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Authors: Aaron Goldberg

Tags: #Taled of Real Life Disney Scandals, #Accidents and Deaths, #Sex

Disney Declassified: Tales of Real Life Disney Scandals, Sex, Accidents and Deaths (6 page)

BOOK: Disney Declassified: Tales of Real Life Disney Scandals, Sex, Accidents and Deaths
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Emma told her husband about their son’s condition and explained he didn’t have long to live. The couple then sat their son down and revealed this to him; they told him his condition was fatal. The next thing the little guy knows, his mom shaved his head and eyebrows. She made him wear a bandana to school and forced him to spend his days in public seated in a wheelchair. Wheelchair-bound even in school, Emma directed teachers to keep an eye on him, as his condition was very serious and dire, thus allowing him no freedom at all. When he was home and alone with just his mother, he could leave his wheelchair. 

The boy often wondered why he could move about at home on his feet, even play on the backyard trampoline, but in public this was not permitted. He asked his mom why he had to take the chair in public.  Her reply was his knees have serious problems and he should stay off them. Obviously, she even stayed her course when she took the young boy on his dream vacation to Walt Disney World. She forced the young boy to stay in his wheelchair at the parks, so she could jump to the head of the line (more on situations like this in Chapter 7).

 The government funded Emma’s fraudulent trek to Walt Disney World. From October 2007 to February 2011, she milked England for over 85,000 pounds and a handicapped-accessible vehicle to cart him around. She forged letter after letter to the government for disability claims, which were accepted. After several years the scheme started to collapse when she separated from her husband. One of the doctor’s notes Emma sent to school was sent home with the young boy when his father picked him up that day.

In what could be something out of a movie, her cover was blown on a simple spelling mistake. Some of the school officials were already a bit suspicious of the letters, but when Emma’s husband read the letter, he noticed a very simple spelling mistake, a mistake Emma made often when she spelled. She wrote the word “too” when it should have been spelled “to.” She did this so frequently, the two joked that it was an “Emma-ism.” In an effort to confirm his suspicions, Dad took his son to see their family doctor.

The physician ran tests and all was well medically with the boy. Emma was confronted by both the boy’s father and eventually police. She was arrested on child cruelty, fraud, and forgery, all of which she admitted to. Emma was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. The young boy now exclusively lives with his father. Emma writes to her son from prison begging for forgiveness. Her son is not interested in maintaining a relationship with his “mum.”

Again, the question of why people create this situation for themselves or their children is something obviously more complex and transcends a book about a different side of Disney. Over the years, the Disney Company, too, has had its own share of madness.

All the magical times in the world sometimes aren’t enough to exonerate them from doing some dubious acts and creating their own mania. 

Dubious Disney

Over the decades, The Walt Disney Company has won numerous awards spanning the spectrum of theatre, television, movies, and music. Today, Walt still holds the Academy Award record with thirty-two Academy Awards. The company that bears his name is still racking up a bevy of business accolades for their business and customer service practices. Disney received its most dubious award back in 2001. They were awarded a Sweatie. What’s a Sweatie you ask? Well, a Sweatie is an award given to the sweatshop retailer of the year.

The award was created by the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN). The MSN is a labor and women's rights organization that supports the efforts of workers in global supply chains around the world. The group, founded in 1994, works to win improved wages and working conditions for workers around the world, most notably, Mexico, Central America and throughout Asia.

So what did Disney do to earn their Sweatie in 2001? Apparently, the company was a repeat offender over the years and around the globe for a litany of things. They utilized or contracted with factories abroad that employed children as their labor force, paid pennies in wages, had deplorable working conditions, and had their employees work long hours.

The sweatshop claims for Disney started to mount in the mid-1990s, as it did for many companies in America. The trouble didn’t stop with the new millennium. If anything they increased (or the media coverage of it intensified). Disney wasn’t just a repeat offender but an equal opportunity offender. Disney or their licensees were having their labor issues exposed in Haiti, Vietnam, China, and Bangladesh.

