Is Thomas Washington Disney real? His real life inspiration

Thomas Washington Disney

Episode 8 of Atlanta season 4 doesn’t feature the usual cast. Instead, it’s a mockumentary about the creation of ‘the blackest movie of all time’ by the first black Disney CEO. According to the production, Thomas Washington was promoted to CEO following a mix-up of names. 

The board wanted to appoint Tom Washington, a white man, to the post, but due to a misunderstanding, they selected Thomas Washington. Thomas set about creating ‘the blackest movie of all time’ that would tackle aspects of African-American culture. 

Unfortunately, Thomas disappeared in 1995, having seen Disney’s hierarchy change his preferred ending to the film. Regardless, according to his wife, Thomas’ short tenure had a lasting impact. 

Thomas Washington is not a real person and is probably loosely based on the first black Disney employee

Thomas Washington is not a real person. Washington is the creation of Karen Joseph Adcock and Francesca Sloane, the writers of the Atlanta episode in which he features. 

Despite facing accusations of being ‘woke’, Disney has never appointed a black man as CEO. In the early 90s period shown in the film, Michael Eisner was the CEO of Disney – he held the position up to 2005. 

The writers probably drew inspiration from Floyd Norman, Disney’s first African-American animator. Norman told NPR he was shielded from racism growing up in Santa Barbara, California.

Floyd Norman
Floyd Norman was Disney’s first African-American animator | Michael Flore Films/Falco Ink.

“We lived in a Pacific paradise. I didn’t know it at the time, but my experience as a child was probably a good deal different from many, many people. We had access to everything — good schools, concert, theater.”

Norman applied for a job at Disney, unaware that his race might have disadvantaged him. Floyd told the outlet that opportunities were there for black people, but people chose not to apply. “There was a perception that opportunities were not available for people of color,” Norman said. 

Floyd added that he worked with people of all races, so being the first black animator at Disney didn’t matter much to him. He explained:

“Nobody thought about that because that was not the news hunt issue at hand. Nobody thought of themselves as being a trailblazer for their race or their group. We were just a bunch of young kids looking for a job.”