Pixar Animation Studios may be the most influential animation outfit in the world, but recently, it’s developed a serious reputation problem. Earlier this year, a detailed insider report from a former employee explored the studio’s rigid culture of sexism, which systematically kept women away from advancement or leadership positions while protecting men who harassed or abused them. Meanwhile, chief creative officer John Lasseter was ousted from Disney after it surfaced that he’d been known for “grabbing, kissing and making comments about physical attributes of women,” as The Hollywood Reporter wrote this year.
The move to replace Lasseter with new leadership has come alongside a number of other moves toward more storytelling diversity at Pixar, some championed by Lasseter himself. In 2015, the studio released the short Sanjay’s Super Team, a heartwarming tale about a child connecting with his father’s faith. That short was made by Pixar’s first director of color, Sanjay Patel. Now, as Deadline reported today, the studio is getting its second feature from a woman director — from Domee Shi, director of the sensational Pixar animated short Bao, which debuted this year and ran ahead of Incredibles 2. (Shi’s Bao was the first Pixar short directed by a woman.) “We’re just developing the story for it right now,” Shi told Deadline. “It’s super early on, but I’m really excited to play in this new 90-minute film format.”
It’s no surprise that it’s taken this long for Pixar’s culture to change. Brenda Chapman, co-director of 2012’s Brave and the first woman hired as a Pixar director, was taken off her film before it reached theaters. “When Pixar took me off of Brave — a story that came from my heart, inspired by my relationship with my daughter — it was devastating,” Chapman wrote in The New York Times the year the film came out. “To have it taken away and given to someone else, and a man at that, was truly distressing on so many levels.”
The film industry has been undergoing its own reckoning, as a wave of powerful men have been pushed from positions at the top of the industry, in the wake of a wave of revelations about sexual misconduct. The dynamics are changing; the structures of power, too. Shi — who’s worked at Pixar since she was an intern in 2011, and has contributed to films like Inside Out and Toy Story 4 — is evidence of that change, too.