation, putting egg on Disney’s face.
To make matters worse, Chapek’s boss, chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content Peter Rice, told The Hollywood Reporter after the shareholder meeting that “the law is a new and painful iteration of a history of discrimination against an already vulnerable group.”
“Personally, I see this law as a violation of fundamental human rights, and I condemn any attempt to marginalize individuals on the basis of their identity,” he continued. “I appreciate that Bob recognized that we must do more to support the LGBTQ+ community.”
As part of Friday’s memo, Chapek said Disney will cease all political donations in Florida due to the bill. He added that the company is reviewing its approach to advocacy.
“I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve,” Chapek said.
The entertainment giant has made diversity and inclusion a big part of its corporate policies, culture and storytelling across theme parks, movies and TV shows. But some have said the company’s silence on the bill was a statement of its own.
“Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good,” Chapek said. “I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all.”
DeSantis doubled down on his support for the bill Thursday. Speaking to supporters in Boca Raton, the governor said there was a “zero” chance he was going to reverse his position on the bill, according to a video obtained by Fox News.
“You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten in first-grade classrooms,” he said.
“If that’s the hill they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China? Because that’s what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don’t say a word about the really brutal practices that you see over there at the hands of the CCP,” he claimed.
“And so in Florida, our policies got to be based on the best interest of Florida citizens, not on the musing of woke corporations,” he added.
DeSantis’ comments about Disney’s relationship with the Communist Party of China has been a common criticism of the entertainment giant in the last week. Disney was one of several studios to suspend film releases in Russia over the country’s invasion of Ukraine, but has not made similar moves in China for the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province, who are facing human rights abuses.
Two years ago, Disney thanked government entities in Xinjiang in the credits for its live action adaption of “Mulan,” which was partially filmed in the province.