Is Pixar Sexist? Anger as Studio Replaces Female Director on ‘Brave’

Is Pixar Sexist? Anger as Studio Replaces Female Director on 'Brave'

Animation insiders accuse Disney’s animation house of being sexist and – worse – formulaic, for firing the first woman director in its history

Pixar reaped a heap of anger Wednesday as the blogosphere accused Disney’s animation house of sexism — and worse, being formulaic — for firing Brenda Chapman, the first female director in its history, from “Brave,” a film she had written and nurtured through the development process.

For one thing, the animation industry is not known as a warm and fuzzy place for women.

And Hollywood overall? Women remain a fraction of the industry’s directors, just 7 percent according to the latest study –  the same ratio as a decade ago.

The Pixar news sent a particularly angry ripple through the blogosphere as the studio confirmed that Brenda Chapman (above) had been taken off the girl-centric film about an archer-princess.

Aggravating the situation, “Brave” will be Pixar's first film to star a female lead character, with Reese Witherspoon voicing the title role.

Mark Andrews, who earned an Oscar nomination for his Pixar short “One Man Band,” was tapped to take Chapman's place.

“This is really upsetting,” wrote one commenter called Killskerry on Cartoon Brew, the animation-news site that broke the news on Monday. “It’s so discouraging to see a lack of ladies in high up positions.”

Even Chapman’s colleagues inside Pixar were reported to be angry.

Drew McWeeny on Hitfix said a friend at the studio “talked about how upset many of his colleagues are, simply because they were hoping they were going to see Brenda's film. It's a real testament to her that it seems like this is the first one of these Pixar staff changes that has really upset other animators.”

See accompanying story, “Blogosphere Blasts Pixar Over ‘Brave’ Director's Exit.”

It's no wonder Chapman's firing has created such a flurry of protest. She was the first woman ever to direct an animated feature from a major studio — DreamWorks Animation's “The Prince of Egypt,” which she co-directed with Steve Hickner and Simon Wells in 1998.

She also worked in the story department on such animated classics as Disney's “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King” and joined DreamWorks Animation when the studio opened in 1994.

“It's unfortunate because Brenda Chapman would have been the first woman to direct a Pixar feature. As a result, this story will probably get a lot of attention but it is not all that unusual for studios to replace directors,” said Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. “However, I don't see this as a major event in the larger picture of women working behind-the-scenes in the film industry.”

Pixar was apparently proud enough of her hiring for “Brave’ that they even boasted about her at Annecy, the International Animated Film Festival.

Pixar and Disney executives did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Her colleagues, both at Disney and on her prior projects, have stepped up to defend her.

John Sanford, the co-writer/director of Disney's “Home on the Range,” wrote on Cartoon Brew: “Directing not her forte? Horses–t. Brenda was doing a great job. I saw the movie 2 years ago and it was awesome. Brenda was shoved aside because she was doing an unconventional movie in a studio that fears failure. They are second-guessing themselves to death.”

Mike Gabriel, the co-director of Disney's “Pocahontas,” wrote: “Brenda is a class act. A beautiful soul. A star talent in the industry who continues to inspire, more so in adversity than a smooth ride.”

Animation veteran Tom Sito added: “I worked with Brenda on ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘The Lion King’ and ‘The Prince of Egypt.’ In every project her creativity was only outshone by her engaging personality and poise. She is one of the finest artists working in animation today.”

As a studio that has not used a female director in any of its 11 releases, Pixar has been singled out for having a dubious reputation as a boys club. In addition to DreamWorks Animation, Sony Animation has employed women behind the camera, including Jill Culton on “Open Season.”

“Brave” features the voice of  Witherspoon as the “impetuous, tangle-haired“ Merida, who despite being the daughter of a king and queen, would prefer to make her mark as a great archer.

According to the studio’s summary:

“A clash of wills with her mother compels Merida to make a reckless choice, which unleashes unintended peril on her father’s kingdom and her mother’s life. Merida struggles with the unpredictable forces of nature, magic and a dark, ancient curse to set things right. Director Brenda Chapman and the storytelling wizards of Pixar conjure humor, fantasy and excitement in this rich Highland tale.”

The subject matter and the circumstance struck a lot of nerves.

“Gender matters,” wrote Kecky. “Yes, men and women are different. That’s precisely why it’s so important to have a balance between both perspectives, with equal respect given to each. Both movies and the movie industry are overrun with men. ‘Brave’ is also the first Pixar movie with a female main character, and personally, Chapman getting replaced by a man makes me worried that ‘Brave’ is going to get ‘Tangled ‘and made “more interesting to boys” as well.”



