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.”