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Abigail Disney: Diversity is a ‘huge weakness’ at Disney

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Abigail Disney, Emmy-Winning Documentary Filmmaker, co-founder of Fork Films, and host of All Ears, a podcast on the inequality crisis in America, joins Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade with Brian Sozzi and Jared Blikre to discuss worker compensation, the inequality crisis in America, Disney reopening and more.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, switching gears here, so many eyes are on Disney right now. It seeks to reopen for business globally despite the pandemic continuing-- continuing to rage on. Let's welcome in Abigail Disney. She's the co-founder of Fork Film and the host of "All Ears," a podcast on the inequality crisis in America.

Abigail, good to have you back on the Yahoo platform.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Good to be here.

BRIAN SOZZI: Disney fresh off its big reopening. Love to get your thoughts on that reopening. Has it been handled correctly?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well-- I mean, I don't have a say in the company, and I don't know what numbers they're looking at. All I know is what everybody else does, that Florida is recording record new cases and now record deaths. So it's strange to me that they would step into this situation by opening up this massive enterprise from which-- for which people fly from everywhere in the world to-- to go. So I'm incredibly concerned about the implications of what's going to happen. I can't imagine they're able to protect their employees and all their customers.

BRIAN SOZZI: Mm-hmm. You know, Abigail, too, it's-- you know, Disney furloughed, what, close to 100,000 workers. You know, how-- what's the timeline on bringing them back? And you know, is it-- given the extra precautions they're going to have to take in the park, $15 an hour doesn't seem like enough.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: No. No, it doesn't seem like enough, especially when you have a fair number of workers that are not working full time, and therefore don't really get the benefits of health care, and the paid sick days, and so forth. So yeah, there's going to be pain. And certainly, they won't bring everybody back when they come back either. And they're playing their cards very close to the vest in terms of their employees. And I know, from the people I know in Anaheim, that there's a great deal of anxiety.

JARED BLIKRE: Jared Blikre here. I just wanted to ask you about sports, because we know that the NBA has been planning-- although there might be a little bit of doubt on it-- on a number of games to be hosted in Orlando at Disney. What are your thoughts on this at this time?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, from what I've read about what the NBA is doing, if they're handling it pretty well with long quarantine and isolating people, sort of like the soccer leagues in Europe are doing, so as long as they don't stuff people into the space inside, I think that they should be fine. And thank goodness. I miss them.

BRIAN SOZZI: No, no. We-- we do. We-- we definitely miss our sports. Abby, how long do you think-- listen, the pandemic is not going anywhere. How long do you think it will take Disney to get back to some form of normal? I think the stock market, at least investors expect, maybe six to 12 months, but that doesn't seem realistic.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: I agree. It doesn't seem realistic at all. I mean, even if we get this-- the vaccine you were talking about earlier, it's going to be years before it's really evenly distributed and we have enough immunity across all the classes of people. There are people working at Disney on an hourly basis who, before any of this hit, couldn't put food on the table, couldn't afford housing within an hour of their jobs. So they were living on the precipice. Now, they've been fully pushed off the precipice onto the dark side.

And they're-- they still don't know their futures. So-- so it's unlikely Disney's going to come back within a year in any kind of normal way. And I doubt that normal is ever going to be happening again. And given how dependent Disney is on gathering, I mean, it's the heart and soul of the company, gathering, they're really going to have to think creatively about how to make themselves relevant going forward.

JARED BLIKRE: I want to ask you about the parks in China because they got hit the first. They reopened the first. Economy seems to be, I don't want to say booming, but it's going strong right now. Any insights into their reopening and what it could mean for the rest of the world?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, they're opening in a country that has done a far better job than ours of managing the outbreak. So it's-- it's all about the context. So I think that the Chinese park's opening is-- is wonderful news.

Certainly, people need those jobs. Disney needs that revenue. I'm delighted that they've done that. But-- but, again, Florida and California are an entirely different story, and I think they need to be proceeding with a lot more caution than they are.

BRIAN SOZZI: Abigail, you're a-- you're a diversity. You're a champion of diversity in-- in closing that wealth gap. Have you talked to Disney leadership about improving their own diversity on their executive team? You know, you go to their website. I don't see any people of color on that Disney executive team. Have you had conversations with them about improving that to reflect the businesses that they do have?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, they're not very anxious to hear my opinion about very many things. So I'm doing the best I can from the outside, you know, speaking up and trying to persuade. But yes, that's a huge weakness for them, and it's a weakness especially now.

