New Sundance documentary highlights the economic plight of Disneyland employees

A new Sundance Film Festival documentary depicts the economic plight of Disneyland employees and the financial success of the Disney Company as symbolic symbols of American financial inequality and corporate greed.

“Tea the American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” by documentary filmmaker, philanthropist and social activist Abigail Disney debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, January 24, which was moved online due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Message of the Documentary: Disneyland and the Disney Company embodies the widespread inequality and moral degradation of corporate America in the United States.

The daughter of former Disney senior executive Roy E. Disney and co-founder of Disney Company Roy O. Disney’s granddaughter Abigail Disney has long been a critic of Disney’s language toward employees, Disney’s CEO compensation and the company’s treatment of its artists.

“The well-being and aspirations of our employees and artists will always be our top priority,” according to a statement from a Disney company spokesperson. “We offer a pioneering and holistic employment package that includes competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits for our cast members to take care of their careers and their families. It starts with a fair salary and leading entry salary, but includes affordable Medical coverage, access to tuition-free higher education, subsidized childcare for eligible employees, as well as avenues for personal and professional development.”

The new Sundance documentary focused on the economic insecurities of five Disneyland employees who used only their first names in the film: Ralph, Trina, Ellie, Artemis, and Sam.

Ralph, a 10-year-old Disneyland employee, emailed Abigail Disney asking him to help Disneyland cast members fight for better pay. The resulting email exchange eventually gave rise to the Sundance documentary.

The pandemic shutdown at Disneyland for more than a year made a challenging economic situation even more difficult for husband and wife Ralph and Trina, who met while working at Disneyland.

“We live day in and day out,” Ralph said in the film. “We’re just concerned about today and tomorrow and are only able to do basic things.”

Ralph, Trina and their children live with their mother because they cannot take their place on their Disneyland wages.

“We’re both working full time, we’re still below poverty level,” Ralph said in the film.

Ralph and Trina earned $15 an hour at Disneyland and an additional 75 cents an hour working the cemetery “third shift”.

“We’re the ones who do pixie dust at night,” Ralph said in the film. “You clean the kitchen, the floors, the toilets. I’m proud of what I do. I’m very proud. You’ll find this kind of thing in all the parks.”

Disneyland union members accepted a new three-year contract in December that included a 19% wage increase of $3 an hour over three years — raising the starting wage to $18.50 an hour by 2023.

Acknowledging progress for Disneyland workers, the documentary reported that MIT estimates Anaheim’s living wage at $24 an hour.

Ellie worked at both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm while going to college to become a teacher.

“Disney is an industry leader in terms of theme parks,” Ellie said in the film. “The same things are happening at Disney as are happening at Knott’s Berry Farm.”

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The documentary chronicles a 2018 union-backed survey by Occidental College professor Peter Dreyer that found that 10 percent of Disneyland employees were homeless at some point and two-thirds of them didn’t have enough money to pay for meals.

Disneyland employees interviewed in the documentary said they knew fellow actors who were on food stamps, slept in their cars and left without medical care.

“Everybody thinks we can all bootstrap it and move on,” Artemis said in the film. “If you’re doing that job to the best of your ability, it should be treated like a fair job. I think I should be able to pay the bills for my custodial job.”

Artemis was forced to live in his van for a few months due to unstable housing conditions.

“I look at the accommodations around and it’s way over my price range,” Artemis said in the film. “A studio apartment will take up 80% of my take-home salary in a month. A one bedroom apartment would be more than an apartment I would make in a month. I can’t find anything in the Anaheim/Orange County area that is in my price range.”

The documentary took aim at CEO compensation as a major contributor to income inequality in the United States.

According to the film, Roy O. Disney’s salary, including stock options, in 1967 was 78 times the salary of its lowest-paid employees.

Former Disney CEO Bob Iger earned $65 million in 2018 — 1,400 times the average salary of Disney employees, according to the documentary.

The documentary portrayed the Disneyland employee strike in 1984 over the company’s demand for a three-year pay freeze as a turning point for Disneyland cast members.

“He found out he didn’t have to spend so much money on people that they don’t appreciate any more,” Sam, a 45-year-old Disneyland employee, said in the film. “I was shocked by what they were telling me. This is not a company I knew.”

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