In 1996, Disney was accused of contracting with two U.S. companies that produced Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas pajamas in sweatshops in Haiti. The report noted that some employees were only earning twelve cents an hour. Even worse, some of the employees were underage.

After the story broke, and Disney denied the claims, the conditions improved. Many employees were given raises, up to twenty-eight cents an hour, and a heck of a profit was still made on the pajamas, since they retailed back home for nearly eleven dollars. Interesting, a writer covering the story figured out that Disney CEO Michael Eisner made roughly $97,600 an hour with his salary and stock options.

In 1997, in Vietnam, Disney was accused of utilizing the Keyhinge toy factory. Employees there worked on average nine to ten hours a day, seven days a week, at six cents an hour. At the time, things in Bangladesh weren’t much better. Factory workers there were paid eight to nineteen cents an hour and forced to work fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. The workplace was so high-pressured that if they didn’t meet their quota they were threatened with beatings. The factory allegedly banned workers from speaking to each other as it slowed production; however, when it came time for workers to speak to factory inspectors, they were permitted to speak with them, but were coached on what to say and to lie.

Over the years China has been a big source of violations for Disney. These allegations exist as recent as 2012. Everything from Disney books to clothing and toys has come under the spotlight. Allegations against Disney in this country featured the of hiring thirteen- and fourteen-year-old junior high school students to work fifteen hours a day, for pennies an hour, in high-pressured environments where an average worker has a 96-hour workweek. One worker allegedly committed suicide from the stress and pressure.

At the beginning of this controversy, Disney denied the allegations and maintained that they do not own or operate any of the factories. Instead, they merely license with American companies that subcontract out. Disney wasn’t privy to all of the practices of their licensees.

As the media attention increased, Disney changed their stance. They started to acknowledge and accept some responsibility. Instead of merely stating it’s up their licensees to inspect and authorize factories, Disney became more proactive. They joined an initiative called Project Kaleidoscope to promote better working conditions in Chinese plants that Disney often receives merchandise from. They even started to work with their licensees and contractors to inspect and audit the factories. Not just with announced visits but unannounced as well.

Next, Disney created and posted a Code of Conduct for Manufacturers on their corporate website for companies looking to do business with Mickey. The website outlines what is expected from their partners and what won’t be tolerated—child labor, involuntary labor, harassment, health and safety violations, and fair wages. Many of these expectations, or the lack of them, came to an unfortunate end for hundreds of factory workers who died at factories Disney used abroad. A Bangladesh factory fire in 2012 and building collapse in 2013 killed many hardworking people. Since these tragedies, Disney announced in May 2013 that they are phasing out all production of their products in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Belarus, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The subject of race has plagued Disney for decades, and it runs pretty deep. Many believe Disney has some racially insensitive character portrayals within their movies. Folks will cite
The Song of the South,
the crows from
Dumbo,
King Louie in the
Jungle Book,
Native Americans in
Peter Pan,
and the
portrayals of Arabs in
Aladdin
. The list could go on, but seeing as this chapter is long enough, we will keep Disney and potential racial situations exclusive to their theme parks.

Two years before Disney introduced some diversity into their princess lineup with Princess Tiana, star of
The Princess and the Frog
in 2009, Walt Disney World was accused of profiling black teens at their Downtown Disney location. In June of 2007, the Orlando Sentinel ran a series of articles about Disney’s crackdown on teens loitering at Downtown Disney. Disney claimed the atmosphere of the area started to change in early 2005 after they stopped charging an entry fee to Pleasure Island.

Once they removed the turnstiles, the area started to see an influx of teens hanging out around the nightclubs. In an effort to curb the loitering and deter some of the wrong element from hanging around, Disney removed the projection screens and loud music to remove the party-like atmosphere for those not patronizing the clubs.

