If you recall, John Lasseter, impresario of Pixar, left Pixar last year amid allegations of inappropriate conduct with female staff. He got an exceptionally kind and gentle send off from Disney, being given months to ease out the door, golden parachute dragging behind him. He was almost immediately snapped up by David Ellison’s Skydance Animation, to do for that fledgling company what he once did for Pixar. Well, might be a bit harder this time. Not only are the women of Skydance questioning why they should have to put up with a serial harasser as their boss, but Emma Thompson, who was to provide a voice for the upcoming animated movie Luck, flat-out quit because of him.
She actually quit a few weeks ago, in January, which The Hollywood Reporter revealed last week. Now, in an open letter, Thompson details her reasons for leaving a project called Luck. She outlines a series of questions about working with Lasseter, including:
• If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave “professionally”?
• …The message seems to be, “I am learning to feel respect for women so please be patient while I work on it. It’s not easy.”
• …he is presumably being paid millions of dollars to receive [a] second chance. How much money are the employees at Skydance being paid to GIVE him that second chance?
That last one is sharply pointed, and Thompson repeats the sentiment more than once, that Lasseter is being rewarded to try again with millions and an executive role, while the workaday women of Skydance Animation really don’t have an option other than “quit”, which for most of them, isn’t an option at all. It IS an option for Emma Thompson, who has the resources to support herself between jobs, and who will certainly have no trouble booking work in lieu of Luck. But animation is a small world, and there are only so many jobs to go around. If you leave Skydance Animation, there is no guarantee you find comparable work elsewhere.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and worrying about The Men and what will happen to their precious careers once they’ve been tarnished by being held accountable for their own sh-tty behavior. Emma Thompson gets at why that thinking is entirely backwards. Almost every man who has experienced a reckoning in the last eighteen months is currently on the comeback trail. The only ones who are completely out of the industry are about to go on trial. The rest of them have paths back to work. What Thompson is challenging is what that path should look like.
Women are expected to tolerate John Lasseter’s second chance with nothing more than a managerial assurance that he’s on his best behavior now. (One thing David Ellison’s assurances never addressed are if the women of Skydance Animation must also fear that their careers will be stifled—Lasseter wasn’t just harassing women, he fostered a culture that stunted women’s careers.) It’s like being told to play nice with the playground bully—as soon as the teacher turns her back, you know you’re in for it. And why SHOULD it be the women’s responsibility to tolerate Lasseter? Why isn’t it on him to EARN their trust?
This is the whole problem—everything is still being centered on the men doing wrong, and not the women wronged. I’m not saying these men should be stripped of their ability to make a living. But I do think they should have to work harder than “I pinky-swear not to harass you” to re-establish themselves professionally. John Lasseter left one studio’s C suite for another studio’s C suite. He experienced no real consequence except a little public embarrassment. Maybe he should have had to work a little harder for it, maybe he shouldn’t have walked right into another executive role BEFORE demonstrating he actually can work with women without harassing and undermining them.
Emma Thompson is the first person to deliver a professional consequence to John Lasseter. Even his dismissal from Disney included flowery farewells and thank-yous, less of a firing and more of a retirement. But now here is a famous woman quitting a project and specifically calling out Lasseter as her reason for doing so. She is the first person to say, “I can’t work with him,” and have the ability to do something about it. The question is, will she be the only one? Will more famous women follow in her footsteps, refusing to work with Lasseter, or any other man currently enjoying an unearned second chance? Second chances usually follow forgiveness, but few of these guys are doing anything to earn that forgiveness. They’re just going straight to the part where we’re supposed to be okay with working with them again. Emma Thompson is asking the right question—what if we don’t want to give him a second chance?