The story of Thomas Washington, a young, Black animator who climbed the corporate ladder to become the head of The Walt Disney Company in the early 90s, is filled with ambition, enthusiasm, and controversy. He successfully created what he proudly referred to as “the Blackest movie of all time”, A Goofy Movie, which wasn’t without its share of resistance and public scrutiny. This narrative explores his life, professional journey, and the impact of his work.
Early Life and Career
Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1965, Thomas Washington was an ardent lover of animation and comics from a young age, with a special affection for Disney characters. Among all, he identified most with Goofy, the clumsy yet lovable dog, and a staple of Mickey Mouse’s ensemble. Washington’s wife, Lisa, has often mentioned how Thomas saw reflections of his life and emotions in Goofy.
Washington pursued his passion for animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where his talents stood out. His dream was to work at Disney, an ambition he realized in 1987 when he joined the company as an animator. Being one of the few Black animators at Disney then didn’t deter him from his aspirations.
Washington’s creativity and skill manifested in various projects, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, winning admiration from colleagues and superiors. However, his outspokenness and assertiveness occasionally rubbed some the wrong way.
In a surprising turn of events, Washington became the CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 1992 following the Los Angeles riots incited by the Rodney King incident. Disney aimed to appoint a Black CEO as a symbol of diversity and inclusion. A mix-up led to Thomas Washington, rather than the intended white executive Tom Washington, being offered the role. Undeterred by the unexpected, Washington accepted and became Disney’s first Black CEO.
One of Washington’s initial actions as CEO was to greenlight a project close to his heart: A Goofy Movie. Based on the TV series Goof Troop, the movie examined the relationship between Goofy and his teenage son Max, contextualizing them as Black characters.
A Goofy Movie
A Goofy Movie, directed by Kevin Lima, was released in 1995. The plot follows Max’s efforts to woo his crush Roxanne by falsely claiming to be friends with Powerline, a popular Black pop star. His plans are thwarted when Goofy takes him on a cross-country road trip to reconnect with him.
Following the movie’s release, Washington hoped to inspire and empower Black audiences, particularly children, and foster greater diversity in animation and entertainment. However, negative reactions and insufficient support from Disney led to his disappointment.
Disappearance and Legacy
Thomas Washington took immense pride in his film, hoping it would serve as a beacon of inspiration and empowerment for the Black community, particularly the younger generation. He also envisaged the movie as a springboard for increased diversity and creativity within the animation industry. However, the wave of negative criticism and lack of backing from Disney left him both disappointed and emotionally bruised.
His wife disclosed that Washington had envisaged a distinct ending for the film, where Goofy and Max would join forces with Powerline in a musical protest against racism and police misconduct. However, without Washington’s approval, Disney altered the conclusion, fearing it might stir controversy and tarnish their brand. Feeling betrayed and disillusioned, Washington decided to sever ties with Disney.
In 1995, he resigned from his role as CEO and vanished from public scrutiny. His current whereabouts remain shrouded in mystery. Speculation swirls, with some suggesting he went into seclusion, while others insinuate darker theories of murder or abduction by his adversaries. His wife, despite having no contact since his departure, clings to the hope that he is alive and safe.
As for Thomas Washington’s legacy, opinions remain starkly divided. While many regard him as a heroic visionary, a pioneering trailblazer, or a legendary genius, others perceive him as a villainous traitor or even a fraudulent lunatic. The story of Thomas Washington stands as one of the most captivating and enigmatic tales in the annals of animation and entertainment.