In 2007, Disney’s concerns came to a head when two tourists from Connecticut reported they were robbed and abducted from Downtown’s parking lot. With that, Disney bolstered their security and Orange County Sheriff presence. After a handful of arrests (including one with a fifteen-year-old carrying a gun and some marijuana) Disney began a late night crackdown on Friday and Saturday, under the suspicion that some of the teens and young adults on site were members of street gangs. As Walt Disney World spokeswoman, Jacquee Polak stated:

 "A gang like presence was unfortunately identified at Downtown Disney. A lot of them were described as `wannabe gangbangers.' And some of them were flat-out harassing and bothering other guests. And that is not going to be tolerated. So additional deputies were proactively assigned to patrol the area and that's going to go on as long as is needed.”

The bigger police presence was on-site and groups of teens were actively being screened. If some of the teens couldn’t convince Disney security officers that they had a good reason to be in Downtown Disney late at night, i.e. seeing a movie or eating dinner, etc., they were asked to leave. Those that refused were escorted off the property and issued trespass warnings banning them from Disney World for life.

This is exactly what happened over the course of two weekends. Security issued fifty trespass warnings during this time. The same number they issued in the first five moths of 2006. Within this group of fifty warnings were four football prospects that were to attend Florida State University in the fall. Ironically, one young man’s father happened to be a civil rights attorney, and another was the son of a Disney manager. The four teens were asked to leave by security, which claimed they were loitering for too long. The situation escalated when they were asked to leave and refused to oblige. The group was fingerprinted, photographed, and issued their lifetime ban from Walt Disney World.

The teens and their parents couldn’t help but think it was because they were African-American. The Orlando Sentinel did some digging and saw of the forty-eight trespass warnings the Orange County deputy sheriffs issued over these two weekends, forty-five out of the forty-six people receiving the trespass warning and lifetime ban were African-American or Hispanic.  When this story hit the media, Disney went on the defensive: everything that transpired over the two weekends was in an effort to maintain the safety in the area and all of the bans were justified. 

“Because of concerns about a rise in gang like activity at Downtown Disney lately, loitering or "any other inappropriate behavior" by groups of youths is not going to be tolerated," spokeswoman Jacquee Polak said. "This group of young men were seen loitering for an extended period of time," she said. "When asked, sometime after 11:30, they produced a movie ticket for a film that had already started sometime earlier. Security asked them to go to the movie or leave, and they failed to cooperate."

After speaking with some of the teens' parents, Disney decided to revise the trespass warnings for the four young men; they were now only banned from Downtown Disney and not the entire property for life. Disney was also quick to note, this was not racial profiling. Despite the story about the four teenage boys, the year prior in 2006 at Downtown Disney, officers handed out 296 warnings, of these, 29 went to African Americans, 42 went to Hispanics, and the rest to white and Asian guests.

While on the subject of discrimination, how about a story, maybe not so dubious, but perhaps just as sordid? The story begins in 1971 with the construction of Walt Disney World. People from all over the world recognize Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle as not only the theme park’s iconic structure but as a trademark for all things Disney. If you’ve ever visited the park and made your way to the castle, you’ve certainly seen the five intricate and beautiful mosaic murals that adorn the inside of the castle and tell the story of Cinderella.

A former Nazi of the Third Reich, Hanns Scharff, created this mosaic. Scharff was called the “master interrogator” of the German Luftwaffe. Others said he was the most prolific military interrogator not of just the Nazi party, but of the world.

Prior to World War II, Scharff studied art and was learning his family's textile business. The business took him out of his native Poland and around Europe. Living in Germany just before the war intensified, he was drafted into the German military. Being fluent in English, made him an ideal candidate as an interrogator for the Nazi party. Scharff was tasked with interrogating American troops who were shot down and captured in Germany, of which his success rate was in the neighborhood of 90%. According to the stories of the day and his biography, his interrogations were all done without violence. Scharff excelled at his position, so much in fact that, after the war, he came to the United States and lectured to the U.S. military about the tactics he used to successfully interrogate prisoners.

BOOK: Disney Declassified: Tales of Real Life Disney Scandals, Sex, Accidents and Deaths
5.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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