Thomas Ronald Washington: Did The Walt Disney Company ever have a black CEO?

The conclusion of the last season of the Hulu shows “Atlanta” has left viewers interested and confused about whether Thomas Ronald Washington, portrayed by Eric Berryman, is a real person or a made-up character. The episode’s writers featuring Washington, Karen Joseph Adcock, and Francesca Sloane, constructed a figure representing a black CEO of Walt Disney Studios.

The ultimate installment of the television show was remarkably innovative and is presently being discussed by enthusiasts as the most exceptional episode ever to grace the series. Certain enthusiasts have gone as far as calling it one of the finest occurrences on television in recent history. Upon viewing the episode, one can see that their assertion is entirely plausible.

thomas ronald washington

Nonetheless, the genuine inquiry persists: Is the TV character of Thomas Ronald Washington based on an actual person or a product of someone’s imagination? This article will provide the answers you seek; therefore, keep reading!

Who is Thomas Ronald Washington?

The fictional character Thomas Ronald Washington appears in the fourth season of the acclaimed Hulu TV show “Atlanta.” As per the storyline, in 1992, Thomas Washington, a talented young black animator, was supposedly appointed as the interim CEO of The Walt Disney Company, a leading American media and entertainment conglomerate.

As per the show, The Walt Disney Company recruited Washington as their fresh CEO in the aftermath of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Having been fascinated by animation since childhood, Washington pursued an education at the Savannah College of Art and Design to join Disney’s workforce.

Following the death of the interim CEO during the 1992 riots, the Disney board of directors appointed Tom Washington as the CEO. However, a peculiar coincidence led to Thomas Ronald Washington being accidentally selected as the CEO instead, owing to the similarity between his name and that of the originally favored candidate.

The board felt pressured to retain Washington, even though they were unsatisfied with the decision. Along with pondering why Mickey Mouse owns Pluto as a pet when Goofy is also a dog, Washington highlighted other modifications within the company.

Is Thomas Ronald Washington real?

Despite doubts raised regarding the genuineness of the storyline in the final episode of “Atlanta,” titled “The Goof Who Sat By the Door,” a few individuals on social media have suggested that the program could be inspired by Floyd Norman, a renowned black animator who worked with Disney during its early years.

It has been confirmed that the fictional story of Disney not appointing a black CEO is actually true. The series’ writers may have been inspired by Norman, the first African-American animator at the company. Norman recalls that he didn’t experience racism during his childhood in Santa Barbara, California. Despite his age of 87, Norman has decided to continue working at Disney and is still employed as a creative.

Consequently, Thomas Washington is an imagined figure rather than a real individual.

Story of Thomas Ronald Washington

The last episode of Atlanta focuses on Thomas Washington’s aspiration of producing a film that encompasses every aspect of African-American culture and is considered the “most black” movie ever made. To achieve this goal, he selects A Goofy Movie as its subject, taking inspiration from his son, Maxwell, to create the character “Max Goof.”

Initially, The Walt Disney Company board planned to appoint a Caucasian individual named Tom Washington. Nevertheless, they decided to offer the position to Thomas Washington due to a misinterpretation. Aiming to represent various aspects of African-American society, Washington created a movie that exemplifies the most African-American cultural elements.

During the filming process, Washington began to verbally assault his spouse and child, ultimately resulting in their separation. The Walt Disney Company started questioning Washington’s suitability as a leader due to his resemblance to the cartoon character Goofy, specifically his laugh. Despite being offered a $75 million settlement, he turned down the option to terminate his employment.

The initial conclusion of A Goofy Movie, where Goofy and Max are subjected to police brutality for accidentally entering the section reserved for civil rights activist Huey P. Newton, was deemed unsuitable for black viewers, so it was substituted with a different scene.

In 1995, Washington went missing after witnessing Disney executives change the ending of his movie. Some employees confess to doubting that Washington’s disappearance was accidental. A recording capturing Washington’s final moments, in which he expressed disappointment with the film’s status and discussed his plans for its completion, has been uncovered. Washington left the studio following the movie premiere as he was unhappy that his original concept had been disregarded.

In 1995, Washington’s vehicle was submerged in the lake where he and his child had previously gone fishing, yet his remains were never found. His spouse concludes the series by indicating that he could produce “the darkest film ever,” suggesting that his impact may still resonate.


Atlanta’s 39th and ultimate installment, “Thomas Washington,” was directed by Donald Glover and scripted by executive producers Francesca Sloane and Karen Joseph Adcock. The episode debuted on FX in the United States on October 27, 2022.

The episode had a documentary format but was presented with humorous elements. None of the key characters from the series appeared in this particular episode. The title and storyline strongly alluded to Sam Greenlee’s book and its film adaptation, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.”

Scroll to Top