We’ve been getting increasingly strident hints for a while now that things were Not Good, re: sexism, at beloved animation studio Pixar. For one thing, there’s the numbers: Out of the 20 films the studio has produced during its lifespan, only one, 2012's Brave, featured a female director—and Brenda Chapman was ultimately fired from the project over creative differences, replaced by a man. The studio’s writing output has only been slightly less dire, something highlighted last year when Rashida Jones and her writing partner Will McCormack announced that they were no longer writing the upcoming Toy Story 4. At the time, there were rumors that Jones had quit because of harassment from studio head John Lasseter—an increasingly believable claim over the last few months—but the actor and writer made it clear that she was actually responding to a “culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”
Now Cassandra Smolcic, a former employee at the studio, with credits on several of its films, has written a Variety column giving a first-person perspective of life for women at Pixar. Smolcic’s account extends beyond Lasseter—who recently announced that he was leaving both Pixar and Disney Animation, and who reportedly inspired the company’s female employees to create a “move” based around avoiding his frequent attempts at unwanted physical contact—and into a pervasive environment where women were silenced and harassment ignored:
Management teams across the studio were well known for cleaning up the messes of powerful male superiors, regardless of their poor behavior or challenging leadership styles. Meanwhile, the company’s few female leads lacked backing and basic respect from the institution and the masses. Female leads were often caught in no-win situations, forced to either suppress their abilities—in order to make men feel more comfortable—or take charge and risking being labeled “difficult” or “unlikable.”
Smolcic makes it clear that, while much of this culture flowed down from Lasseter—including highlighting an incident in which she was banned from meetings on Cars 2 because the Toy Story director “‘has a hard time controlling himself’” around young women”—the “boys club” culture was entrenched throughout the studio.
Lasseter’s open sexism set the tone from the top, emboldening others to act like frat boys in just about any campus setting. I’ll never forget the day a director compared his latest film to “a big-titted blond who was difficult to nail down” in front of the whole company, a joke that received gasps of disapproval.
This is, of course, all massively depressing, especially in relation to a company that’s brought so much joy to audiences and kids, and whose male leaders have apparently been blind to many of the humanist messages of empathy layered into its films. Smolcic, at least, ends her column by expressing hope that Pete Docter’s tenure as the studio’s new head—and Jennifer Lee’s at Disney Animation—will signal some kind of change at the company, “But dismantling John’s legacy will take more than just replacing a single executive, because such deeply ingrained biases require deliberate, conscientious effort to identify and dismantle.”