Amid Strikes, Abigail Disney & Fan Activists Seek To Protect Disney Employees

Be A Hero: A Fan Activist Campaign in Support of Disney Workers

As one of the largest entertainment labor movements in modern U.S. history takes shape with thousands of members of the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists striking across the country, you might assume that super-fans are at home, pouting about delays in production of their long-awaited films and TV shows.

On the contrary — they’re part of the resistance.

Fandom Forward, a nonprofit dedicated to using popular media as a gateway to activism; Imperative 21, an organization that calls for a systemic reset of America’s economic system; and Abigail Disney, a filmmaker, philanthropist, and activist, have teamed up to launch a campaign dedicated to protecting Disney employees.

Abigail Disney
Abigail Disney. Photo courtesy of Grasstaken, Roo Castro and Rod Coplin

Their goal? To get fans committed to the safety and success of the people who make the magic possible.

Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney, is obviously closely tied to the Disney empire — and has been lovingly urging it, and other companies, to do better by people and the planet for most of her career.

In fact, she was arrested last week for chaining herself to the Hamptons Airport, protesting the use of private jets and bringing awareness to the climate crisis.

When she’s not on the front lines of the climate justice movement, she is advocating for the rights of workers and consumers. Her most recent project, a documentary called “The American Dream & Other Fairy Tales,” investigates the exploitation of Disney workers across the company’s many sectors. 

Now uniting with fan activists (some might call them “Disney Adults”), she has one urgent call to action: for Disney to become the hero of its own story.

Be A Hero Campaign

On Tuesday evening, leaders from Fandom Forward and other fan activist coalitions joined in a livestream with Abigail to announce the Be A Hero campaign. 

The ask is simple: implore Disney’s shareholders to vote to expand its Duty of Care legal obligations to include its workers, not just its shareholders.

No worries: We’ll explain that for you.

A screenshot of a YouTube livestream that included five fan activists and Abigail Disney
Fan activists joined Abigail for a livestream to announce the campaign. Photo courtesy of Fandom Forward

Like Abigail shares in the livestream, the issues many American corporations face come down to the interpretation of corporate law. 

A “duty of care” requirement essentially means that a company has a legal responsibility to maintain the health, safety, and well-being of others. In Disney’s case, this legal responsibility only extends to its shareholders, not its employees.

This kind of disparity leads to the unlivable wages and poor working conditions Disney employees (or “cast members”) have been protesting for years. It’s what Abigail witnessed as she created her documentary. And it’s what she’s hoping to end with this call to action.

“People who value the long-term wellbeing of their stakeholders — including their employees, their customers, the environment, and the shareholders, equally — do better and survive longer,” Abigail said in the livestream. 

“It’s our 100-year anniversary. We’re here because of the fans. We need to … restructure the way we understand what a corporation is and what a business is for. If it’s not for people, then what are we doing here?” 

A group of people in purple shirts protest, holding a sign that reads "Stop Disney Poverty"
A still from Abigail's film "The American Dream & Other Fairy Tales." Photo courtesy of Fork Films

The talking points of the Be A Hero campaign draw on the transformative themes Disney is known for: believing in the impossible, being kind and caring, and creating magic together.

“We want Disney to be a new kind of company that puts people first,” a video for the campaign explained at the beginning of the livestream. “Imagine a world where companies have the freedom to care more about people than profit, to care as much about its cast members as its shareholders, to care as much about Main Street as it does Wall Street.”

Sara Mortensen, the campaigns director at Fandom Forward, summed it up succinctly:

“Disney at its core seems to be a caring company but it has this corporate structure that makes caring for its workers hard. And this is the kind of corporate structure that is pervasive throughout a lot of American companies,” she said. “All of us want Disney to be great, and that means doing good by its workers.” 

The first small action Disney fans can take is to sign a petition urging Disney shareholders to vote to expand its Duty of Care. Organizers also urge supporters to show up to the parks, to events, and to the annual shareholders meeting, to make this dream a reality.

Be A Hero: Change the Rules to Support Disney Workers petition
Organizers urge Disney fans to sign a petition, urging shareholders to change the company's rules.

Alongside Abigail, fan activists in the livestream included Delia Gallegos of Black Nerds Create; Mars Sebastian of Off Colour; Sis of Trans March on Broadway, and Artemis Bell, who worked as a night custodian at Disney in Anaheim for nearly a decade and actively participated in union negotiations for years.

Bell was also part of Abigail’s documentary and provided a crystal clear explanation of what’s at stake — both for the people who rely on Disney to pay their bills and feed their families and for the empire itself. 

“It used to be much more common to look at the workers as the shareholders,” Bell explained in the livestream. “The fans are the people who are directly impacted by the quality of the things we’re putting out there. If [Disney is] making poor long-term decisions, as far as creativity, to maximize profits in the short-term — but they’re decreasing the quality of the art they’re creating or the experiences the fans are going to, because the workers stop having a personal buy-in — it ultimately affects the shareholders’ profitability.”

“I think it’s short-sighted — and just plain dumb — to actively stay on that path, if taking care of our cast members and taking care of our fans mean we can have a healthy company that takes care of the stakeholders in the long run, I don’t see why we would be so resistant to doing that.” 

That resistance has been heard loud and clear over the past few weeks, as Disney CEO Bob Iger called striking workers “unrealistic” in their demands for better pay and residuals. 

What’s not unrealistic? The power of community organizing.

This campaign invites fans to use their collective power to start a real conversation about labor, equity, and economics — and to tear down those barriers of resistance with love, creativity, and passion. 

For this movement, the mouse ears are optional — but encouraged. 

“Bringing fans together who are rooted in love for this company, it couldn’t be a better audience to take this to and say ‘we need your help,’” Abigail said. “This is an opportunity to create an invitation instead of a confrontation and to root it in the love we have for the history and capacity of this company to shape the society we live in and make it a better place.” 

The thesis of this campaign — and what might make it seem so “unrealistic” to some — rests on the fact that Disney is an enormous player in the global economy. 

Can a crew of, like, six fan activists really create the domino effect to change the way a major corporation operates?

“Disney is an incredibly strategic company to be talking about because it has hospitality, entertainment, amusement parks, consumer products, publishing. … It has so many different arms, that you could reach into all these different sectors with just this one company,” Abigail explains.

“When Disney changes, everybody else pays attention. It’s not just any company we’re talking about here, and it’s so close to the heart of what Americans think of, what America’s about. If we can shift at Disney — it seems impossible — but every Disney movie tells you to do the impossible thing.” 

Mars Sebastian, the panelist from Off Colour, jumped in, gesturing to her video chat background of books, posters, and fan memorabilia illustrating her love for Disney.

“The world will be different because today’s fan is tomorrow’s worker,” she said. “I don’t want my dreams to die on the vine because I’m disappointed in you. The world can be better because we believe impossible is possible.”

Header image courtesy of Fandom Forward

Article Details

July 19, 2023 10:50 AM
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