Has the American Dream turned into a pyramid scheme?
A way to lure immigrants and low-wage workers into a tough economic order, but often by making long, arduous treks to the brink of homelessness or treading water on basic bills?
At the same time, their cities provide huge tax subsidies for big businesses like Disneyland.
And provide less and less investment for the city or its residents at the very core of the city.
That’s what Disney heiress Abby Disney and her co-director Kathryn Hughes want viewers to think about as they watch their latest documentary, “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales.”
Starting on the streets of Anaheim, the documentary asks tough questions about the city’s impact on big business subsidies and stagnant wages for resort workers in recent decades.
The film follows the daily challenges of several Disney employees trying to make ends meet on their paychecks, saying it’s hard for them to do anything other than work and pay basic bills.
At the same time, the documentary also mentioned the soaring compensation of CEOs such as former Disney president Bob Iger.
I recently caught up with Disney and Hughes and helped moderate a panel discussion about the film at its September premiere. 18 at Cinemark Stadium Orange’s 25 movie theaters. During the panel discussion, Disney pointed to the important timing of the film’s release in the upcoming Anaheim city council election, adding that the film is about people taking action.
OC Voices of Arts and Culture editor Richard Chang reviews the documentary, which is being streamed across multiple platforms and at other premieres across the country. Another Q&A with the filmmakers is scheduled for September. 30 at the Royal Cinema in Los Angeles.
[Read: New Documentary Critical of Disney, Created by a Disney Heiress]
During the premier’s discussion in Anaheim earlier this month, Abby praised the strength of union organizers, such as UNITE-HERE Local 11 spokesman Austin Lynch, who has partnered with Disney to raise the park Wages of some of the lowest-paid workers in the region — Lynch said the resort giant has actually made moves in recent years.
Like her Uncle Walter, Abby Disney is very inspiring.
In 2019, when her producer was doing research in Orange County, she climbed into my Jeep for the first time — which led them to read a lot of OC Voices stories about Anaheim.
They asked Disney that fall if they could accompany me on local beat coverage, which led me to warn them that the jeep had not had the air conditioner working for years, and wasn’t as soft and slippery as the streets of Anaheim.
After installing a ton of cameras on the hood of my Jeep, I left and drove with Disney.
Abby asked to travel to the most challenged neighborhoods, which sparked the 2012 riots.
We traveled many blocks and workers had to walk several blocks every night to get home due to lack of parking. The same neighborhoods are regularly bombarded with Disney fireworks and struggle with resort traffic every day.
She asked tough questions, even to herself and her family.
That’s what drew her to the OC Voices office and led to my own appearance in the movie.
She was amazed to see how often Disney used campaign donations to influence local elections in Anaheim, especially when we showed her the detailed work of our county reporter Nick Gerda, who has been tracking how the entertainment giant has been playing politics for years. Move money around the action committee to get candidates elected and then they are very friendly to all resort interests.
Abby was also very outspoken earlier this year when the FBI released an affidavit from one of its agents detailing how the agency had wiretapped influencers across Anaheim, referring to a small number of Interest groups — including chambers of commerce and resorts — run town halls for special interests.
Read the FBI affidavit Gentlemen and Gentlemen.
Abby public credits OC Voice’s reporting was a factor in the FBI’s operation, emphasizing that credible shoe-leather reporting helps law enforcement and other officials control civic leaders.
However, as her film shows, keeping town halls transparent, let alone accountable, is no mean feat.
Like many local residents, Abby has been asking me what happened to the FBI’s corruption investigation and hasn’t seen any new public court filings since May.
In fact, many of the key players named in the FBI affidavit are still in charge at City Hall.
The only change so far has been the resignation of Mayor Harry Sidhu after announcing that the FBI was trying to ostensibly defend himself — although no further indictments have been announced.
Sidhu’s powerful ally, former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament, pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in July. An FBI affidavit said he was one of the “ring leaders” of a network of covert resort interests that influenced city hall policymaking.
However, one of the most outspoken majority members of the Anaheim City Council — Trevor O’Neal — who has publicly acknowledged the private retreat mentioned in his FBI affidavit — is now running for mayor.
Another important city council majority member, Gloria Ma’ae — who was appointed to a city council seat by the resort-friendly majority — is also running for the incumbent.
That has come to the attention of the Orange County Chronicle’s editorial board, which last week backed candidates against all incumbents and parliamentary majority allies in Anaheim in the upcoming election.
In addition to changing elected leaders, however, Disney hopes her documentary will prompt Anaheim residents—indeed, all of Orange County and the nation—to ask tough questions about the priorities of our own municipal families .
What are the priorities of your local elected officials?
The great thing about the Disney documentary is that it really asks the most important question: Are the policies coming out of our town halls in the best interest of building healthy communities or increasing special interest bank accounts?
Today, there’s a huge gap in sparking public conversations like those produced and directed by Disney and Hughes.
Think today in Orange County, no major debate is planned for any local office I know of.
From Congress to state offices, to your county supervisor, to your mayor or council member—few residents of Orange County will see candidates of any kind go head-to-head.
There is no candid conversation.
Just lots of direct mail.
In Anaheim, the bulk of incoming mail will be funded by resort interests scrutinized by Abby and Katherine’s documentary — Disney has pumped $1.3 million into the local political action committee.
[Read: Disney Revs Up Campaign Spending in Anaheim Amid Calls to Curb Their Influence After FBI Allegations]
Note that with each election cycle in Orange County, there seem to be fewer and fewer civic institutions—whether activist groups, media, chambers of commerce, business councils, churches, or universities—that can sit down and answer questions from local politicians to market .
Especially before Election Day.
Civic Plaza in Orange County has been mailed directly.
That’s why this year at OC Voice, we’ve focused on a voter guide that includes a resident-focused questionnaire for candidates and elected officials. .
The real question for leaders who no longer stand in front of residents.
Easily access real-time online ahead of Election Day.
We’ve been taking questions from residents — 50 on the first day we asked — to people who want to represent us.
Our goal is to post their answers online – as we did ahead of the June primaries – to allow residents to have real conversations about who gets their support.
Just like documentaries, journalism is all about amplifying voices and getting people to speak—and that always drives change.
Ultimately, we want to make sure that the American Dream doesn’t become a pyramid scheme.
Start notification every day Use our free email newsletter. Get alerted when news happens with our free text messages.
Now that you’ve made it this far,
You are clearly connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent local non-profit organization, our news is open to everyone, no matter what they can afford. Our newsroom is centered on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our journalists have powerful interests and are responsible for protecting your quality of life. But it is not produced for free. It’s up to donors like you.