  • Sonya Shannon

    I just posted a blog on ten women animation pioneers who have influenced me. How ironic! Here is the link, it includes a letter from Walt Disney Studios telling a woman applicant that girls were not allowed to be creative…

  • CountSolo

    Given Pixar's track record of 11 masterpieces in a row and their knack for going against convention, there is one statement I can safely say: Pixar doesn't care about the numbers – they care about quality. With that said, they don't give a flying hoot if 0 of their films have been directed by women thus far, because they won't hire a woman to direct for the sake of hiring a woman to direct. They will do so when a good story has been found AND a director WHO HAPPENS to be female is the most qualified to helm a film based on that story – the same goes for men, but it just so happens that all of Pixar's films so far have been male-centric because… well…. Pixar's first employees just happened to be mostly males, and it just so happens that their most talented directors so far have been men. As a matter of fact, I think this just goes to show how much respect Pixar has for women. Who do you think shows more respect, the person that says, “Hey, let's hire her because I just noticed that none of our are women, and I don't want people to think we're sexist,” or the person that says, “Let's hire her because she'll succeed at this job”? The former comes across as self-centred, and only concerned with how others perceive him, showing no concern at all for the employee. The latter is the respectful one, as he is concerned not only of the company's well-being but of the female employee's success.

    Maybe in, say, the tourism industry where diversity DICTATES the quality, hiring a minority for the sake of hiring a minority is okay (and even that statement, I have some doubts about). But when it comes to this industry, quality is a better indication of respect and anti-discrimination than quantity. Unfortunately, because of the whole PC business, people tend to miss this point, which is a pity.

    • Chuck P.

      11 masterpieces???

      Cars is a masterpiece? Give me a break.

      The entirety of Wall-E a masterpiece? Live action humans mixed with unappealing fat baby humans in the lamest 2nd and 3rd acts they've ever done, and an overall ending that sucks? Pizza plants?

      Bug's Life? The only thing cool about that one was Hopper and Heimlich…

      Toy Story 3? Weakest of the three films…well done, but still the same old recycled ideas they explored in the first 2 films. Not a masterpiece. It's a reasonably decent follow up with a well done ending.

      Why throw a talented female director under the bus for the sake of the Pixar “brand”?

      So you love the studio brand more than the artists that made the films? That's like loving the Warner Bros. studios brand instead of the individual artists and directors they had like Stanley Kubrick.

      Isn't Pixar supposed to support their directors to make the best films possible rather than kick them off of their own personal films, which they've conceived.

      This situation makes Brenda sound incompetent as a director to meet the “Pixar standard”, and if you look at her track record she's obviously not incompetent. They should have tried harder to support her throughout the 5 year development process, rather than kick her off at the last minute, and then get a white man to direct it.

      Only white men of their inner circle, can survive the scrutiny of the white men of their inner circle. Even if it's not conscious sexism, it still can be considered sexist.

      They brought her in partly because they knew they needed diversity, not only for a different voice in their films, but for their public image as well. I find it hard to believe that her film was so terrible that she needed to be removed. They just wanted a “yes man” director to fit her film into their supposed quality mold.

      • CountSolo

        Yes, I do believe those films are masterpieces. That is just my opinion, and I respect the fact that you have a different one.

        Before moving on to my reply, I just want to say one thing: I am in no way suggesting that sexism FOR CERTAIN did not factor into Pixar's decision. I am merely suggesting that it very likely didn't, based on what I know about the company (which could be very little, but I feel I know about them enough that I could voice out my humble opinion).

        “Why throw a talented female director under the bus for the sake of the Pixar “brand”? ”

        I wasn't doubting Brenda Chapman's ability to direct. I was merely saying that, perhaps, for this PARTICULAR film, she was not the most qualified to direct (maybe because she couldn't figure out how to solve a particular problem much like Jan Pinkava experienced during the production of Ratatouille).

        “So you love the studio brand more than the artists that made the films?”

        Depends on how you define “love”. If you mean “love” in the sense of “loving the artistry”, then my answer is that I love neither of these. What I actually “love” is the quality of the films. So yes, Stanley Kubrick is an amazing director, and out of all his films I've seen, I haven't seen a single one that's bad (“2001” is one of the best films ever made in my opinion, and “Dr. Strangelove” is an absolute masterpiece in my opinion). But does this mean that Kubrick can't make mistakes? Not necessarily. When I say “I love Stanley Kubrick”, it means I love the fact that he's made so many films of great quality, not “I love every single thing Stanley has and ever will make because he's Stanley Kubrick”.

