Turning Red Turning Red

Employees at Disney-Pixar Animation Studios have issued an unprecedented letter criticizing the Walt Disney Company’s muted position on the state of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which passed this week in the Florida Senate.

More than just a political statement, the remarkable letter attacks the Walt Disney Company for controlling the content of the studio’s films, making this an extremely rare instance of Pixar employees openly criticizing their parent company’s impact on creative decisions.

The letter, attributed to “LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar and their allies,” claims that Disney has excised “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” in Pixar films to date. The letter goes on to further allege that even after Pixar filmmakers and executive leadership have protested creative interference in their films, Disney corporate has had final say on their storytelling.

The Disney Company’s tight control over Pixar’s output won’t be a surprise to anyone who understands the inner workings of studio animation, but it is stunning to hear the criticism publicly aired by employees.

The most damaging line of the letter might be the following, which highlights the extent to which the content of Pixar films is filtered through Disney corporate and out of the studio’s control: “We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were.”

Pixar employees issued their letter amidst the worst public relations crisis for the Walt Disney Company since Bob Chapek took over as CEO two years ago.

The crisis is largely one of Chapek’s own making and was elevated to a new level after Chapek issued a ham-fisted defense of Disney’s approach to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by claiming that the best way to affect change was “through the inspiring content we produce.”

The Pixar employees reference that internal studio memo and claim that they “aren’t even allowed to create” the inspiring content that Chapek touted as the foundation of Disney’s response. Chapek has since tried to buy his way out of the crisis by pledging $5 million from Disney to the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, however, that too backfired after the group refused the donation until “meaningful action is taken to combat” Florida’s new law.

Beyond their criticism of Disney’s creative interference in Pixar’s films, the studio employees lay out a series of actions that they want the Walt Disney Company to take in the wake of the Florida bill’s passage.

The text of the letter, which was first reported online by journalist Judd Legum of the newsletter Popular Information, is published below in full:

A Statement to Leadership from the LGBTQIA+ Employees of Pixar & Their Allies

We are writing because we are disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry. In regards to Disney’s financial involvement with legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, we hoped that our company would show up for us. But it didn’t.

Monday’s email, “Our Unwavering Commitment to the LGBTQ+ Community”, rang hollow. It began with the claim that Disney has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, but Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone. Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the parks, even removing same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s. Additionally, Disney began capitalizing on Pride in 2018 with The Rainbow Mickey Collection, (while de-emphasizing the terms like LGBTQ+ and not even featuring explicitly LGBTQIA+ pieces such as Pride flag pins until 2021). To this end, it feels terrible to be a part of a company that makes money from Pride merch when it chooses to “step back” in times of our greatest need, when our rights are at risk.

The second claim stated that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds”. However, the very email making this claim opened with a corporate statement regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Eight days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Disney paused the release of theatrical films in Russia and announced “We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation.” Following the siege on the capital in 2021, Disney stopped all political donations to members of Congress who had objected to the presidential election results. In 2016, Disney told the state of Georgia: “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law” in response to the controversial Religious Liberty bill. By taking a stand, Disney directly affected the legislative outcome in Georgia. It has been proven that Disney’s corporate statements can and do make a difference.

Finally, we come to the push for Content as the answer. We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it. Beyond the “inspiring content” that we aren’t even allowed to create, we require action.

We are calling on Disney leadership to immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to fully denounce this legislation publicly, and to make amends for their financial involvement. While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough. Throughout the shareholder meeting, Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate “both sides” – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question and answer portion of the meeting. This is not what it means to “unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.”

Disney taking a stand by honoring their company values has changed the course of legislation in the past. If Disney is true in its values, it will take a decisive public stand against the discriminatory legislation occurring in Florida and offer tangible support for the LGBTQIA+ communities affected by bigoted legislation sweeping the country. Stand against this bill in Florida and against the similar bills in South Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, and Tennessee. Stand against the transphobic legislation in Texas, Iowa, Utah, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama. Many hateful groups are attempting to eradicate us through legislation – we need you to stand with us entirely, not in empty words.

This matter is not something that can wait until Reimagine Tomorrow in April, or Pride Month in June. This matter needs to be addressed now. This is urgent. 42% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in 2021, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, with a large factor being the lack of support that these discriminatory legislations enable. Disney claims to care for the welfare of children, but supporting politicians like this directly hurts one of their most vulnerable audiences. There are lives at stake and Disney’s support could save those lives. “We still have more work to do,” your email said. This is that work.

Signed with Pride,
The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies

Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi is Cartoon Brew's Publisher and Editor-at-large.