Facing Backlash, Disney CEO Publicly Opposes ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Facing Backlash, Disney CEO Publicly Opposes ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill
Disney/Image Group LA

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Disney CEO Bob Chapek on Wednesday publicly opposed Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, days after the media giant began facing harsh criticism for Chapek’s noncommittal stance on the anti-LGBTQ legislation and for donating to lawmakers who supported the bill.

During the Burbank-based company’s annual shareholder meeting, Chapek claimed that Disney “opposed the bill from the outset,” but chose to lobby lawmakers behind the scenes instead of speaking out against the proposed law.


“I understand our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn't quite get the job done,” Chapek said. “But we’re committed to supporting the [LGBTQ] community going forward.”

The CEO said he planned to meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about the bill and that Disney would donate $5 million to advocacy groups working to protect LGBTQ rights, including the Human Rights Campaign. Disney is also “reassessing” its approach to advocacy and political donations, Chapek added.

The Florida bill—officially known as the Parental Rights in Education bill—would forbid public schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature approved the proposal and sent it to DeSantis, a Republican who is expected to sign it into law despite a wave of criticism that it would further marginalize LGBTQ students.

Disney—a major employer in Florida through its Walt Disney World theme park and resort in Orlando—took heat for declining to comment on the bill ahead of its passage on Tuesday, and for financially backing some of the lawmakers who voted for its passage. On Monday, Chapek wrote a memo to staff that said corporate statements “do very little to change outcomes or minds.” He added: “I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of a statement for a lack of support.”

That decision frustrated many Disney employees and activists alike. The Animation Guild, which represents some Disney staffers, criticized the company for remaining silent while Florida passed “homophobic legislaton.”

“It is disheartening that Disney, one of the world’s most successful brands with massive resources and a global platform, failed to take any action to help prevent the passage of this bill,” the group said.

On Wednesday, Chapek claimed the company did make an effort behind closed doors.

“We were hopeful that our longstanding relationship with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome,” he said. “But despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful.”

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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