I mean, Disney is historically the most aggressively white country-- company, rather, in-- in maybe the history of anything. And-- and as we go forward in the Black Lives Matter context, given that there's broad support for the movement and broad support for the idea that maybe we need to start over and rethink things. The fact that they're only taking Splash Mountain and retooling it, given the nature of the film it was based on-- on, shows that they just haven't been alert or responsive or sensitive enough to any kind of diversity issues. So they have a huge amount of making up to do.

JARED BLIKRE: It sounds like Disney should be listening to you. I want to shift gears to Disney Plus, because that's been a bright spot during the COVID outbreak. And any thoughts on this, the future direction, especially in terms of new subscribers and just generating more content?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Right. Right. It's going to be-- the key is going to be in generating, and I don't think that management has really been investing in or respecting or preserving creativity in the company. I mean, Bob Chapek, who I'm sure is a very nice man, has never held a creative position in the company in his life. And so that's a statement of where creativity lies in their hierarchy of concerns. And that-- they are going to be very reliant on Disney Plus going forward. If they can't generate their own content credibly that is creative, and fun, and in the Disney brand, I don't know how they can keep it going as well as they have so far.

BRIAN SOZZI: Abigail, you-- you're part of a group, a new group, the Millionaires for Humanity, which is very much focused on closing that wealth gap. Do you support the wealth tax?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yes. I support the wealth tax really strongly. I mean, I have seen the numbers in terms of what it would bring in in terms of revenue. And we need this revenue in the United States. We need it badly.

We are going to see about 22 million people get evicted over the course of the next two to three months. This is-- this is a percentage of the population larger than was unemployed just a few months ago. So we're facing a crisis here in terms of home security, food security. And certainly, we don't know how long this is going to last for.

This revenue needs to come in. Our schools are in crisis. Our health care system is in crisis. So you know, Elizabeth Warren's 2% wealth tax seems to me not an onerous thing. If you're a millionaire or billionaire and you're not investing your money for more than a 2% return, there's something genuinely wrong with you.

And so this does not eat into your capacity to build on your wealth. It merely slows the way you can build on your wealth. So I can't imagine the objection to that.

BRIAN SOZZI: Abigail, you just had Elizabeth Warren and Stacey Abrams on your "All Ears" podcast. And in talking to them, do you think the wealth tax is something that could ultimately get passed in a Biden administration?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, obviously, it depends on what happens in the Senate and the House, and not just for the Democrats to win majorities, but large enough majorities, and for the specific kind of Democrats that get elected too. I mean, Joe Biden, for many years, carried the water for the carried interest loophole, after all. And so we don't know how much he's going to be able to resist the pressure from his high-dollar donors. That remains to be seen.

But I certainly will be helping in any way that I can, because I genuinely believe that we have, as wealthy people, not paid our fair share. We've benefited disproportionately by a high-functioning legal system, an infrastructure that works, and things like that. We need to cough up a little bit more to pay our fair share.

BRIAN SOZZI: You know, staying on the fair share topic, Abigail, it's one year, ironically today, when you hopped on our sister publication Yahoo News, and you criticized now former CEO of Disney, former CEO Bob Iger's pay package just being too high. But since then, we have a new CEO, Bob Chapek, that you mentioned. He had his annual salary cut by 50%, but he's making $2 and 1/2 million.

The annual bonus target's $7 and 1/2 million, set to pay out $15 million. And yet you still have Disney employees making $15 an hour, and now have to go back to the parks with extra protection and worry about their life. What will it take for Disney to close that wealth gap? And have you talked to Chapek?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: I have not. I have not met him. I don't-- I don't know him from Adam. So I-- and as you-- as I said before, the lines of communication are not exactly warm and open there. But I will say that I don't know how a person sleeps at night given what we know to be, and they know perfectly well to be, the condition of their workers and the insecurity that they're living in now.

Two of the three people that I've been talking to in Anaheim have asthma, and they seriously don't have any idea how they're going to address the decision, even if they get that-- that offered their positions back. So I have to say, preserving your bonus, as they did, is unconscionable. And there is just no-- there's no-- there's no making sense of it, as far as I'm concerned.

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, let's leave it there. Abigail Disney, co-founder of Fork Film and host of the "All Ears" podcast. Good to speak with you again. Come back soon. And I really enjoy your Twitter feed. I think what you do is-- it's very powerful.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Thank you so much. Take care.