During a conversation with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times’ DealBook Summit on Wednesday, Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the company’s ongoing legal battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as Disney’s presence in China, which DeSantis has previously criticized.
Shanghai Disneyland and China
Regarding Disney’s business prospects in China, Iger said he’s optimistic about Shanghai Disney Resort and there are plans to expand “relatively soon” (the City of Zootopia will open next month). But he continued, “If you’re asking me whether I’m as optimistic as I once was about growing our business in China, the answer would be no. I think it’s pretty obvious that issues between our countries’ tensions have had an impact on business, not just Disney’s but on other companies as well.”
“I guess there’s to some extent, additional risk associated [with Shanghai Disney Resort] but not all the capital that we put in is ours. We have a partner there. And so some of the risk is shared with a local entity. I’m not losing sleep over the risks that we’re taking there at this point. But again, I think I’m somewhat sobered about the prospects of our company and other companies long term.”
Governor DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District
In regards to the legal battle with Governor DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, Iger explained that Disney, “while I was gone, decided to take a position against the Don’t Say Gay bill that was moving through the Florida Legislature. I won’t comment about what I would have done or not done, but the company took that position against it. The governor got very, very angry at the company when it took that position and decided to punish the company by basically stripping its rights to a special district around Disney World that had been in place for decades.”
Though Iger didn’t state what he would have done had he been CEO when the Parental Rights in Education bill was moving through the Florida legislature, he was among those associated with Disney who condemned the bill publicly, writing that it “will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.” At the time, Disney CEO Bob Chapek had failed to comment on the bill. Chapek later publicly denounced it.
“The question wasn’t even about the [bill, later law],” Iger continued at the DealBook Summit. “It was about, does a company have a right to free speech. And if it exercises its right to free speech, it should not face retribution.”
When asked about the same law and LGBTQIA+ inclusion soon after his return to the CEO position in November 2022, Iger said, “Well, when you’re in a job like mine where you are responsible for the storytelling that many of you are […] responsible for you, get paid to have a sense [of] what is right. Not everyone will agree with you, that’s just not the way the world is these days, but it doesn’t mean you should stop trying to do the right thing.”
During the summit, he also commented on the situation with X and Elon Musk, stating that it is “perfectly reasonable” for CEOs to weigh in on political events.
Regarding DeSantis, Iger said he would like to talk to the Governor.
“I offered at some point through intermediaries,” he said, “the ability to have a conversation with him, but he did not, he did not take me up on that offer.”
In March 2022, DeSantis said of Disney defending LGBTQIA+ rights, “If that’s the hill they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China? Because that’s what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don’t say a word about the really brutal practices that you see over there at the hands of the CCP.”
Disney received criticism for filming the live-action remake of “Mulan” in Xinjiang Province, China amid an extensive government crackdown and reported human rights abuses against the local Uyghur population, including “re-education” concentration camps.
In April 2023, a bipartisan group of lawmakers met with Iger, as well as other filmmakers and executives, to discuss the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China over intellectual property and trade issues.