Courtesy of Pixar Studios

Courtesy of Pixar Studios

January 22, 2018

GOULDTHORPE | Idols with Feet of Clay: #MeToo and John Lasseter

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It’s been three months since The New York Times released its bombshell story about Harvey Weinstein. Since then, more and more sexual offenders have been brought to light, and the entertainment industry has been rocked to its core. I can’t even begin to name all the actors, producers and so on who have had allegations come to light against them. It’s become a huge movement, but has sparked some backlash too. So I figured I would put my own voice out there, focusing on one case that hit close to me and my field: John Lasseter.

For those not aware, John Lasseter has been heralded almost like a second Walt Disney. He was a co-founder of Pixar Animation, and has been the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation and DisneyToons Animation. Movies like Toy Story, Tangled, Frozen, Inside Out, Zootopia and Moana all bear his name in the credits. He also advises Walt Disney Imagineering, which helps construct the Disney parks and resorts. I emphasize his achievements and influence here to build the gravity of the entire situation.

Last November, Lasseter issued a memo to announce that he would be taking six months away from the company. He remarked that “I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations,” and that “I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable.” He further said that he apologized to anyone “who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line.”

The Hollywood Reporter released a story the same day, featuring comments from Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. They left the company because of “a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.” Other sources from within the company claim that Lasseter would make crass comments, and kiss others without asking. One person says they saw Lasseter keep his hand on a woman’s knee uninvited, moving it around. Apparently female staff had to invent a move called “the Lasseter” to keep such actions from happening. They even had to crop publicity photos because of where he had put his hands!

As I read about the allegations against Lasseter, I felt horrified. I looked up to John Lasseter for years. I wanted to be like him: to tell stories like the ones he told. Even in high school I would write reports about how he founded Pixar alongside Ed Catmull. I had built him into an idol to emulate and follow — and that all came crashing down.

To be sure, people are innocent until proven guilty, and allegations are indeed simply allegations. But, they were apparently allegations with enough weight and grounding for him to step down. An innocent man would not have done the things he did. One employee said it best in a response to Lasseter’s memo: “To sum this up as unwanted hugs is belittling and demeaning. If it was just unwanted hugs, he wouldn’t be stepping down.” It felt sufficient for me to conclude that this man that I had aspired to follow was, in fact, guilty of what he’d been accused of. And that hurt.

It’s something that many people are feeling lately. Many beloved actors, directors and producers have found themselves exposed to accusations of abuse and harassment. It can feel like a betrayal — a lie to their fans. Some may even refuse to accept evidence, no matter how sturdy, and defend them against any kind of retribution.

However, we can never let an attachment to one person outweigh our desire for justice. I cannot lie and say that I didn’t feel some pain at Lasseter’s misdeeds coming to light. That is on me though, for holding up a human as an idealized role model. Every actor, director and producer is a human capable of error and capable of crimes. Part of being human also means they are not above reproach and discipline, and anyone who does anything as horrendously invasive as sexual assault deserves to be disciplined.

Let me make something perfectly clear here: These fine women at Pixar have brought to life not only some of the best animated movies, but some of the best movies ever made. The care, the artistry they put into every frame is unparalleled. I feel nothing but immense pride and profound gratitude for their work, and as a former Disney Cast Member I even feel a certain kinship with them. To hear that they had to undergo such terrible conditions, to read that they were treated so poorly, angers me. They, along with everyone, deserve to feel safe and respected at work.

That’s why I feel thankful for the #MeToo movement. There are fears that it is leading to something like a witch hunt but I’ve yet to see any false claims that have done serious damage. Instead, it has given power to people to stand up to injustices like Lasseter’s. It is saying “abuse and harassment are not okay,” a statement that needs to ring in every studio, every workplace, every government capital. It is a movement that rejects power and influence in favor of respect and justice. It approaches our false idols and exposes their feet of clay, and at the sight, they crumble to make room for the values we should hold dearly instead.

David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at dgouldthorpe@cornellsun.com. Animation Analysis runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.