Despite bearing the name of one of the most successful American brands, Abigail Disney isn’t about that corporate life.
“I’m kind of a lefty, New York City, Manhattan, pointy-headed intellectual type,” she told The Cut last month. “Those are the people who hate Disney and think it’s the worst thing on Earth, and that’s where I probably would be if I weren’t actually related to it.”
Disney, the granddaughter of company co-founder Roy Disney, has channeled that spirit in recent days, taking aim at Disney CEO Bob Iger’s enormous salary.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, she said it was “insane” that Iger made almost $66 million last year. And she went further on Tuesday, calling on the company to set aside half of what would be bonuses reserved for executives to give to its lowest-paid employees.
None of this should come as a surprise from the Disney heiress. In 2014, after Meryl Streep called Walt Disney, Abigail’s great-uncle, a “bigot,” Abigail backed the Oscar-winning actress. She has also put her money where her mouth is, giving away what she’s said is more than $70 million of her fortune.
Here is a snapshot of the life and career of Abigail Disney, who at 59 has been a filmmaker, a philanthropist and an activist.
Growing up Disney
The daughter of the late Disney executive Roy E. Disney, Abigail grew up visiting Disneyland, which her grandfather Roy O. Disney founded with his younger brother Walt. But she has said that her relationship to the company, and her family itself, changed as Disney experienced a resurgence.
“When I went off to college, Michael Eisner came in and reinvigorated the company, and then the stock price, which was basically my family’s entire net worth, was ten times, 20 times, 50 times what it had been when I was growing up,” she told The Cut in March. “So all of the sudden, we went from being comfortable, upper-middle-class people to suddenly my dad had a private jet. That’s when I feel that my dad really lost his way in life. And that’s why I feel hyperconscious about what wealth does to people. I lived in one family as a child, and then I didn’t even recognize the family as I got older.”
Growing up in northern California, Disney said, her parents avoided a “lavish” lifestyle, and there “weren’t private airplanes and things like that until I got older.”
She told the Los Angeles Times in 2015 that, while attending graduate school at Columbia University, she had cab drivers drop her off several blocks away from the campus out of fear of being perceived as spoiled.
Disney has been private about her inheritance, though she has said that she has given more than $70 million away since she turned 21. And on Tuesday, after she called on the company to allocate executive bonuses to lower paid workers in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Disney pushed back on online rumors regarding her wealth.
“Fact check I do not have what the internet says I have and I’d be willing to bet that after all his years in management taking home fat bonuses Igers net worth far exceeds my own I’ve given away more than 70 million dollars and spend my days figuring out how to give away the rest,” she said on Twitter.
Disney has long been outspoken in her support of liberal causes, frequently using her Twitter account to issue forceful denunciations of President Donald Trump.
“All you need to know about trump is that whenever he uses a label on someone else it’s because he is worried it will be hung on him instead,” she tweeted last year. “Mentally deranged? Check.”
She has also starred in videos by the news outlet NowThis voicing her opposition to tax breaks for the wealthy.
“I did not do anything to earn that money,” Disney said in a 2017 video in which she spoke out against the Republican tax bill. “And yet, I am about to get a huge handout from Congress. You might have heard it called a ‘tax cut.’ And yes, it is a very fat tax cut for me, along with some other people and corporations, mostly in the one percent.”
Disney is an award-winning filmmaker, but she was reluctant to get into the family business. She told the Los Angeles Times in 2015 that she felt “like there would be this horrible level of expectation” if she made movies.
“It drives all the neutrality of people’s reactions to you, and why not? I don’t blame them. But I still felt publicly exposed to the idea of failing right there in front of everyone.”
She started her own production company, and served as a producer on a number of documentaries. In 2015, she made her directorial debut with “The Armor of Light,” a documentary about an anti-abortion activist and Evangelical minister who eventually emerged as an activist for gun control. The film won an Emmy for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary.
“I wondered where the serious discourse was,” she told the New York Times about why she wanted to address gun control. “The two sides just seem to talk at each other. Where was the rational discussion about how morals and values factor in?”