The black-and-white coloring books handed out by the thousands in front of Midtown and East Village cinemas Friday night looked like official promo merchandise for Disney’s new “Hercules” epic. But a quick read immediately revealed a very different sort of product.
Beneath the simple Hercules line drawings–culled mostly from a true Disney-certified coloring book–is a little tale about the square-jawed hero’s tiff with his girlfriend over the sweatshops that produce Hercules merchandise.
“We ought to make them stop, Hercules! If they’re going to make shoes and shirts with your name on them, they ought to pay the workers a living wage,” says Meg, the hero’s girlfriend. “You shouldn’t be doing business with those bullies and greed-heads at Disney.”
His response? “I need merchandise,” Hercules replies. “How can I be a hero without merchandise?”
Rumor has it that some brilliant college kids did the cut-and-paste job, but those who know their names aren’t telling. The danger of a Disney lawsuit is much too serious to risk going public, according to one of the members of the Modern Action Club, the small guerrilla-style group that published the booklet. The club did a similar book about Nike when Michael Jordan’s “Space Jam” movie came out.
“The idea is to take the ridiculous commodified cultural stuff we have and turn it around, flipping it back on them,” said the action club member, who wouldn’t reveal her name. “Kids grabbed it up when we passed it out at the Hercules parade,” she said. “Parents are happy–it’s free stuff for kids. I don’t know what they thought when they read it, though.”
The National Labor Committee has been campaigning against Disney’s use of sweatshops for more than a year, charging the company’s contractors with paying Haitian factory workers 28 cents an hour, even as Disney CEO Michael Eisner receives salary and bonuses amounting to about $97,600 per hour. Haitian workers are currently asking Disney to order its contractors to boost wages to 58 cents an hour, according to labor committee media director Ellen Braune.
“Will Hercules do the right thing?” reads the last panel of the booklet as the wind-swept action hero gazes into the future. “Or will he slowly turn into a greedy, complacent has-been just like Disney’s leaders?”
Calls seeking an answer from Disney corporate communications were not returned.