Disney Teaches Us To Use the Constitution To Protect Against Racist Trolls

in Disney, Entertainment, Featured

Image featuring a smiling Disney CEO Bob Iger on the left and characters from "The Mandalorian," including The Mandalorian and Cara Dune, against a cosmic backdrop on the right.

Edited by Inside the Magic

One of Disney’s legal team’s most astute moves might have given media companies the solution to dealing with racist or inflammatory trolls online.

It has long been accepted that the Walt Disney Company is a trendsetter and innovator in more ways than one. Whether in the field of theme park entertainment or in filmmaking and Hollywood, the Mouse House has cemented its place as one of the premier movie studios.

There is a flip side to this, too. When you’re as big as Disney, it usually means you’re constantly walking around with a target on your back. Everyone wants a piece of Disney, and everyone has an opinion about the ways in which they conduct business—regardless of whether those opinions are warranted or not.

Statue of a man pointing, accompanied by a cartoon mouse, in front of a fairytale castle under a blue sky with clouds, surrounded by visitors.
“Partners” statue, Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort / Credit: Javier Parigini, Flickr

Disney has been embroiled in numerous legal battles throughout its history, spanning various aspects of its operations.

Lawsuits have been a common occurrence for the entertainment giant, whether stemming from incidents within the Disney Parks, such as Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort, controversies surrounding their media content, or criticisms of their business practices.

This pattern of legal challenges has marked a significant part of Disney’s journey, reflecting the complexities and controversies faced by a company of such immense global reach and influence.

A close-up of a character resembling neytiri from avatar, with vibrant blue skin and tribal markings, beside an image of a large, lush, twisting tree in a tropical landscape under a partly cloudy sky.
Credit: Disney Fanatic

They’ve taken on the state of Florida and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, been sued by guests who have suffered injuries at the Disney Resorts, and, in one of their most high-profile cases at present, were sued by actor Gina Carano (who, in turn, was supported by Elon Musk) for wrongful termination.

In 2021, the Walt Disney Company announced they were parting ways with former Mandalorian actor Gina Carano; she played Cara Dune opposite Pedro Pascal. At the time, then Disney CEO Bob Chapek had explained Carano’s views didn’t align with the company’s values, including its “values of respect, values of decency, values of integrity, and values of inclusion.”

Disney was referring to many a controversial social media post from Carano in response to COVID-19, transgender issues, and the eventual last straw, a social media post where she commented on Nazi Germany.

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in The Mandalorian
Gina Carano as Cara Dune in The Mandalorian / Credit: Lucasfilm

Now, two years later, after South African billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter and renamed it X, he posted on the platform, writing, “If you were unfairly treated by your employer due to posting or liking something on this platform, we will fund your legal bill. No limit.”

Numerous individuals tagged Ms. Carano in his social media posts, and in response, she accepted the invitation, adamantly stating that her termination from the company was unjustified due to her candid expression of personal beliefs on the particular platform.

Her stance resonated with a wide audience, sparking discussions about free speech and the boundaries of acceptable discourse in today’s social media landscape.

Now, Ms. Carano, backed by Mr. Musk, has filed a lawsuit against Disney, alleging discrimination. In it, she demanded $75,000 in damages and for her character to be written back into The Mandalorian.

But Disney is not backing down from Ms. Carano’s lawsuit and is doubling down on its right to have fired the actor. Using the First Amendment rights of “freedom of association,” Disney defended not continuing to employ Carano as Cara Dune.

Bob Iger speaking at a podium against a blue-lit backdrop.
Disney CEO Bob Iger / Credit: Disney

The Walt Disney Company asked the Central Court District of California to dismiss Ms. Carano’s lawsuit, citing the aforementioned right not to associate itself with Ms. Carano’s views expressed on the social media platform.

Carano, of course, has also not pulled any punches, and after Disney filed this motion to dismiss, took to X to accuse Disney. She wrote, “Disney has confirmed what has been known all along, they will fire you if you say anything they disagree with, even if they have to MISREPRESENT, MALIGN, and MISCHARACTERIZE you to do it.”

Disney even used Carano’s own legal counsel’s words against her in their motion.

They said, “Carano’s… counsel has acknowledged that ‘organizations that create speech products may be free to refuse to include speakers whose outside speech undermines the organization’s message.’”

Gina Carano poses in a yellow dress on 'The Mandalorian' S1 red carpet
Gina Carano poses on the red carpet for The Mandalorian / Credit: ABC

If Disney is successful in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit and move on, this could have an interesting ripple effect for the future of how media companies can protect themselves in an increasingly divisive and polarizing time.

The company could use this precedent to protect its reputation and other media companies will also likely follow suit.

As ArentFox Schiff explains, “Disney focused on the speaker’s autonomy right for organizations engaged in artistic expression, other organizations may attempt to characterize themselves as employers that ‘speak,’ or employers engaged in ‘creating speech products’ in order to avail themselves of a speaker’s autonomy defense.”

This could also help protect the company’s reputation by demonstrating in no uncertain terms that Disney is firmly holding its stance on the importance of a company doing the “right thing,” as Disney CEO Bob Iger has explained multiple times in the past year.

Ariel (Halle Bailey) resting on jellyfish and talking to Sebastian (Daveed Diggs)
Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid / Credit: Disney

In addition, it also raises questions about how companies can react to their employees making racist or inflammatory comments online.

Some Disney movies have faced significant challenges due to the negative influence of racist commentary circulating on social media platforms. A notable instance is the backlash surrounding the release of The Little Mermaid, where online trolls, displaying racist behavior, deliberately attempted to undermine the film’s success.

The controversy stemmed from objections raised by these individuals against the casting of a new Princess Ariel, demonstrating an unwillingness to embrace diversity and change within the beloved Disney franchise.

Peter Pan & Wendy (2023), Tinkerbell closeup
Yara Shahidi plays Tinker Bell in Peter Pan & Wendy, and faced similar criticism to Bailey / Credit: Disney

The toxic remarks made by these individuals not only reflected their narrow perspectives but also raised broader concerns about the impact of such discriminatory actions on the entertainment industry as a whole.

While Disney won’t be able to do anything about this, other companies and employers may be able to take action against it.

As ArentFox Schiff notes in their takeaway about the Disney-Carano lawsuit, “If actors and other public figures can be fired for their online rhetoric, regardless of state labor law protections, they may be less likely to engage in speech — especially political speech or speech that runs counter to their employers’ messages.”

Do you think Disney has set a precedent for media companies to protect themselves from inflammatory accusations in the future? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments!

in Disney, Entertainment, Featured

Be the first to comment!