Backlash brews over John Lasseter's big new Hollywood job

Ben Arnold
John Lasseter (Credit: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

A backlash is brewing following news that former Pixar head John Lasseter has been given a new job, heading indie studio Skydance’s animation arm.

Lasseter, who directed Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and produced movies like Frozen and Finding Dory, took an extended sabbatical from Pixar last year, following multiple accusations of sexually improper behaviour over his long tenure at the award-winning animation house. Lasseter officially left Disney on 31 December, 2018 after serving briefly in a reduced role as consultant.

In extensive reporting from the likes of The Hollywood Reporter, a pattern of alleged behaviour towards women on his staff emerged, including ‘grabbing, kissing, and making comments about physical attributes’.

Others said that Pixar was ‘never a welcoming environment for women’, and that Lasseter would often drink heavily at company events and movie premieres.

Lasseter stepped away from the company, of which he was among the founders, and which is owned by Disney, last summer.

In a memo to staff, which was later leaked to The New York Times, he admitted to ‘missteps’.

“I especially want to apologise to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape or form,” he said. “No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.”

David Ellison (Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SXSW)

In a letter to employees, Skydance CEO David Ellison, who has been behind movies from World War Z to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, said that the decision to appoint Lasseter had ‘not been entered into lightly’.

“I know many of you are aware of John’s admitted mistakes in his prior role helming those studios,” he said.

“John has been forthright in taking ownership of his behaviour, apologised for his actions and has spent the past year on sabbatical analysing and improving his workplace behaviour.

“We employed outside counsel to thoroughly investigate the allegations, which we considered serious and have warranted our full attention as we made this important decision. The senior leadership team and I have all carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation.

“While we would never minimise anyone’s subjective views on behaviour, we are confident after many substantive conversations with John, and as the investigation has affirmed, that his mistakes have been recognised.

“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.”

The decision has received swift and harsh criticism.

A statement from the Time’s Up campaign said: “Skydance Media’s decision to hire John Lasseter as head of animation endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”

Melissa Silverstein, the founder of advocacy group Women and Hollywood, added: “This is a horrible message to the women at Pixar who stood up and told their truths about their experiences.

“This is also a message to all that the bro culture is alive and well and thriving in Hollywood.

“David Ellison should be ashamed of himself.”

When the news of the allegations against Lasseter emerged last Spring, one former employee told THR: “If John goes back [to Pixar], it will kill women in animation. The message will be so clear: Shut up and take it.”

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