Theme Park News: How Disney's month of controversies is impacting the parks

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Theme Park News: How Disney's month of controversies is impacting the parks

Walkouts, social media statements, apologies and parades. Here's what's going on over at The Walt Disney Company.

Magic Kingdom with characters in front

Welcome to this week's Theme Park News dispatch, which is... kinda sorta not about theme park news! It's such a weird time when the biggest Disney happenings of the week thus far are centered around its corporate executives — which is a slight step outside the shadow of Cinderella Castle but, still, intricately tied to these places and what happens inside them.

DISNEY'S MONTH OF CONTROVERSIES

It's been a tough month to be a Disney fan. Not only have the past few weeks been a whirlwind with the public back-and-forth surrounding Disney's varied responses to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill, but soon thereafter, a shocking video appeared online of the Port-Neches-Groves Independent School District marching band performing within Disney World's Magic Kingdom park.

Performances like these happen often at Disney Parks as part of Disney Imagination Campus, in efforts to spotlight performing arts programs nationwide, but they don't typically attract attention — or feature young students chanting "scalp 'em, indians, scalp 'em" a short distance from Cinderella Castle.

The video began to spread on Thursday afternoon, and by Friday morning, Disney spokesperson Jacquee Wahler had released a statement, sharing the company's "regret the performance that took place, as it did not reflect the audition tape submitted." I personally spoke with a source at Disney as well, and was informed that while the company was appreciative of the employee who asked for performers' headdresses be removed, they agree this performance never should have happened. The whole thing is a zero-sum, no-win situation to say the least, even beyond the troubling notion of what children are being taught in America, but remains an unfathomable, loathsome sight to see trotting down Main Street, U.S.A., regardless of how it happened.

Walt Disney World via Getty Images

It was seemingly the last bit of news for the heavy, emotional month — until mainstream media said "hold my briefcase," serving a double-header of reports set inside the company's C-suite. The Wall Street Journal touched on the leadership's move to stay out of politics and the friction it has caused with employees, while CNBC focused on the alleged fallout between The Bobs, with Chapek, the current CEO, and Iger, his predecessor. (Choice words in that one: "A Mouse House divided." yeesh.)

Simply put, Disney's got a massive perception problem on its hands, made only more complicated by the loud and continued pushback from fans who have spoken freely on social media, as well as employees who have voiced their concerns..

In the past few weeks, Marvel Studios and Disney Animation Studios have released statements in support of the LGBTQAI+ community, while Pixar echoed that sentiment in an open letter from employees claiming Disney had deliberately removed same-sex affection in their films — something that remained in conversation on Friday when news broke that, allegedly, the forthcoming film Lightyear removed a same-sex kiss onscreen that is now being reinstated.

In the past few weeks there's been an apology from CEO Bob Chapek for the "Don't Say Gay" misstep, a virtual town hall promising lasting change and statements shared earlier today on social media accounts with stronger ties to core leadership, like Disney+. Still, the faucet of cast member push back doesn't seem like it'll shut off anytime soon. Employees began staging daily walk-outs — first, in small increments, and today, in a full workday capacity. (The Wrap even catalogued the strife of Imagineers amid the company's response to the bill as some are being relocated from California to Florida in a move that may net The Walt Disney Company over half a billion dollars in tax breaks over the next two decades.)

Simply put: the calls keep coming from inside the house, and they won't let up.

We'll keep you posted on what happens in the coming weeks.

THE RETURN OF COVID WATCH

Well, we had a nice few weeks without providing COVID-19 updates, but vacation is over as Shanghai Disneyland has closed due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak in mainland China. The temporary closure will remain in place until future notice, as the country battles its "biggest wave of locally transmitted COVID cases" since 2020.

Hong Kong Disneyland remains closed and is slated to re-open on April 20, 2022. Stateside, COVID-19 cases continue to trend downwards in the areas surrounding theme park resorts in California and Florida.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.

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