More details have emerged about John Lasseter’s behavior at and departure from Pixar, the cartoon behemoth he co-founded. It’s all sad, depressing stuff.
Most important, perhaps, Rashida Jones has released a statement clarifying that she and her writing partner did not depart Toy Story 4 because of sexual harassment but because Pixar was not a welcoming atmosphere for women and people of color:
“We feel like we have been put in a position where we need to speak for ourselves. The break neck speed at which journalists have been naming the next perpetrator renders some reporting irresponsible and, in fact, counterproductive for the people who do want to tell their stories. In this instance, The Hollywood Reporter does not speak for us. We did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances. That is untrue. That said, we are happy to see people speaking out about behavior that made them uncomfortable. We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences.
There is so much talent at Pixar and we remain enormous fans of their films. However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice, as is demonstrated by their director demograpics [sic]: out of the 20 films in the company’s history, only one was co-directed by a woman and only one was directed by a person of color. We encourage Pixar to be leaders in bolstering, hiring, and promoting more diverse and female storytellers and leaders. We hope we can encourage all those who have felt like their voices could not be heard in the past to feel empowered.
Cartoon Brew has been doing great reporting about the story, which was apparently an open secret that makes the Eddie Berganza affair look like small potatoes. The bombshell here is that Disney knew (of course) but may have already made a settlement.
Sources additionally tell Cartoon Brew that there has allegedly been at least one financial settlement from the Walt Disney Company over Lasseter’s actions. This implies that the behavior went on with the knowledge of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull and Disney CEO Bob Iger. The most disturbing part of Lasseter’s letter is that he says he intends to return in six months. The responsible thing to do at the Walt Disney Company would be to open an independent investigation and learn who knew what when, and who was responsible for allowing Lasseter’s behavior to continue for years. Sweeping aside Lasseter’s years-long abuse of power is not an option anymore.
Two additional stories have revealed even more details of Lasseter’s behavior. Vanity Fair’s story has a familiar ring:
In March 2010, days after another triumphant Oscar ceremony for Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios, the company’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, was the subject of a tense phone call among Disney and Pixar executives, one person on the line recently told Vanity Fair. During the conversation, which included Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios president Ed Catmull, Walt Disney Animation Studios production chief Andrew Millstein,Disney corporate communications chief Zenia Mucha, and others, the group discussed Lasseter’s behavior at an Oscar party, where the executive allegedly French kissed and fondled a female Disney employee. (That employee, who is no longer with the company, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.)
“The subject of the phone call was, ‘Shit, what are we going to do about John?,’” one person who was on the call told Vanity Fair. “Lasseter is the crazy-horny 13-year-old who you have to keep in check all the time. But there’s no No. 2 for John. He’s the beating heart of Disney Animation and Pixar. He’s a genius. Nobody can do what he does.”
Variety confirms that there was a whisper network about Lasseter and has more extremely upsetting details about how women were treated at the studio:
She said her manager kept her out of meetings where Lasseter would be present, telling her it would be best for her not to attend the intimate weekly reviews because “John has a hard time controlling himself around young pretty girls.”
Nevertheless, she would sometimes see Lasseter in the hallways, and felt uncomfortable when it appeared he was looking her up and down.
“It was almost comical how obvious he was about it,” she said.
She said that being excluded from meetings with Lasseter meant that she was not able to pitch or articulate her ideas or discuss her work with the director. She also felt left out of important conversations that went on in the review room. The experience made her feel undervalued and stifled in her career at the company, and she said it contributed to her decision to leave.
She said managers chose to thwart her career rather than “have difficult conversations with the most important, high-ranking and powerful man in the company.”
The parallels with the Berganza story are inescapable, although in this case, it must be admitted, Lasseter is one of the defining geniuses of animation. That doesn’t mean all of this should have been forgiven and forgotten, but perhaps if the guys was such an amazing genius–who made movies among the most emotionally resonant of their time–he could have been persuaded to see that allowing women and people of color to have a creative voice would actually make Pixar stronger.
Like everyone, I revere the great Pixar films, but how the studio treated non white men is just bad. Again Cartoon Brew.
The point they make though does reaffirm what so many people have said about the company over the years, from the criticisms of firing Brenda Chapman from her film Brave and replacing her with a man, to the long-running questions about why a white male was allowed to direct Coco, a film deeply rooted in Mexican culture. The latter became such a hot-button issue – especially after Disney tried to obtain a trademark on Mexico’s cultural holiday – that Pixar was forced to hire a slew of Mexican cultural advisers and add a Mexican co-director to placate critics.
Vaniaty Fair has a follow-up on Pixar’s never hidden boy’s club atmosphere, which was open for all to see. And no upcoming Pixar films have a female director or writers, although Lasseter paid lip service to trying to find more diverse creators.
“Animation, when we got started, by and large was mostly guys,” he said. “But we have seen more and more women and more people from all over the world starting to work in it, which is very exciting.”
I like how non-white men are always “starting” to get noticed. It’s been that way my whole life, and probably back to the dawn of films. They’ll be starting forever if the Lasseter’s of the world have their way.
From my own experience working with Disney animation in the 90s, I know that each and every film went through an extensive research phase that strove for empathy and accuracy, but in the end it’s about white American men interpreting other cultures and stories. Changing this privileged and discriminatory viewpoint isn’t about excluding white men, it’s about allowing other voices to have the same chance at expression. If you aren’t curious to hear these other voices then, well, you are part of the problem.
BTW the picture at the top is taken from a Wall Street Journal gallery of John Lasseter’s hugs. The guy was a serial, unstoppable, inappropriate hugger and the look on the woman’s face says it all.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.