Think of this the next time you go to Disneyland and you find yourself hugging one of those adorable costumed characters: The person wearing that costume may not be getting medical care. Or don’t have enough money to pay rent and are sleeping in their car. Either existing on the grocery store from food stamps or a grocery store.
That’s the sobering message of Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes’ new documentary, American Dreams and other fairy tales, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Disneyland may be the “Happiest Place on Earth” for those who can afford to visit, but not so much for its “cast,” as the company dislikes its workers.
The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales
The Disney name makes the film’s arguments more convincing.
Abigail Disney has been on a crusade to unravel economic inequality for years, and she’s in a rather unique position to do so, as the granddaughter of company co-founder Roy . “Having a Disney last name is like having a weird superpower you didn’t ask for,” she comments in the film, later admitting that she feels “complicit” as her considerable fortune comes primarily from being inheritance of company shares.
Those shares are monstrously valuable, thanks in no small part to the company that – like many other companies in the US – prioritizes profits and shareholders over the lives of its employees (sorry, “members”) ). The documentary features commentary by five of those employees, who worked there between 5 and 47 years. They describe in hauntingly vivid detail of their struggle to make ends meet on $15 an hour, plus 75 cents an hour for the night shift. This amount doesn’t go far in the Anaheim/Orange Country area, where a recent analysis has shown a living wage will be above $24 an hour. The plight of workers has become even more dire during the pandemic, as thousands of people have been laid off.
Contrast their situation with former CEO Bob Iger, whose 2018 earnings were $65 million. In 1967, Roy Disney’s salary, including stock options, was just 78 times what the lowest worker wages were, compared with a difference of thousands today. “The Disney Company is unfounded by the growing inequality in America,” said one of the film’s heads, which includes several college professors and writers like Kurt Andersen and Neal Gabler, author of the film, commented. Walt Disney: Victory of the American Imagination. An Anaheim City Council member described Anaheim as a “two-city story,” with a severely degraded southern area not benefiting from the massive subsidies and tax breaks afforded Disney and Disney. other amusement parks.
The film includes Disney testifying before a congressional committee, where she is accused of promoting “socialism” and “Marxism” by Republicans, unsurprisingly. She also wrote to Iger, who responded by acknowledging the company’s workers’ problems but blaming the government for failing them.
The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales falters slightly when it expands its scope to consider the dramatic rise in economic inequality in the US, from middle-class prosperity in the 1950s to the current era in which there are so many workers earn a minimum wage but not a living wage. It’s not that the film’s arguments are implausible, including one commentator that vividly describes the “unification of America” that began in the 1980s and the damning indictments of political actors. such as Ronald Reagan and the economist Milton Friedman. But it all feels familiar after so many documentaries that explore similar themes.
At times, the movie gets a little too cute, as it includes a discussion between Abigail and her sister Susan, in which the latter suggests that she make a movie to deal with the issues. “Well, that’s the meta,” admitted Abigail.
Still, the film makes an incredibly powerful, timely, and important statement, especially coming from someone whose name carries such symbolic weight. Disney deserves huge credit for standing up for what’s right, even if it means biting into the hand of her nurturing family.