Disney’s surprise CEO shakeup sparks speculation over ‘wokeness’
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Disney's surprise decision to remove Bob Chapek as CEO on Sunday sparked speculation that the company's commitment to "wokeness" during his tenure may have led to his ouster. Still, one expert says there were several factors at play — and those expecting Bob Iger to reverse the company's far-left trajectory may be sorely disappointed.
The most significant controversy during Chapek's time at the helm occurred earlier this year when Disney issued a forceful statement condemning Florida's Parent Rights In Education law, dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. The statement said it was Disney's "goal as a company" to see the legislation repealed or struck down, and Chapek pledged to stop all political donations in Florida and contribute millions to LGBTQ+ causes.
Bob Chapek, Chief Executive Officer of Disney, speaks at the 2022 Disney Legends Awards during Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, U.S. September 9, 2022. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni / Reuters Photos)
The move sparked a political firestorm, with proponents of the bill slamming Disney for their meddling and attempt to inject their views on the people of Florida. At the same time, critics of the legislation lashed out at the company for not taking a stand against the bill sooner.
But Disney's very public stance against Florida's law also drew attention to Disney's silence on human rights atrocities in China, where the company is heavily invested. The National Legal and Policy Center, an activist shareholder, even accused Disney at its annual meeting of "complicity in China genocide."
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Paul Chesser, director of the NLPC's Corporate Integrity Project, told FOX Business while Chapek certainly botched the situation in Florida and made several missteps, he was also partly a victim of some major headwinds.
Bob Chapek, Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company during the opening ceremony for Avengers Campus inside Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, CA, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images / Getty Images)
Chapek took over at Disney in 2020, and the company received numerous negative headlines over pandemic restrictions at parks and employee vaccine requirements. There have also been a renewed backlash against environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives by companies like Disney, which Chesser says may have taken Chapek by surprise.
Adding to that, Chapek has received backlash from fans for raising prices at Disney theme parks while Americans feel the squeeze from rising inflation.
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All of those factors, including other "woke" moves, have ultimately led to the degradation of Disney's brand among its fan base, Chesser says. He pointed to the company's decision to include a same-sex kiss in Pixar's latest "Toy Story" film, "Lightyear," which he says "devalued" and destroyed the beloved franchised.
Disney CEO Robert Iger poses during the 2020 Oscars Nominees Luncheon at the Dolby theatre in Hollywood on January 27, 2020. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)
But Chesser does not believe Chapek was pushed out because he embraced the wokeness. In fact, he says Iger, who led Disney for 15 years before handing the reins to Chapek in 2020, is a woke warrior himself.
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Chesser pointed out that Iger actually spoke out against Florida's Parental Rights legislation a month before Disney did and has made it clear that he has no reservations about the company taking polarizing political positions.
"Iger is no less woke than Chapek," Chesser told FOX Business. "He is even more woke."