Former Pixar employee details how the company’s rampant sexism went far beyond John Lasseter

Former Pixar employee details how the company’s rampant sexism went far beyond John Lasseter

June 28, 2018 0 By Nazmul Khan

When John Lasseter, Pixar’s former chief creative officer, left the esteemed animation studio in early June 2018, the public word on his transgressions were vague. Lasseter reportedly had “missteps” that made some people feel “disrespected and uncomfortable.” Today, a former Pixar employee has detailed how things at Pixar have been, and it’s much worse than Pixar had previously disclosed.

In a guest column for Variety, edited from a much lengthier original post on the Be Yourself vertical at Medium, graphic designer Cassandra Smolcic — who spent her late twenties at Pixar, from 2009 to 2014 — levels specific accusations about Lasseter and other men at the company. From the onset, she claims she was warned about the behavior Lasseter and other Pixar leaders displayed around women. It was bad enough that she says that she was banned from the weekly art meetings on the film she was assigned to because a superior told her that the COO “‘has a hard time controlling himself’ around young women.” Smolcic reportedly experienced this firsthand with Lasseter, who she says made a number of unwanted advances toward female staff.

“He would give me, and countless other women, lecherous up-and-down looks (or unwanted hugs and touches) almost every time we crossed his path on campus,” she writes. “The entire Pixar workforce witnessed the sleazy spin that John brought to Pixar’s Halloween bash. If he found a woman attractive when she got on stage, he’d ask her to spin around while he made suggestive comments, turning the event into yet another lewd spectacle.”

Smolcic’s descriptions of her personal experiences line up with The Hollywood Reporter’s investigation on Pixar, which stated Lasseter was well-known for “grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes.”

As the leadership at the studio violated their employees’ boundaries, Smolcic says it created a feeling that such behavior was acceptable for the wider staff. She describes a culture where women were regularly groped, a company-wide meeting where a director compared his latest film to “a big-titted blond who was difficult to nail down,” and an open environment of preferential treatment for men, who were given resources and opportunities not available to women.

“A female lead in my department once begged her male bosses to support her with a team to complete a challenging production project,” Smolcic writes. “Her male superiors repeatedly ignored her requests, until the stress of the job led her into a state of psychological and physical breakdown. When she went into sabbatical to recover, her male replacement was given a team of half a dozen artists to help him complete the same task.” Similarly, she describes a performance review where she was accused of “trying too hard,” “asking too many questions,” and other things a male mentor said would be considered positives at Pixar, “if you were a man.”

Smolcic says women at Pixar came together in solidarity, exchanging tips and support, but that any attempts to complain to management were ignored. “Many of us kept silent about these disheartening experiences, because we understood that the price for speaking out was high,” she wrote. “We’d witnessed the fallout for women who questioned male leads — who were branded ‘difficult,’ had a hard time getting cast on subsequent projects, and were even laid off or demoted.”

Smolcic’s longer original essay goes into far more detail about specific encounters she had at Pixar, including with an employee who grabbed and slapped her ass at an employee-run bar, and a supervisor who openly leered at her throughout her tenure, and looked her up and down, telling her “I’m reaallllly gonna miss the view,” when she gave notice. She also notes the negative reputations specific women in leadership positions got via the company “whisper network,” and contrasts those reputations with her actual experience with those leaders. Original Brave director Brenda Chapman, who was billed as Pixar’s first female director, but eventually pushed off the film in favor of a man, gets particular attention: Smolcic describes how Chapman was publicly dismissed as “indecisive, unconfident and ineffective,” which her team fervently denies. Smolcic also addresses Rashida Jones’ departure from the Toy Story 4 writing staff over inequality at Pixar, and how one co-worker dismissed Jones based on her looks and habit of showing up to work “with no makeup and her hair pulled back.”

Smolcic says eventually, the inequality at Pixar broke her down, and she had to leave. She also acknowledges that while Lasseter has already stepped down and Frozen director Jennifer Lee took his place, the studio must do more to undo Lasseter’s wider legacy.

“Disney and Pixar must recognize that women and underrepresented minorities are just as capable, talented, complex, and dimensional as the white fraternity of men who have monopolized animation thus far,” she wrote. “Female narratives are worthy of world-class storytellers, and women deserve to be treated as respected equals in any creative community.”

Pixar did not respond to a request for comment by The Verge.

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