Even though Disney is removing John Lasseter from Pixar it appears as though the problem runs much, much deeper than just one man's sexual misconduct, harassment and inappropriate behavior. Former Pixar graphic designer Cassandra Smolcic recently penned a lengthy, revealing and distressing personal essay about her time spent with the animation studio. She later adapted the essay into a shorter column for Variety. The #MeToo and Time's Up movements that came in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal have done a lot to spread awareness and make change, but this essay makes it clear the industry has a long way to go. Smolcic paints a picture of Pixar that is systematically a sexist environment that doesn't value the work of women nearly as highly as it does the work of men.
"I know people are saying that the climate there wasn't 'that bad.' I'm here to tell you that it was, and more than likely still is. At Pixar, my female-ness was an undeniable impediment to my value, professional mobility, and sense of security within the company. The stress of working amidst such a blatantly sexist atmosphere took its toll, and was a major factor in forcing me out of the industry."
Cassandra Smolcic's 12,500-word essay is jam-packed with disturbing accounts of her time spent at Pixar. Her credits include projects like Monster's Inc., Cars 2, Toy Story 3 and Brave. She worked at the studio from 2009 to 2014 but eventually departed after being harassed, objectified and ultimately having her work undervalued. She states in the essay that she was removed from Cars 2 because John Lasseter couldn't control himself around her. "It was clear that the institution was working hard to protect him at the expense of women like me," she says of Lasseter. Smolcic said she was warned by multiple employees about Lasseter's behavior and she also warns of another "particularly chauvinistic male lead" that she doesn't name, but was told to steer clear of.
"Over the next five years, I white-knuckled my way through many unwelcome, objectifying interactions with him, with Lasseter, and with other men; was physically groped by another male coworker; and was sidelined from projects by the unofficial boys' club casting system."
The essay details alleged occurrence after occurrence of terribly inappropriate behavior and sexism. John Lasseter would often use holiday parties as an opportunity to misbehave. An unnamed director, at one point, compared a movie to "a big-titted blond who was difficult to nail down." She also details an incident where an unnamed coworker "smacked and then grabbed my ass with a considerable amount of force." There are also details of an unnamed Eastern European production designer who has been at Pixar for years despite many complaints from women at the company.
"He goes on rants all the time about how he thinks American women are revolting, unattractive and sloppy in comparison to the beautiful creatures from his part of the world...But trust me, that won't stop him from hitting on you."
John Lasseter is the man who essentially built Pixar from the ground up and Disney has always valued him as a visionary. In November 2017, sexual harassment allegations from multiple people who worked with him over the years were made public. Lasseter took a sabbatical and it was later decided that he would leave Pixar at the end of this year. He is currently serving as a consultant till the end of 2018 and no longer has an office at the studio. Even though he's departing, the decision to keep him on for the remainder of the year, and the lack of directly condemning the alleged behavior, has been subject to a great deal of criticism. As Smolcic puts it, Disney and Pixar will need to do a lot more than to replace one executive.
"[D]ismantling John's legacy will take more than just replacing a single executive or releasing an article about the female contributions to a given film. Such deeply ingrained biases require deliberate, conscientious effort to identify and dismantle."
Disney recently named Peter Docter, director of Monster's Inc. and Inside Out, as the new chief creative officer of Pixar. Jennifer Lee, co-director of Frozen, has been named chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. The company is trying to change but this essay reveals a far more complex problem. Hopefully, this is just a sign of larger changes to come. You can read Cassandra Smolcic's full essay at Be Yourself.