Disney’s Bob Iger Skirts China Controversy, Says NBA Backlash Is a Cautionary Tale

Disney CEO Bob Iger speaks at the Atlantic Festival in Washington, DC, on September 25, 2019. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

The Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Bob Iger avoided talking about the controversy surrounding China and pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong in a recent sit-down interview with CNBC, saying that the recent backlash against the NBA represents “a cautionary tale.”

Iger sat down with CNBC reporter Julia Boorstin in a televised interview that aired Tuesday, discussing a range of topics including the forthcoming launch of Disney+, the company’s new digital entertainment streaming service, which is set to debut Nov. 12.

But when the subject turned to China, the studio chief grew circumspect and declined to discuss Disney’s relationship with authorities in Beijing.

Disney operates theme parks in Shanghai as well as Hong Kong. The company also depends heavily on Chinese moviegoers to buy tickets to its Marvel superhero movies.  Avengers: Endgame grossed more than $614 million in China, or about 20% of the movie’s worldwide box office haul.

But that relationship has grown increasingly thorny in recent weeks as protests in Hong Kong have focused worldwide media attention on American corporations that have cozied up to China’s repressive Communist party.

The Disney-owned ESPN reportedly told its journalists to avoid talking about the NBA-China controversy, which erupted when the Houston Rockets’ general manager expressed support for the Hong Kong protestors.

Iger only alluded to the China difficulties in his CNBC interview.

“I think what we’ve learned if anything from what you just described, which is what happened with the NBA, is that any entity expressing anything in public today about something that is considered complex or controversial has to proceed with real caution,” Iger said. “It’s a cautionary tale. And so I’m going to be extremely cautious here in this interview and be careful with what I say.”

Bob Iger said that it’s important for Disney to be “culturally correct” when it comes to China, though he didn’t elaborate on what the term means.

“At the Walt Disney Company, we infuse values in the stores that we tell. We design those stories, we tell those stories to be universal in appeal for an audience that is global in nature,” he said. “When we do that, we think very hard about being culturally relevant and culturally correct — much less so by the way than being politically correct. People always talk about political correctness. Being culturally correct has importance.”

He added: “When we designed Shanghai Disneyland for instance, we talked about being authentically Disney but distinctly Chinese, which is essentially to be culturally correct and culturally relevant to the people in China.”

Iger steered clear of specifics concerning Hong Kong or the NBA during the interview.

“But I’m not going to weigh in very specifically about the events of the last few weeks,” he said.

Iger has been making the media rounds recently to promote his new memoirs, The Ride of a Lifetime.

The 68-year-old Iger was once rumored as a possible Democratic candidate for president, but the entertainment mogul instead opted to stay on as head of Disney through 2021.

Follow David Ng on Twitter @HeyItsDavidNg. Have a tip? Contact me at dng@breitbart.com

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