Commentary: At This Point, Disney Deserves to Die

by Aubrey Gulick


That Disney has been dying a slow death for a long time should be clear to anyone even remotely familiar with the entertainment industry. Last summer, the company lost $900 million at the box office, and its streaming platform, Disney+, lost 1.3 million subscribers in just the last quarter of 2023.

Numbers like these should be easy red flags to stockholders and investors — as should the growing amount of blowback condemning woke content in TV shows and blockbuster films.

But they aren’t.

Ahead of the annual board meeting on April 3, Disney investors and stockholders cast votes for board directors — all of whom (with one exception) were up for reelection. After spending $40 million in a campaign to convince its own stockholders to vote for the status quo, Disney beat out investor Nelson Peltz (who spent just $19 million but still won 31 percent of the vote).

Unfortunately, Disney’s internal political squabbles aren’t irrelevant to the culture. The battle over who should be on the entertainment company’s board was a proxy war over its woke content.

‘Restore the Magic’ at Disney

This isn’t the first time Peltz has waged a war on Disney’s board. Last year, Disney CEO Bob Iger was able to stave him off by announcing plans for layoffs and massive cuts.  This fall, Peltz announced a new campaign dubbed “Restore the Magic” and nominated two new board members — himself and Jay Rasulo (Disney’s former chief financial officer).

Iger (pictured above) wasn’t happy, and the board agreed to spend millions of dollars to campaign among its shareholders and investors. They even sent out mailers featuring favorite Disney characters, including Anna and Elsa from Frozen.

Peltz wasn’t the only shareholder trying to infiltrate the board. Blackwells Capital also nominated three new directors, and ValueAct “agreed to back Disney’s board nominees in exchange for sharing information and giving the investor the opportunity to meet with the company,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

From one perspective, Peltz’s attempt to change things up at Disney wasn’t a total failure. He may have gotten just 31 percent of the vote, but, as the Telegraph points out, 31 percent is quite high for a man with “no real strategic vision beyond wanting ‘a guy who doesn’t have media experience’ on the board.”

Getting Politics Out of the Boardroom

Peltz’s fundamental squabble with Disney isn’t necessarily the woke content but instead the company’s ongoing hemorrhage of millions of dollars — but he does see the two as being related.

A recent interview with Financial Times reveals Peltz as something of an agnostic when it comes to politics and culture, but an agnostic who has a fair bit of common sense. Peltz is no Republican. He publicly abstained from voting in 2016. Although he did run a fundraiser for Donald Trump in 2020, he then apologized on CNBC after Jan. 6. He’s offered his support from Trump in 2024, but he’s tepid about it at best — he just doesn’t want Joe Biden in the White House, and Trump is the only other option.

When it comes to Disney (or any other company in which the activist investor is involved), Peltz advocates for keeping ideology out of the boardroom.

“People go to watch a movie or a show to be entertained,” Peltz told Financial Times when speaking about Disney’s latest Marvel releases, The Marvels and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. “They don’t go to get a message. Why do I have to have a Marvel that’s all women? Not that I have anything against women, but why do I have to do that? Why can’t I have Marvels that are both? Why do I need an all-black cast?”

The 81-year-old multi-billionaire wants to make Disney a profitable company. While Iger has complained that Peltz doesn’t have experience in the entertainment industry, Peltz pointed out that Disney doesn’t seem to be doing so well itself. “They’ve lost first place in animation, they’ve lost first place in features … maybe it’s time to change management in those divisions,” he said.

Peltz and his shareholding company, Trian Partners, also own a portion of Unilever, the company that runs Ben & Jerry’s. He’s been critical of the woke direction that company has taken. “You’ve got to get politics out of the board room,” he said, commenting on Ben & Jerry’s recent call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. “Ben & Jerry’s job is to sell ice cream, not to make political statements. And these people use anything for a soap box that they have no right to do.”

‘Can’t Please Everybody’

You might think that Iger would learn his lesson. Peltz may have been nowhere near close to unseating Iger’s control of Disney, but that so many investors voted for an upstart with no plan and little experience in the industry indicates growing discontent with the status quo (never mind the fact that consumers are fleeing Disney for its competitors).

But Iger remains as tone-deaf as ever.

In dealing with the very credible accusations that Disney is forcing wokeness on unwilling audiences, Iger feigns ignorance. He recently told Deadline:

The bottom line is that infusing messaging as a sort of a number one priority in our films and TV shows is not what we’re up to. They need to be entertaining…. [G]enerally speaking, we need to be entertainment for an entertainment first company, and I’ve worked really hard to do that….

It’s not easy, you can’t please everybody all the time, right?

Perhaps Iger believes that by denying what’s apparent to everybody, he’ll talk them into returning to theaters. Worse, it’s possible that he’s embraced wokeness so wholeheartedly that he simply doesn’t see it anymore.

Either way, Disney had a chance at shaking things up — and it blew it.

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Aubrey Gulick is a recent graduate from Hillsdale College and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Fellow at The American Spectator. When she isn’t writing, Aubrey enjoys long runs, solving rock climbs, and rattling windows with the 32-foot pipes on the organ. Follow her on Twitter @AubGulick.
Photo “Bob Iger” by The Walt Dinsey Company.





Appeared at and reprinted from The American Spectator

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