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COMMENTARY: Colin Kaepernick’s deal with Disney is a huge step forward

FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Seattle. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to take a stand against police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality, he was vilified by people who considered it an offense against the country, the flag and the military. Nearly four years later, it seems more people are starting to side with Kaepernick’s peaceful protest and now are calling out those who don’t understand the intent behind his action. (.
FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Seattle. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to take a stand against police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality, he was vilified by people who considered it an offense against the country, the flag and the military. Nearly four years later, it seems more people are starting to side with Kaepernick’s peaceful protest and now are calling out those who don’t understand the intent behind his action. (. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The partnership the Walt Disney Co.’s has announced with Colin Kaepernick is a huge deal — literally and figuratively.

First, you need to look at where Disney is usually coming from.

Iron Man. Captain America. Moana. Mulan. From larger-than-life action heroes, head-strong princesses to adventurous voyagers, the Disney formula has always been go big, go bold — but play it safe and avoid politics.

The entertainment powerhouse has certainly become more culturally sensitive and diverse in its storytelling over the last few years, but its overarching box office blueprint is to hit the biggest audiences with the biggest feel-good punch. Judging by its US$69.5-billion in revenue and $10.4 billion in profit in 2019, the recipe seemingly works.

READ MORE: NFL commissioner says he’s encouraging teams to sign Colin Kaepernick this season

According to a report from ESPN, the deal between Disney and Kaepernick’s production company, RaVision focuses on “telling scripted and unscripted stories that explore race, social injustice and the quest for equity, and will provide a new platform to showcase the work of Black and Brown directors and producers.”

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The first project in development is a series from ESPN documenting Kaepernick’s life over the past five years. Projects under the deal extend to Disney’s network of media platforms, including Walt Disney Television, Hulu, Pixar, ESPN and the Undefeated.

“During this unprecedented time, The Walt Disney Company remains committed to creating diverse and inclusive content that resonates and matters,” said executive chairman Bob Iger in a statement.

“Colin’s experience gives him a unique perspective on the intersection of sports, culture and race, which will undoubtedly create compelling stories that will educate, enlighten and entertain, and we look forward to working with him on this important collaboration.”

Timelapse video shows Black Lives Matter mural painted on New York’s Fifth Avenue
Timelapse video shows Black Lives Matter mural painted on New York’s Fifth Avenue

Big words from the big cheese at Disney.

While the deal shows a significant cultural shift from a company that has historically shied away from political commentary, I would be a fool if I didn’t believe they are just as financially motivated as they are morally.

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Context is critical. Brands and big business can no longer stand on the sidelines in silence — to do so is to be complicit to the social injustice that has long been ignored for generations. In this time of reckoning, companies must choose what side of history they want to fall on.

As much as I see the value in the telling these stories, and the necessity of amplifying Black and Brown voices, had it not been for the social awakening over the past six weeks, I honestly don’t know if Disney would have and I am less cautiously optimistic as to whether this deal would have ever happened.

READ MORE: Colin Kaepernick — A timeline of his activism and the NFL’s response

People are quick to forget that Kaepernick was seen as an outlier over the last four years, operating in a marginal movement that most corporations wouldn’t go near him with a 10-foot pole. That is, save for Nike, which made Kaepernick the face of the memorable “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” campaign in 2018. The company faced sweeping backlash and even the burning of shoes in protest.

Not surprisingly, this Disney deal has stirred negative commentary on social media, with some pro-Trump commentators scoffing at Kaepernick for his lucrative deal.

But memories are short. I want to remind these people that was not a choice between athlete or activism. It was a choice made for him.

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“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaepernick said in a press conference on Sept. 1, 2016, after first sitting out during the anthem.

“To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

President Donald Trump was incensed.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired,’” President Trump said.

WATCH BELOW: (Feb. 23, 2018) Trump takes shot at Colin Kaepernick, says we ‘stand for the anthem’

Trump takes shot at Colin Kaepernick, says we ‘stand for the anthem’
Trump takes shot at Colin Kaepernick, says we ‘stand for the anthem’

Kaepernick played his final NFL game with the San Fransisco 49ers on Jan. 1, 2017. His stance to take a knee essentially blacklisted him from the NFL.

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To this day, Kaepernick has shown a desire to play football. In the fall of 2019, he even attended training camp. Last month, two weeks after the murder of George Floyd and after demands by more than a dozen of its young stars, including Patrick Mahomes (the Kansas City quarterback who was named the Super Bowl’s most valuable player last season), the NFL finally apologized to players who had protested.

READ MORE: ‘We were wrong’ — Commissioner says NFL should have listened to player protests

In a video message, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a lengthy apology, following several years of debate within the NFL as well as among fans who criticized Kaepernick and other players for their protest against police brutality.

“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong,” the commissioner said. “We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. … The protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening.”

The NFL also announced that in Week 1 of its coming season, they will play “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem.

But to this day, Kaepernick is yet to be signed back to a team within the NFL.

WATCH BELOW: (Sept. 4, 2018) Social media reacts to Colin Kaepernick featured in ‘Just Do It’ campaign

Social media reacts to Colin Kaepernick featured in ‘Just Do It’ campaign
Social media reacts to Colin Kaepernick featured in ‘Just Do It’ campaign

Kaepernick was recently named to the board of directors of digital publisher Medium, as part of an agreement that will have him involved with content creation.

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Last week Netflix announced Emmy Award-winning director Ava DuVernay will be bringing his adolescent life to the television screen. Entitled Colin in Black & White, the six-episode series will focus on Kaepernick’s early years as a Black child growing up with a white adopted family and his formative high school years.

While the development deal is exciting, Disney isn’t the first company to embrace the activism of Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement. As we’ve seen,Kaepernick and BLM shift from the margins to the mainstream, the Disney deal shows just how far this movement has come.

That is what makes this deal so monumental and one that will be remembered for years to come.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.