By Karen Choudhury
Abigail Disney is the grand daughter of Roy O. Disney who co-founded the Walt Disney Corporation with her great uncle Walt Disney. She is a philanthropist, activist, and documentary filmmaker. She and Kathleen Hughes directed American Dream and other Fairy Tales. Disney calls it a personal essay documentary. This film takes the viewer to Disneyland in Anaheim, California and shows how pay inequality effects the lives of 4 custodial employees.
What happened to the happiest place on earth? Years ago, an employee made a livable wage and worked at Disney their entire career. Now, their wages do not cover basic bills. Several of the employees interviewed work a second job to make ends meet. Disney says it is a problem in many corporations today and she wants to start a conversation about more equitable pay and benefits for the minimum wage employees.
Disney’s movie premise: Americans are working harder for less pay. The rich are getting astonishingly richer, and the poor have come to define the U.S. workforce. The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales is the beginning of a conversation that most Americans, rich and poor, have a hard time talking honestly about class equity and the shift in our values. The American dream, once the promise of our country, has evaporated in front of our eyes.
The situation is getting personal. In 2018 Abigail Disney, a descendant of Walt Disney, received a message via Facebook from a Disneyland “cast member” seeking help to obtain better pay. Abigail went to visit his family in Anaheim, California, and witnessed how he and so many workers at “the happiest place on earth” were living out of their cars and relying on food banks to feed their families while Disney CEO Bob Iger was well on his way to becoming a newly minted billionaire. How did this happen? The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales is Disney’s bold attempt at publicly interrogating her family’s legacy.
Disney shares old footage from the early years of Disneyland as she explains the original corporate attitude that employees were considered partners and this appreciation was shown in livable wages plus benefits in the days of her grandfather Roy and and great-uncle Walt Disney. She then depicts today’s corporate attitude that employees are merely expenses on a balance sheet. She presents this new attitude through interviews of employees who enjoy their jobs but struggle to make ends meet and by showing the breathtaking income disparity between minimum wage employees and the company’s CEO. Disney also takes us through her own efforts to advocate for better wages including writing the company, speaking in front of members of congress, and making this documentary. Supported by members of her family, Disney is joined by her siblings, Susan Disney Lord and Tim Disney, who serve as executive producers on this film to advance her cause. And it is a cause not just for the Walt Disney Company but also for other large corporations with similar corporate attitudes. Can the happiest place on earth once again become a great place to both work and earn a living? Can the conversation about a change in corporate attitude be started? Disney with her family legacy, status as shareholder, and personal determination may just get this conversation started.