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Nelson Peltz Criticizes Disney’s “Woke” Strategy With ‘Black Panther’

As the Disney board proxy fight nears its deciding day, activist investor Nelson Peltz is taking aim at what he calls the company’s “woke” film strategy, particularly as it pertains to Black Panther and The Marvels.

In a recent interview with The Financial Times, Peltz questioned the leadership of Marvel chief Kevin Feige and the larger film strategy under Disney CEO Bob Iger. Although he said he did not want either leader unseated (Peltz is outwardly campaigning to take the board seats of current members Michael BG Froman and Maria Elena Lagomasino), he questioned how long Feige should remain and what the strategy should be moving forward.

“People go to watch a movie or a show to be entertained,” Peltz said in the interview. “They don’t go to get a message.

“Why do I have to have a Marvel that’s all women? Not that I have anything against women, but why do I have to do that? Why can’t I have Marvels that are both? Why do I need an all-Black cast?” he later said in the interview.

These comments recall similar anecdotes about former Marvel Entertainment chairman and CEO Ike Perlmutter, who was a friend of Peltz’s and a supporter of his proxy fight.

In Iger’s 2019 memoir The Ride of a Lifetime, Iger said he had received pushback on his idea to diversify the slate of Marvel films and stop exclusively featuring characters who were white men. When presenting the idea, Iger wrote that one of the leaders of the Marvel team in New York, run by Perlmutter, told him “female superheroes never drive big box office.” But Iger decided to move forward.

“I called Ike and told him to tell his team to stop putting up roadblocks and ordered that we put both Black Panther and Captain Marvel into production,” he wrote in the book.

Disney continues to stand by this decision. In a letter to shareholders Monday, titled “Oh, Nelson,” the company specifically referenced the Marvel quote as well as his statement in the article: “What sense is being a billionaire if you’re not a bully?”

“Imagine the damage Peltz would do to Disney’s boardroom with these perspectives,” the letter reads.

In addition to defending Feige, who Disney writes has an “unparalleled track record at Marvel,” which has generated about $30 billion in global box office revenue, the entertainment conglomerate reiterated its view that Peltz does not understand the business, would not create shareholder value and “brings no additive skills to the board.”

“Peltz, including his silent partner Ike Perlmutter, would harm Disney and jeopardize our strategic transformation,” the letter reads.

Both sides have been campaigning and receiving shows of support in the lead-up to the April 3 board meeting, with Iger and his board of directors receiving support from former CEO Michael Eisner, Star Wars creators George Lucas, Laurene Powell Jobs, and the grandchildren of Walt Disney and Roy Disney.

However, Peltz’s Trian Partners has received support from influential advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services, which is recommending that its clients vote to add Peltz to Disney’s board of directors (the firm did not advise voting to add former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo to board, which Peltz is also requesting).