Disney’s acquisition of Fox will have far-reaching implications that we don’t yet know.
In anticipation of this deal, in which Disney paid $71.3 billion to take over Fox, has made the Mouse House an even bigger box office behemoth. Already owning the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars franchise, and Pixar, just to name a few, Walt Disney Studios’ lengthy and lucrative list of properties will expand to include 21st Century Fox’s Kingsman series, X-Men franchise, and the upcoming Avatar sequels.
The conglomerate’s increasing franchise has induced an industry-wide paranoia about the ways that it could completely alter the film industry, including release schedules, merchandising, and share of the streaming market. While the merger will certainly have far-reaching (and maybe unintended consequences) for the industry, it’s already been a hit for smaller stories, including queer ones.
Not too long after the merger finalized, Disney axed Fox 2000, the studio sublabel that focused on producing mid-budget dramas like Love, Simon, Hidden Figures, and The Devil Wears Prada, Deadline reports. Considering such sublabels are often responsible for handling lower budget projects and those considered to be “risky” — like movies with LGBTQ+ storylines or diverse casts, despite tons of data showing that these films make more money at the box office — because they don’t have a built-in audience like studio tentpoles, such a closure could mean these types of films will get made less frequently.
But according to Deadline, the people who worked at Fox 2000 have not been fired, which is a sign that while the studio may not make the move over to Disney, its moviemaking philosophy might.
“If you’re acquiring an asset like Fox, you’re going to want to keep a lot of the great things that made them of interest in the first place,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at ComScore, told Out in a phone interview. “Hopefully that’ll include the ethos or the idea of what Fox 2000 represented.”
Dergarabedian said that it may too early in the merger process to read the tea leaves as to what this business deal might mean for queer films like Love, Simon. He pointed out that not only were Fox 2000 staff kept on despite the studio being axed, alongside the merger, Disney is planning on introducing new platforms to deliver even more content. Disney has already announced its Netflix rival service, Disney Plus, which will feature not only its extensive library of classic films, but could very well be a place where original films and TV shows with queer characters could live.
Of course, the only problem is, Disney hasn’t instilled much confidence in its viewers that they’re ready or willing to give queer people the representation they want.
In 2017, when the studio promised an “exclusively gay moment” in its live action Beauty and the Beast, the actual scene was nothing more than Josh Gad sharing a nanosecond of cotillion time with another man. To be fair, in 2019, the Disney Channel did have a character come out as gay, though the moment seemed a little late compared to how far other studios have come.
So, the question remains will Disney’s acquisition force producers to play Disney's rules, or will the purchased studio’s efforts be the racial and queer-centered diversity audiences have been craving? Paul Levinson, a professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, says that, if the history of mergers is any indicator, the Fox approach to filmmaking could get lost in the billion-dollar shuffle.
"Popular culture is very sensitive and very dependent on the specific people in charge. Even when that changes in the same company, different products result,” he said in a statement to Out. “Think about how different Disney itself is today, in comparison to the almost mom-and-pop company that Walt Disney created."
And while films like Hidden Figures, The Devil Wears Prada, or Love, Simon may be profitable, any money they may might be small potatoes compared to what can be garnered from a multi-billion dollar franchise like the MCU.