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David Greenbaum replaces Sean Bailey as Disney movie head

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Sean Bailey, the longtime Walt Disney Co. executive who oversaw the studio’s live-action movies, is stepping down, the Burbank-based entertainment giant announced Monday. David Greenbaum has been appointed to the newly created role of president of Disney live action and 20th Century Studios, and will oversee film projects for both units spanning theatrical and streaming platforms. Bailey is exiting his position after 14 years at the helm.

The high-level change at the top of Disney’s live-action film unit has been rumored, particularly after the rocky performance of some recent films. During his tenure, Bailey oversaw a string of blockbuster live-action remakes, including “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Lion King,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Most of those films topped $1 billion worldwide in box office receipts, while last year’s “The Little Mermaid” raked in $560 million (it struggled in overseas markets).

But despite high-profile successes, Bailey’s division was behind last year’s box office flop, “Haunted Mansion,” inspired by the vaunted Disneyland theme park ride. Bailey’s contract was due to expire next January, and it was reported that he had discussions with Netflix executives taking the top film job there. While Bailey is not expected to make the switch to Netflix’s Sunset Boulevard-based campus, revelations of the talks prompted considerable reflection by Bailey and Disney’s top brass about the studio’s live-action film strategy and pipeline, according to a knowledgeable person who was not authorized to comment publicly.

Bailey, who wasn’t interested in extending his contract, will return to his roots as a producer of “Tron: Ares,” for Disney, the company said in its statement. The new leader, Greenbaum, most recently served as president of Searchlight Pictures, where he jointly managed the studio’s film and TV projects with Matthew Greenfield, who will continue in his role as Searchlight Pictures president. Disney acquired the specialty label as part of its $71.3-billion purchase of 21st Century Fox properties from Rupert Murdoch nearly five years ago.

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Searchlight has had plenty of awards success, and Greenbaum helped guide dozens of feature films, including Academy Awards winners “The Shape of Water” and “Nomadland,” to the big screen. He was also involved in shepherding Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” which currently is nominated for a best picture Oscar. Greenbaum was also involved in the making of past standouts such as “The Menu,” “The Favourite,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Black Swan.” Before joining Searchlight more than a decade ago, Greenbaum was a development executive at Miramax Films.

“David has an incredible creative sensibility and eye for film, and he has built a reputation as an exceptional leader and creative executive, as proven by his track record at Searchlight Pictures and deep relationships throughout the industry,” said Alan Bergman, co-chairman of Disney Entertainment, in a statement. “I’m thrilled that he’ll be taking on this new and important role. We’ve had the great fortune to have a strong creative leader in Steve Asbell at 20th Century, and I’m excited for him to work closely with David as we take a more strategic look across both brands from a creative and operational standpoint. I also want to thank Sean Bailey for his many contributions and leadership over his tenure at Disney.”

Bailey, in a statement, said it was a good time to move on and wished Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger, Bergman and others “the very best for a bright future.” “These 15 years at Disney have been an incredible journey, but the time is right for a new chapter,” Bailey said. “I’m deeply grateful to my exceptional team and proud of the slate and history we’ve built together. I joined Disney while producing Tron: Legacy, so it seems fitting that I will have the opportunity to work on the latest Tron as I depart.” Netflix has not named a replacement for its film chief, Scott Stuber, who last month announced his departure from the streamer. A Netflix spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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