It May Be Time for Disney to Sue Florida

Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger.
Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger. Photo: Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images
Matthew Belloni
April 21, 2023

Lately, Bob Iger seems to have gone Full Michael Corleone at the end of The Godfather, right? Disney’s new/old C.E.O. is cordial and all business up front, while quietly taking people out, often in brutal fashion. Activist investor pest Nelson Peltz? Neutralized. Peltz’s fellow Florida Man Ike Perlmutter, who was somehow still on the Disney payroll? Fired in a humiliating “cost-cutting lay-off,” as if the one-time Marvel C.E.O. were a Dumbo ride operator. Victoria Alonso, a Marvel executive who seemed to prioritize her own personal media profile above the studio’s deteriorating visual effects? Terminated for cause, despite her 17-year tenure and the bad diversity optics, over a contract breach technicality. Ice cold.  

That’s not even including next week’s massive layoffs, which are said to impact about 15 percent of Disney’s entertainment employees. I talked to another top executive last week who couldn’t understand why Iger, normally so smooth and compassionate when handling uncomfortable situations, announced the 7,000-employee, multi-wave layoff in February, knowing he’d need to wait until now for his division heads and H.R. executives to get their act together so he could really drop the guillotine. It felt to some like Iger was playing to Wall Street analysts, and their desire to see cost reductions announced publicly pronto, rather than to his own employees and their families. The result: Many at Disney have been anxiety-ridden for weeks now, with even department leaders in the dark about the fate of teams they interact with constantly.

None of that, however, compares to Iger’s cold manhandling of Don DeSantis—sorry, Ron—the mafioso governor of Florida, who seems intent on letting this stupid culture-war spat sabotage his mainstream credibility, if not his own presidential campaign. DeSantis wrested control of Disney’s special Reedy Creek tax district in response to former C.E.O. Bob Chapek’s position on the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, until Iger’s lawyers found a totally legit loophole and drove a Main Street Electrical Parade float through it, neutering the DeSantis board by limiting its ability to make big changes without Disney’s approval. DeSantis then extended “Don’t Say Gay” to all grade school students, so Disney invited a huge L.G.B.T.Q. conference to the Florida resort and announced its first official Pride Nights in Anaheim. And back and forth… Just this week, the DeSantis board called out the company’s lack of affordable housing for employees and locals, so Disney immediately countered by announcing plans to build exactly that type of housing.