By now you’ve probably heard of Imane Boudlal, a 26 year old Muslim woman who is accusing Disney of discrimination after she was told she could not wear her hijab in public view. Boudlal was reported to have shown up for work wearing her hijab for the first time last week for religious reasons. At the time she was offered an alternative station behind the scenes at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, but she has repeatedly refused the opportunity. I’m not going to dive into the specifics of the story, as the Orange County Register has done a pretty solid job at that here and here, but what I want to do is explore this story from the Disney perspective.
First and foremost I am not speaking on behalf of the Walt Disney company, nor do I represent them in any way…the last thing I need is the mouse coming after me. That being said I dedicated 5 years of my life to The Disneyland Resort and know a little something about the “Disney Look”. What’s the ”Disney Look” you ask? Well, its what sets Disney cast members apart from other amusement park and carnival workers. Its a series of guidelines that ALL Cast Members must adhere to ranging from hair style, and makeup to pant length and sock color. No element of dress goes untouched by the Disney Look and for good reason.
When Walt Disney created Disneyland he wanted it to be a place for families to escape to, in doing so he paid extreme attention to detail. He didn’t want Disneyland to be just another amusement park, he wanted it to be a story in and of itself. Walt Disney was a storyteller, and he continued that tradition in his theme parks. He wanted guests to be submerged into a completely different world once they entered the gates, and he did this by making sure every element of the park tied in with his overall story and vision.
What Boudlal created is called a visual intrusion, which is basically something you see that doesn’t belong in a specific time and place. Her hijab does not fit the theme of the Grand Californian Hotel where she worked. The Grand Californian celebrates the California arts and crafts movement..needless to say the costume doesn’t really fit with a hijab.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Mike Disneyland opened in 1955, the times have changed, blah blah blah.” I get it. That being said, Disney has built itself on an internal culture that is made very clear when you first sign on as a Cast Member. The “Disney Look” is drilled into you, the emphasis on the show and the story is drilled into you. I left the Disneyland Resort over 5 years ago and I can still recite verbatim the companies core values. They are THAT important to the culture of the Disneyland Resort and the company it represents. I don’t know how long Boudlal has worked for the Resort, but I can guarantee you this is something she knew would probably go against the Disneyland Resort policies, and the fact she waited until last week to start making a stink about her hijab leads me to believe she did it on purpose.
The bottom line is this; the Disneyland Resport is a unique work environment unlike any other. The culture of the company is made VERY clear from day one, and if Boudlal felt this conflicted with her religious garments she should have brought it up at the time of hiring; in my experience Disney is very accommodating to the unique needs of its Cast Members. Additionally Disney made numerous efforts to accommodate Boudlal, but sadly she declined. Its not like they forced her to go dig ditches or anything, they offered her and alternative position within her restaurant (which leads me to believe she has already been trained at it) and it’s been reported that when that wasn’t good enough they even offered to train her in other locations. I think this is one person in particular who is trying to play the oppression and discrimination card a bit heavy just for the attention.
PS: I made the image…if you jack it give credit!