Rough Sketch: Mistreatment of women in Pixar revisited after John Lasseter’s recent leave

In Columns, Features, Lifestyle
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In light of recent allegations involving Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios John Lasseter, it only takes a brief Google search to conclude that Pixar’s history with women in the workplace has been a long, troubled one.

Soon after The Hollywood Reporter’s article unveiled these stories on the eve of the release of Pixar’s “Coco,” news of the departure of “Toy Story 4” co-writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack emerged.

Jones denied that her leaving the project was due to Lasseter making an unwanted advance. The duo stated it was due to “philosophical differences,” including the roles of women and people of color within Pixar.

Many sources from Pixar have come forward describing a culture that allowed Lasseter to inappropriately touch and embrace female employees.

While this may be the first time that the general population has gained knowledge of potential misconduct concerning Lasseter specifically, it is not the first time that a woman has spoken out about the animation studio undervaluing female voices.

Brenda Chapman was the original director of “Brave” before being let go from the project and replaced by Mark Andrews, who had no experience directing feature-length animated films before that point.

Considering that she was one of the directors of Dreamworks’ “The Prince of Egypt” (which, in this columnist’s humble opinion, is better than most anything that came out during the Disney Renaissance), and her story contributions to classics like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” Chapman seemed like she would have been a great talent for the studio to utilize.

That isn’t what happened though.

“I think my ‘Brave’ experience was my first foray into ‘Oh, no, it is different for us girls,’” said Chapman in an interview with BuzzFeed.

Former Pixar artist Emma Coats also told BuzzFeed she felt lost when Chapman was taken off of “Brave” and it made her wonder if the same thing would happen to her.

Chapman later went on to write a New York Times column titled “Stand Up for Yourself, and Mentor Others.” The article recounts her emotional journey after losing creative control of “Brave” to a man when it was based on her own life experience as a mother.

Since that point, there has been very little perceived effort to get women into roles as writers or directors. In the case of “Toy Story 4,” which Lasseter was set to co-direct up until July, Jones was the female voice of the production.

Though I highly doubt that “Toy Story 4” was as much of a personal passion project for Jones as “Brave” was for Chapman, Jones and her writing partner McCormack still left the project because of the previously stated “creative and philosophical differences.”

I’ve noticed many people online defending Pixar as a company, stating that the alleged misconduct of Lasseter should not reflect on Pixar as a whole.

I disagree with this sentiment, though I must admit that this is from the perspective of an outsider looking in.

If even a fraction of the stories coming forward about Lasseter are true, it reflects poorly not only on the Walt Disney Company and Pixar, but the animation industry itself. It means that people within the company were well aware of Lasseter’s behavior and how it affected the female staff, but failed to properly address it.

With more women speaking out about their personal and creative experiences at Pixar, it is difficult not to look back at a project like “Brave” and wonder how much of Pixar’s darker side may have already been visible.

“Sometimes women express an idea and are shot down, only to have a man express essentially the same idea and have it broadly embraced,” Chapman said in her column. “Until there is a sufficient number of women executives in high places, this will continue to happen.”

Considering the reports that have come forward, it isn’t just women’s voices that may have been undermined at Pixar.

Maybe it is time that everyone at the studio, both men and women, have a not necessary serious discussion about diverse representation and respect in the workplace. If this is the precedent that has been set at Pixar, both creatively and behaviorally, there needs to be change.

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