Last night, it was revealed that John Lasseter, the former chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, had been hired as the new head of Skydance Animation. The studio will be a new division of Skydance Media, the production company behind films like Annihilation and Mission: Impossible - Fallout, founded by David Ellison. This news comes shortly after Lasseter left Disney following workplace misconduct allegations made in the aftermath of #MeToo. Disney never technically fired Lasseter and instead put him on sabbatical until his contract expired. Lasseter apologized for his ‘missteps’, but many in the animation industry remain shocked and disappointed by Skydance’s decision.
According to Variety, Lasseter’s contract with Skydance contains ‘ironclad’ provisions that ‘require the executive to not only pay for legal issues arising from future misbehavior, but also indemnify Skydance from any past misdeeds that had not come to light in the due diligence process conducted by an outside law firm.’ The contract also allegedly makes Lasseter solely responsible for any such claims if they are made, and that if he has been found to have lied to the lawyers who investigated the claims, he will be fired. The contract is also highly beneficial for Lasseter, including a seven-figure salary and performance incentives tied to box office successes of any movie he produces.
Skydance CEO David Ellison sent a memo to staff to explain his decision, which can be read in full here, but here are a few highlights:
‘First, no one can dispute John’s legacy building Pixar and Walt Disney Animation into the leadership position they now enjoy. His creative vision and forward-looking approach to animation has transformed the entire industry. At his heart, John is a storyteller — with a unique ability to tell beautiful and emotionally-driven tales that resonate and inspire audiences around the globe […] John has been forthright in taking ownership of his behavior, apologized for his actions and has spent the past year on sabbatical analyzing and improving his workplace behavior […] Let me be clear: we have not entered into this decision lightly (emphasis by Ellison) […] We are certain that John has learned valuable lessons and is ready to prove his capabilities as a leader and a colleague. And he has given his assurance that he will comport himself in a wholly professional manner that is the expectation of every Skydance colleague and partner.’
As noted by fellow Overlord Kristy, how does one learn valuable lesson and improve on one’s workplace behaviour when they’ve been on sabbatical for a year?
This statement has done little to alleviate the very real concerns of an industry that is still dealing with the ramifications of the post-Weinstein era. As noted in the statement from Time’s Up regarding the hiring, this decision ‘endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.’
Many women in animation have been sharing stories on Twitter and discussing their disappointment with this decision. As noted by the statement from Women & Film Los Angeles, ‘We do think that people can learn and change, and we look forward to men who model this, but true reparation requires transparency.’ And there has been none of that regarding Skydance’s investigation.
This is disappointing, to say the least. Once again, true contrition is abandoned in favour of elevating the accused back to their most powerful level. Animation is a tough business, one that’s notoriously difficult for women, and to have this amazing new opportunity for animators be tainted by Lasseter’s involvement is unfair to so many people. And I know there are plenty of people who still think Lasseter ‘didn’t do anything that bad’ but he created a culture of fear and distrust at one of the entertainment industry’s most beloved and powerful institutions, and he did so while maintaining the cuddly favourite uncle demeanour. Pixar, a place that made so many beautiful films loved by millions, was a place where women were openly and systematically sidelined, harassed and discarded, and at the top of the pile was a man with wandering hands. In June 2018, Cassandra Smolcic wrote a piece for Variety on how her time at Pixar was mired in misogyny, Lasseter’s inability to control himself around women, and how that led to female colleagues being shut out of meetings. Smolcic notes how women who talked back or questioned this environment were branded ‘difficult’ and demoted or even fired. Lasseter helped to stoke those fires.
And now he has a fresh new opportunity to do so again, and Skydance have decided it’s okay because they’ve protected their own asses with contractual obligations. This won’t save them. You can’t change the system or truly tackle industry-wide misogyny by empowering the same people who poisoned the well in the first place.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.