10 Jul 2023 Stefan Padfield: Is Disney Complicit in Hate Speech?
Famed actor and producer Samuel L. Jackson effectively told Rolling Stone that conservatives are racist rednecks. In light of the fact that Jackson was promoting his latest Marvel Universe project at the time, does Disney’s silence in response make them complicit in that hate speech?
To put that question in context, perhaps ironically, in 2019 Jackson asserted that: “[I]f you’re not saying anything, then you’re complicit.” By that standard, Disney can’t avoid this controversy – we’ll know where Disney stands either because they tell us explicitly or because they say nothing. Hopefully, Disney will at least try to convince us that it doesn’t hate half the country.
In terms of background, The Hill reported on June 20th that Jackson recently effectively said that conservatives are a bunch of “rednecks.” Specifically, Jackson was quoted in a Rolling Stone article from the same day as saying:
When I see Trump, I see the same rednecks I saw when I was growing up who called me “n*****” and tried to keep me in my place. That’s what the Republican Party is to me. They’re doing it to young people, gay people. They don’t care who you are. If you’re not them, you’re the enemy.
Hollywood commentator Christian Toto noted that despite Jackson’s comments, which amounted to “calling out half the country in a vile, mean-spirited, wildly inaccurate fashion,” nothing really happened in response. What this shows, according to Toto, is that we’ve “mainstreamed … hatred in a way that’s really bad for the country.”
This situation made some of us at the National Center for Public Policy Research flash back to 2012, when, as noted in one of our headlines, Morgan Freeman “Called Tea Partiers ‘Racist’ on National Television While Publicizing ‘Dolphin Tale.’” As noted in that piece:
At the Time Warner, Inc. shareholder meeting in Burbank, California, [Oscar] Murdock, a spokesman for the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network and a tea party activist, asked [Time Warner, Inc. chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes]: “According to The Hollywood Reporter, sizable numbers of conservatives and Tea Party members avoided [the film] ‘Dolphin Tale’ after hearing Mr. Freeman’s divisive remarks. This surely hurt this film’s ticket sales. What specific steps will Time Warner take to assure that Mr. Freeman avoids such divisive an insulting words while promoting his next Warner Bros. film, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?”
Importantly, Freeman apparently toned down his divisive and hateful rhetoric in subsequent media appearances.
To be sure, Jackson is entitled to his opinion – and he has made clear that he doesn’t care what people think about his views. But Disney executives and directors can respect Jackson’s right to express his personal views without violating their fiduciary duties to Disney’s shareholders. Specifically, they should be assessing the risk posed to Disney’s bottom line by having one of their lead actors espouse hatred of half the country while promoting a Disney film, along with the risk of appearing complicit in that hate speech if they remain silent. Otherwise they may go the way of Bud Light, which set afire billions of dollars of shareholder value after alienating its “fratty” customers. Certainly, Disney should at this point be fully aware of the associated risks of going woke and going broke – having by some accounts lost hundreds of millions of dollars on recent movies that have “have embraced ‘woke’ storylines.”
We’ll be waiting for Disney’s response.
Stefan Padfield is an associate at the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project (FEP). Prior to joining FEP, Stefan spent over 15 years teaching law at the University of Akron School of Law, publishing over 15 law review articles and a book chapter. He co-authored a two-volume mini-treatise on the history of economic thought and contributed to the Business Law Prof Blog. This was first published at the Daily Caller.