The sexual harassment stories involving Uber and Harvey Weinstein have been shocking but, as watching the news shows, not at all unusual. This evening came word that John Lasseter, top animator at both Pixar and Disney Animation, is out the door on leave for what he called “missteps.”
As with so many other high profile cases coming on a seeming daily basis, what triggered an action was a news report of complaints. The Hollywood Reporter spoke with former Pixar employees and people in the animation community:
One longtime Pixar employee says Lasseter, who is well-known for hugging employees and others in the entertainment community, was also known by insiders for “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes.” Multiple sources say Lasseter is known to drink heavily at company social events such as premiere parties but this source says the behavior was not always confined to such settings.
Lasseter announced in a long memo that he “recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me” and that it is “never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them.”
His announced punishment is a “six-month sabbatical will give me the opportunity to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired, and ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve.”
Oh, please. This is one of the worst examples of explanation you can find. Lasseter needs to recharge and take better care of himself? “Insight and perspective” won’t do a damned bit of good. What insight do you need to know that you shouldn’t paw other people? That reportedly includes hitting on Rashida Jones, who left the Toy Story 4 project, which she was supposed to co-write.
In some companies, with people not so far up the food chain, such incidents might get an offender bounced harder and faster than a basketball in the last minutes of a tie game during the NCAA playoffs. Although given how much of this terrible behavior happens so broadly, I have to question whether that previous sentence is true.
What I am sure of, though, is just as sexual harassment is usually about exercising power, the toleration by companies is fueled by fear and desire. Other executives are afraid of the damage they personally might face by confronting sexual harassment and becoming considered an “enemy” of others in the industry. Companies, as a whole, want to benefit from power brokers and rainmakers as long as possible.
Lasseter is a brilliant creative who was behind Pixar’s revival from Toy Story on and who is also largely responsible for some Disney hits like Frozen. Companies don’t want to kill the golden goose.
Only, the delay has hurt both Pixar and Disney badly. Both brands depend on an association with children and families. How does a company explain to parents that despite apparent misconduct over an extended period of time, Lasseter remained in his position? That the person responsible for what their kids see also inspired a maneuver called the “head turn” so when he came in to give a woman a kiss, it would land on the cheek?
The movies coming out of both companies will likely remain popular. So will the theme parks. But there’s now tarnish on the logos and should Lasseter return after a six-month time out, the stain will only worsen.
Companies need to learn that people who are grossly overreaching in their enjoyment of power aren’t the only ones in the world who can be useful. It only takes some familiarity with the world to know there are great animators and writers and producers who could do amazing work. Women and men who often don’t get the big chance because they don’t have the outward swagger too often seen as a sign of leadership.
Time to forget those old clichés. Look hard and wide for talent. Nurture it. Recognize that it may well come in forms you’re not expecting. Kick the predators out and you’ll be amazed at how talent and drive will bloom.