South Park‘s latest special skewered Disney for its recent box office slump, accusing the studio of lazily recycling the same ideas except with diverse casting. The episode particularly took aim at Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy — while at the same time knocking online trolls who have piled onto the executive in recent years. The result has caused right-wing celebrities ranging from Elon Musk to former Mandalorian star Gina Carano to weigh in.
In the 47-minute special, “Joining the Panderverse,” which premiered on Paramount+ on Friday, Cartman begins to fear he’s going to be replaced by a diverse woman (“I had a dream I was replaced by a diverse woman!” he cries. “Only this time, it wasn’t me, they were taking all my favorite people and replacing them with diverse women who complain about the patriarchy! … And Disney stock keeps going down and down!”). Being replaced is exactly what happens when a portal to the multiverse opens up, which replaces him with a Black woman while sending Cartman to a universe populated only by women of color. Cartman’s friends complain about the new Cartman, saying the switch “doesn’t make any sense,” to their “PC Principal,” who accuses them of being intolerant. “If you don’t think Eric Cartman can be a Black woman, then maybe the problem is you,” he says. “You probably don’t like there’s a Black Spider-Man,” to which the kids retort, “No! Miles Morales is sweet! That’s a whole constructed thing with its own character and narrative. This is just taking the same old Cartman and putting a Black woman in it!”
The story then shifts to a meeting of Disney executives, where CEO Bob Iger is irate. “We don’t understand it sir,” an executive tell Iger. “We keep making the same movie over and over and pandering to everyone, but suddenly it’s not working.” Iger replies, “Then we’ve got to pander harder!” It turns out the multiverse rip was caused by Lucasfilm’s Kennedy, who tapped into a secret Disney artifact, the “panderstone,” which the studio has been using to remake the same ideas over and over in ways that try to appeal to the largest audience possible. An alternate universe version of Kennedy keeps giving the same note on every franchise project (“Put a chick in it! Make her lame and gay!”).
When Cartman eventually meets the real Kennedy, she points out the overwhelming amount of backlash she’s received for her well-intentioned efforts. “Then came the hate mail, ugly letters from racists who couldn’t stand that some of the panderstone’s rehashes had diverse women characters in the lead. I decided I would make movies that fight all bigotry in our society. But instead of doing the real work, I instead turned to the panderstone. … I was fighting with the wrong tool. All I ever wanted was to make great entertainment, but as as soon as you start getting piles of hate mail, endless messages calling you the c-word, you can’t think straight. … I’m sorry I was so reckless with the things you love, it was just lazy.” To which Cartman admits, “Well, I’m sorry I wrote all those letters … I guess just railing on woke stuff all the time is pretty lazy too.”
Elon Musk posted a laughing emoji and wrote “timely.”
Carano — who was pushed out of Mandalorian in 2021 after a series of controversial online statements — used the episode as an opportunity to slam Kennedy (and the Hollywood trades), writing on X: “This is the part where [Kennedy] demands any YouTubers get censored off of YouTube for sharing and laughing at this hilarious episode, she’ll have YouTube disable the thumbs down option because of the ratio she’ll receive, then she’ll have her publicist ghouls make sure Variety and Hollywood Reporter run hit pieces about the South Park creators and their families smearing their names through every useful idiot she has under her thumb who would sell their soul to work for Lucas film, she’ll activate her online mob to repeat that the South Park creators are racist, bigot, transphobes, and demand the South Park creators publicly apologize by only using words she approves of and finally she’ll demand they subject themselves to a re-education course of 45 people in the lbgtq community zoom call to sit there and listen of how badly they got their feelings hurt all over a little boop of a South Park episode. But maybe just maybe the jig is up.”
It should be pointed out that it’s unfair to single out Kennedy for Disney’s overall box office struggles and stock decline. Lucasfilm is a subsidiary of Disney, and while Kennedy has been received criticism over her handling of the Star Wars franchise in the last decade (which saw declining box office returns and plenty of behind-the-scenes creative shakeups), she’s not in charge of Disney’s overall slate — or considered the mastermind behind the company’s so-called woke push (which has included public battles with Florida Gov. Ron Desantis over anti-LGBTQ policies, as well as more representative casting and characters across the company’s various divisions, including Pixar). On Kennedy’s side of the ledger, The Mandalorian was considered a massive critic and fan success (at least, until the show’s recent third-season slump) and the show was credited with launching streaming service Disney+. Last year’s Andor was arguably the most acclaimed Star Wars title in decades. But other Lucasfilm titles — ranging from Obi-Wan to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — haven’t fared so well.
Kennedy is also the most high-profile female entertainment executive at the company — perhaps even in all of Hollywood — and it’s probably not a coincidence that so many online critics expend so much firepower on her rather than, say, Disney CEO Bob Iger or Marvel president Kevin Feige. The intensity of her online vitriol — not just in comments, but in article after article after article after article on various sites, often speculating she’s this-close to being fired — over the past has seemed outsized — which is part of what South Park is addressing.
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