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Disney Lays off 650 Including Studio Head

Los Angeles- Yesterday saw a major overhaul at Walt Disney Pictures in which 650 employees will be pink-slipped – including studio head Nina Jacobson, [pictured] who is officially out.

Jacobson, who has been with Disney since 1998, is currently riding high on the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, which has raked in over $250 million since its July 7th debut (domestic – when you factor in overseas box office, DVD sales and promotional tie-ins, it’s a money-minting juggernaut). Though she had just renegotiated her contract, when she called studio Chairman Dick Cook from the hospital where her partner had given birth to their third child he informed her that she had been replaced with Oren Aviv, the studio’s head of marketing.

Eyebrows have obviously been raised by this move. In addition to “Pirates,” Jacobson was responsible for “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Sixth Sense,” and “Pearl Harbor” and who just signed Alicia Keys to a deal with Disney in what was regarded as a coup. Jacobson’s misses include “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” and “The Ladykillers” (hmm, taking a risk on Wes Anderson and Coen Brothers films starring people like Tom Hanks and Bill Murray – shocking!).

Jacobson may also be responsible for having saved Disney a whole whack of money: her high-profile rejection of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady In The Water” (“It’s “The Village” meets “Signs” meets that American Express commercial!”), which Shyamalan sniffingly took to Warner Brothers, looks to have been prescient.

For his part, Aviv has exec-produced two movies: 1997’s “Rocket Man” and the Da Vinci Code-esque “National Treasure,” the concept of which he came up with. Hired for marketing, not production, savvy he apparently “understands the big movie” (Says FishbowlLA: “And Pirates of the Caribbean, at $266,277,457 domestic, is a small movie?”)

Nikki Finke points out that the ousting of female bosses is a worrying trend in Hollywood, and the result of a double-standards where women have to be better than men or else. Finke notes that the track records of Jacobson, Sherry Lansing and Stacey Snider (also replaced by a marketing guy), though chequered, were not demonstrably different than those of their male counterparts. Says Finke: “Hollywood, like most industries, sets the bar higher for its woman executives: they can’t just be equal to men, they have to be better. So that may be why this woman’s world era is coming to an end. There’s no doubt the women were good. They just weren’t good enough to suit the men still in charge of them.”

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