Who is Kareem Daniel, The Black Man Leading Disney’s New Streaming Distribution Unit?

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Kareem Daniel
Who is Kareem Daniel, The Black Man Leading Disney’s New Streaming Distribution Unit? Image: The Walt Disney Company

Kareem Daniel is a name you should get to know. Monday, Oct. 12, Disney announced it was shifting the primary focus for its media and entertainment divisions to direct-to-consumer streaming. Daniel is the brother they have tapped to lead the new distribution division.

Daniel, 46, was appointed to his new role by Disney CEO Bob Chapek. It is a promotion from his role as president of consumer products, games and publishing.

No stranger to rising through the ranks, Daniel began his career with Disney as an intern 14 years ago, CNBC reported. It’s almost a full-circle moment since Chapek is the one who hired him as an intern when Daniel was in graduate school at Stanford University.

“He is a brilliant executive who has an unbelievable objectivity when it comes to fact-based decision making,” Chapek said of Daniel in an interview. “It perfectly positions him to be the right guy to make decisions. Not because there’s a legacy of the business, but because it’s right for today.”

Disney – and the entire theatrical industry – has experienced massive fallout ranging from postponing blockbuster releases to laying off tens of thousands of staff due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Daniel is tasked with making sure Disney’s streaming platforms – Disney+, ESPN and Hulu – become successful. Between the three of them, Disney has 100 million paid subscribers. More than half belong to Disney+.

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A native of Chicago’s South Side, Daniel is a self-proclaimed movie buff and comic book lover. He spent hours in his local mall at the comic book store when he was a kid, according to Bloomberg.

But he balanced his passion for reading fiction with his academic studies. Daniel was the valedictorian of his 1992 graduating class at Morgan Park Academy, where he took advanced placement classes. He attended Stanford, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA.

He worked as an engineer and investment banker before taking his talents to Disney, which seems a perfect place to marry his passion, work ethic and skillset.

During his time at Disney, Daniel has been in some notable positions. Among them, VP of distribution strategy at Walt Disney World when Disney and Marvel closed their multi-billion dollar deal in 2009 and head of business operations for Walt Disney’s Imagineering Division, which designs the company’s theme parks.

He counts the former as one of his greatest career accomplishments.

“A highlight of my career was being a member of the team that worked on the acquisition of Marvel in 2009 and being able to tell my mom about it and better explain what I did for a living,” Daniel said in an alumni interview with his high school. “She used to drive me to the comic book store at the Chicago Ridge Mall and sit outside in the car for hours while I was in the store, reading comics. She was the most patient, amazing woman ever. So when that deal was announced, I could tell her that we bought the company that made those comics, and that we were going to use those characters to make movies and theme park rides and consumer products. And then we bought ‘Star Wars’ three years later. One of the best parts of my job is working on deals and projects based on what I grew up with, and trying to help continue the success that they have had.”

Daniel has excelled in every role he’s held at the entertainment and media conglomerate, Chapek said.

“He’s had experience across many pieces of the company and no matter which role he’s been in, he’s done an outstanding job,” Chapek told Bloomberg.

Daniel’s promotion makes him one of the highest-ranking Black executives at Disney – whose leadership is mostly white and male. He said he looks forward to continuing his journey in his dream career.

“One of the biggest outlets I had growing up was seeing movies with my older cousin almost every weekend,” Daniel told Morgan Park Academy. “I have always loved movies, but growing up, I never imagined that there was a business side to entertainment. I just had no idea. After college, I started to realize that there is something there.”