The Disney deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the ‘Big Six’ major movie production companies, toppling one of the industry’s most famed studios and dramatically redrawing the Hollywood map.
Disney moves to pay $52.4 billion in stock for Fox assets has many repercussions. But by effectively absorbing Fox’s film studio, 21th Century Fox, Disney has rapidly accelerated an industry contraction that many considered inevitable, in an era of flat-lining ticket sales and new streaming competitors like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
But what does that mean for the merged corporation that will now be Disney, for representation of the LGBTiQ community and minorities as a whole? With a lack of competition in programming output each year, does that mean there will be a reduction in representation?
Looking over Disney’s current LGBTiQ representation, it’s worrying; but will the buyout fix that issue? Fox has always been highly influential when hiring directors and producers that push the boundaries of representation, especially with queer characters and storylines.
Fox brought in Ryan Murphy Productions which has been a champion of LGBTiQ people, as well as advancing queer talent and the representation of the queer community through productions like ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Feud: Bette & Joan’.
So what will change? As the fine print is still being debated on the deal and broader details have yet to be agreed, it’s safe to say that nothing is safe.
Organisations like GLAAD hope to engage with Disney and make sure they continue to produce high quality programming with better representation. The aim is also for Disney to hire producers and directors with the vision to expand on Fox’s current levels of queer representation.
Disney isn’t just buying out a business, it’s also cherry-picking Fox’s talent, leaving 3,200 employees unsure about their future. It’s sent shockwaves through an industry that has, until now, bent under pressure from the new digital landscape, but not broken. Now, Hollywood as an industry is quite literally shrinking, and it’s hoped business won’t diminish with it.
LGBTiQ representation may be curtailed under a more significant brand. Fox’s output is substantial, mainly when representing minorities, as well as developing diversity on television and in a film. We will need to see what happens in the long term, but there is a surety that the deals previously signed by Fox will be honoured. But until all the fine details are known, it is hard to say how.
With Disney coming pretty late to the party of LGBTiQ representation with programmes like ‘Andi Mack‘ getting its first gay storyline this year, it’s hoped that the buyout is just the boost the industry needs to expand representation, not only of LGBTiQ characters and talent but all minorities.
Fox isn’t necessarily disappearing though. Disney will lease its fabled Los Angeles lot for the next seven years, while 21th Century Fox will be folded into Walt Disney Studios. Its movie-making operations will be reduced and likely be restructured, hopefully absorbing and nurturing LGBTiQ talent at the same time.
Disney is already comprised of several distinct brands: Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm. All offer excellent opportunities for LGBTiQ representation. Marvel, for instance, in its latest movie ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ included the character Valkyrie, who is bisexual in the comic books. It only takes a small nod to a character’s sexuality to show the audience they are represented and included.
In a conference call with investors Thursday, Disney chief executive Robert Iger suggested Fox may function similarly, as a label within Disney.
“We have not only respected the culture of those organisations but respected and appreciated the talent that came with those acquisitions,” Iger said.
Notwithstanding, the merger didn’t stop some celebrities taking a shot at the deal:
“Time to uncork that explosive sexual tension between Deadpool and Mickey Mouse,” Ryan Reynolds tweeted, referring to his bisexual Marvel character, after early reports of the Disney-Fox deal.
Disney, which sold Miramax Pictures in 2005, has lacked diversity within its film production arm while Fox’s ‘Fox Searchlight‘, is among the industry’s leading art-house movie production companies. Two Searchlight films — ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, along with Fox’s ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ have made the studio a leader during awards season, at least with the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as with LGBTiQ awards events.
Iger voiced his support for maintaining those businesses. “We like being in the business of making quality movies,” he said. “We fully intend to stay in those businesses.”
That’s a component of the deal that will strike fear into the hearts of exhibitors. Disney has pursued an almost entirely event-led movie strategy (it’s releasing only eight movies this year) and it’s expected to cut back on Fox’s theatrical slate. That’s a cause for concern for already struggling theatre owners. Box office revenues were up just 1 percent last year and are expected to slide this year.
But Disney has, up until now, been a staunch defender of the traditional theatrical window. For that reason, as well as its reputation for quality, the world’s largest theatre chain, AMC, hasn’t sounded any alarms over the purchase. Last week on CNBC, Adam Aron, AMC’s chief executive, applauded Disney’s track record. “AMC has made a lot of money partnering with Disney studios,” he said.
Whichever direction Disney chooses to go, it will have the sway, (with approximately 40% market share) to set the course for the entire industry.
Hollywood may have just shrunk, not to the ‘Big Five’, but to the ‘Big One’.