Pixar’s track record with racial and gender diversity is drawing new scrutiny after Rashida Jones blamed her departure as Toy Story 4 co-writer on a lack of minority and female representation at the animation studio.
“There is so much talent at Pixar and we remain enormous fans of their films,” Jones and Will McCormack wrote in a statement last week. “However, it is also a culture where women and people of colour do not have an equal creative voice.”
In the letter, the writing partners note how only one of Pixar’s 20 films was co-directed by a woman (Brave) and one other was directed by a person of colour (The Good Dinosaur).
The studio wasn’t so different when Brenda Chapman was announced as the company’s first-ever female director in September 2010.
At the end of the Oscar-winning 2012 film Brave, Chapman is one of two people credited as director. But Chapman – who also wrote and conceived the flick – was removed from the film midway through production and replaced with Mark Andrews, who previously worked with Pixar on Ratatouille and The Incredibles.
Rumours swirled that Chapman left because of conflict with Pixar co-founder John Lasseter – who’s now accused of making unwanted advances toward employees – but she mostly stayed mum on the matter.
While hiring Chapman represented a huge leap forward for women in the industry, the film itself was also a milestone: Brave marked the first Pixar film to feature a female protagonist.
“Pixar released its first movie in 1995,” Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women And Hollywood said. “They released three Toy Story movies and two Cars movies before they got to a female protagonist. It took almost 20 years.”
Following Brave’s release in June 2012, Chapman penned an essay for the New York Times addressing her departure from the movie, with sentiments similar to those in Jones’ recent statement.
While she did not directly reference the studio, Chapman was open about her “heartbreak” at being taken off Brave.
“This was a story that I created, which came from a very personal place, as a woman and a mother,” she wrote. “To have it taken away and given to someone else, and a man at that, was truly distressing on so many levels.”
Chapman noted that her “vision” remained a part of the film, but she hasn’t returned to Pixar.
“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 wrote. “Until there is a sufficient number of women executives in high places, this will continue to happen.”
The award-winning director’s words still seem to hold true five years later.
Lasseter himself in 2015 acknowledged Pixar’s lack of representation and promised to feature more “Female and ethnic characters as protagonists,” The Guardian reported.
Around this time, Pixar’s competitor, Dreamworks, was enjoying box office success with Home – a quirky tale that follows a young black girl and her alien pal.
Pixar’s first project to feature a non-white lead was the short, Sanjay’s Super Team which was paired with the release of The Good Dinosaur in 2015. It’s followed by this fall’s Coco, which is the studio’s first feature-length film with a non-white protagonist.
Earlier this year, Pixar announced an all-Latina voice cast for the flick, and it even boasts Latino writer and co-director Adrian Molina. The director of Coco, however, is Ohio native Lee Unkrich – who has also worked on Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3.
The move follows an apparent trend in Pixar’s films. While movies such as Finding Dory, Inside Out and Brave feature female protagonists, the main people behind Pixar’s films are still typically white men.
Pixar – which could not be reached for comment – has not hired a female director since Chapman left the studio.
The studio’s lack of female leadership sends a message “that women are not visionaries like the men are,” Silverstein said. “We’ve been fed a diet that is mostly white and male,” she continued. “It’s about voice, it’s about vision, it’s validating female stories, and thinking they’re important, that they’re also universal.” – New York Daily News/Tribune News Service/ Jessica Schladebeck