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Disney appoints its first female board chair

Mickey and Minnie in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, marking the 25th anniversary of Disneyland - originally Euro Disney Resort.
Bertrand Guay
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Mickey and Minnie in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, marking the 25th anniversary of Disneyland - originally Euro Disney Resort.

Walt Disney Co. has announced that Susan E. Arnold will succeed Robert Iger as chairman of the board, the first time a woman has held the position at the company, effective December 31st.

Susan E. Arnold is the new chairman of the board at the Walt Disney Company.
Heidi Gutman / Disney/ABC Television Group
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Susan E. Arnold is the new chairman of the board at the Walt Disney Company.

Arnold, a 14-year member of the Disney board, will look to draw upon her experience in executive positions at Procter & Gamble and the Carlyle Group and as a director of McDonald's as she assumes a lead role in navigating one of the world's largest media companies. Iger, who was also CEO from 2005 to 2020, expanded Disney's profile dramatically through a series of acquisitions that included Pixar Animation and Marvel Entertainment. He was succeeded as CEO by Bob Chapek in 2020.

Chapek and Arnold are tasked with leading Disney at a time of significant change and uncertainty in the entertainment industry. The early stages of the pandemic took a toll on Disney as theme parks and theaters were shuttered, though they have mostly reopened. Disney has recently focused on streaming services and making its content culturally relevant.

Disney has sought to redefine how its female characters act and behave, trading damsels in distress for independent, strong and diverse characters that celebrate female ambition.

Examples include the film Mulan which introduced a character who eschews becoming a bride and disguises herself as a man, turning the "knight-in-shining-armor" trope on its head as she saves male characters. More recent Disney characters such as Merida, in the film Brave, and Moana are strong personalities as well and are, notably, without love interests. Even Cinderella, in its latest iteration, is determined to chart her own destiny.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Dean
Jeff Dean is the 2021 Military Veterans in Journalism intern for NPR reporting for the Business Desk and Newsdesk teams.