        “Isn't Pixar supposed to support their directors to make the best films possible rather than kick them off of their own personal films, which they've conceived.”

        Yes, they are supposed to support their directors, as should any other studio; perhaps, replacing her was the most viable option that could help them “make the best film possible”. The thing is, “support” is a commonly misunderstood term. If you have a friend who's doing something bad, does supporting him/her mean allowing him/her to continue what he or she is doing? No. It means telling him/her to stop before anything worse happens. A similar notion applies here. Pixar supports Brenda Chapman by letting her know what I believe is their honest opinion that she may be experiencing problems that she is terribly stuck on. You can argue that they could have just assigned a co-director to help her, and who knows, maybe this is another viable option that somehow slipped their minds. But there might have been other factors that we are not aware of.

        Also, you seem to indicate that Brenda would no longer receive any credit for getting replaced. The fact of the matter is, unless the whole concept gets scrapped, it's very likely that Brenda would still receive some kind of screenplay/story credit for conceiving the idea for the film.

        “This situation makes Brenda sound incompetent as a director to meet the “Pixar standard”"

        Again, nobody's doubting Brenda's abilities in general. It's just that for this SPECIFIC case, Brenda might not have been the best fit for the job. It could happen to anyone, male or female. It happened to Jan Pinkava. It happened to John Lasseter while he was at Disney. It could even happen to Stanley Kubrick if he were still around (may he rest in peace).

        By the way, some of the comments here seem to assume Brenda has been fired from Pixar….. According to the New York Times, she was only replaced as the director of ‘Brave', but she continues to work at Pixar to this day. It doesn't sound like there's much bitterness going on at Pixar in this case, if you ask me.

        • Chuck P.

          “I wasn't doubting Brenda Chapman's ability to direct. I was merely saying that, perhaps, for this PARTICULAR film, she was not the most qualified to direct ”

          She came up with the idea and wrote it. I think that makes her very much qualified and able to direct it.

          “What I actually “love” is the quality of the films.”

          You misunderstood me on this point. Do you think the Warner Bros. studio is responsible for the quality of Kubrick's films, or is Kubrick himself, the artist responsible? In the case of Pixar it seems you believe that the quality of the films comes mostly from the Pixar brand studio as opposed to the artists that made them. A great film studio can most certainly foster and support quality films, but in the end the artists are mostly responsible for the quality, not the studio. Brad Bird's, pre-Pixar, The Iron Giant which was made at Warner Bros. is a great example of that. A great animated film that wasn't made at Pixar or Disney.

          “Brenda might not have been the best fit for the job. ”

          Again, if you make a deal and bring someone in to pitch, create, write, and direct their own original film, at what has been branded as a director-driven studio, then that person by definition is right fit for the job because they created the concept and were hired to direct it, not just to develop the project for 5 years and hand it off.

          “It doesn't sound like there's much bitterness going on at Pixar in this case, if you ask me.”

          We'll just have wait and see. People are professionals, so there will probably be no bitter public statements made. I wouldn't be surprised however if Brenda ended up going to another feature animation studio, just like Jan Pinkava.

      • stevenapplebaum

        I'm sorry, but considering both box office gross and critical reception has been high for nearly every single Pixar film I would say that the general consensus is that those films are masterpieces. You may disagree that Wall-E and Toy Story 3 are good, but then again most of the world disagrees with you.

  • Rockabore

    Just thinking of how terrible that would be for her, to have her project she has been spearheading and nurturing through for a long time taken away from her. That is not right. Pixar should be ashamed of doing that, especially since Pixar caters to telling stories for and about males. It would have been really refreshing to see a Pixar film finally have a female lead character and not have her be a secondary character or sidekick or damsel.

  • Vincentjackson504

    thinging about her life a a animation direter

  • Daniels

      Sure, I'll just ‘get over’ the fact that Hollywood keeps telling me that I'll never be good enough to direct a movie. I'll just ‘get over’ that the vast majority of directors are male, the vast majority of movies are starring males, the vast majority of people working behind-the-scenes are male, and that I, a female, will only fit in depending on my boob size or the ability to keep my mouth shut and my mind closed.

    I'll also try to ‘get over’ the fact that this rare beacon of hope for anyone who's female and wants to work in animation or film is being snuffed out by men who feel emasculated and, like usual, believe their opinions are always top priority.

    It's a shame you weren't around when those uppity women were making a big stink about not being able to vote. Maybe then your thought process would've commanded respect, instead of coming off as vile, and, yes, sexist.

  • Whatever

    If it has nothing to do with gender, then why in the 20 years they've been established, has there never been a main, female lead until now?