women_featureanimation women_featureanimation
Feature FilmIdeas/Commentary

2015 Marks 2nd Straight Year Without A Woman-Directed Animation Feature

Last week the Directors Guild of America released its first-ever Feature Film Diversity Report, a distressingly comprehensive study about the absence of women and minorities in Hollywood’s directing ranks.

The DGA study found that during 2013 and 2014, just 6.4% of Hollywood film directors were women. Even more damning, just 3% of Hollywood productions that earned more than $10 million in box office were directed by women.

As 2015 draws to a close, I thought it might be useful to compare broader Hollywood to our little corner of the movie business. Surely, animation can’t be anywhere near as exclusionary as the live-action world, right? Well, it turns out we’re even worse.

I looked at films that have been released in 100-plus theaters, a benchmark that allows for the inclusion of non-major releases as well. In 2015, 11 films received such releases, and all 15 directors (some films had multiple directors) were male. I went back another year to 2014 when 13 films were released in 100-plus U.S. theaters. Again, every single one of the 18 directors was male.

That’s a continuous streak of 24 animated films and 33 directors who have been 100% male. For the last mainstream American animated feature that was directed by a woman, you have to go back all the way to November 2013 when Disney released Frozen. Jennifer Lee co-directed that film with Chris Buck, and it went on to set an animation record for worldwide box-office gross.

The gender imbalance in Hollywood, in the words of New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis, “has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women,” a situation that she describes as “immoral, maybe illegal.” She’s not exaggerating about the illegal part either: the domination of male directors in Hollywood is so persistent and overwhelming that the U.S. government recently launched a federal civil rights investigation into the matter.

On the animation front, the situation won’t improve in the short term. True, DreamWorks’ next film, Kung Fu Panda 3, is co-directed by Jennifer Yuh, and DreamWorks (more than any other studio) deserves credit for pushing diversity in its directorial ranks. On the other hand, Disney will release Moana in 2016, a film starring a teenage princess, which is directed by two men who will soon be eligible for Social Security.

Moana’s directors, John Musker and Ron Clements, are both gentlemen who are worthy of respect and admiration, and if Disney greenlights their projects, more power to them. The problem, I want to be clear, isn’t with them at all, but the question has to be asked of the Disney studio execs who greenlit Moana: In this enlightened moment in American history, how can any studio justify the near-exclusive hiring of middle-aged men to tell intimate stories about the lives and experiences of young women?

No less than Frozen’s own Jennifer Lee recently criticized the naive portrayals of women in contemporary Hollywood. “I’ve gotten into watching old movies on TCM, and what kills me is the female characters are fantastic, complicated, messy, and they aren’t oversexualized, and I love them,” she told the New York Times. “So the shift is maybe that boys will go to movies starring women if they are drawn realistically as characters — powerful and strong and messy and dynamic and all the other things that make a great character.”

Last year Meryl Streep made waves throughout Hollywood by bashing Walt Disney as a “gender-bigot.” What she failed to acknowledge is that 75 years later, the American animation industry, in spite of tremendous growth, remains as segregated and sexist as before. The animated feature output of 2015 reflects that unfortunate reality.

(Photo-illustration: Shutterstock.com/Everett Collection)

  • Renard N. Bansale

    The interesting thing about what Ms. Lee said about how the women in Hays Code-era Hollywood films portrayed fantastic and exciting occupations in real life is that the reason why that was so was because of censorship. Since it was necessary for films to avoid sexy love scenes (even married couples had to have twin beds and a foot on the floor), male-dominated Hollywood was forced to make female characters interesting by giving them great real-life jobs like judges and journalists.

    Hollywood, chances are, will always be male-dominated. But since we have such society in which liberal sexual liberties are becoming more and more the norm, enshrined in law even, the male-dominated Hollywood will see it fit to keep women in the bedroom, over-sexualizing them, and objectifying them. And the women who actually have power in the industry or even just making indie stuff aren’t making better films for themselves, but resorting to imitate what male-dominated Hollywood creates and presuming that embracing male-dom’s obsession with girls and sex gives them power. Doing so doesn’t make them better women that can inspire better men, it just results in more bad men and women who imitate them, hopelessly thinking that that is the solution.

    (Don’t believe me? Read what Hollywood actress Shirley MacLaine said in an interview: http://the-last-crusade.tumblr.com/post/88210347115/clockworkgate-biscuitsarenice-we-cant-get)

  • Matt

    The ol’ politically correct (yet untrue) article. This non issue is getting old. Having worked in feature animation since 1996 and nowadays in pre visualization I have never heard or seen anyone being discriminated against for anything other than being an idiot or difficult to work with and sometimes even those two things people get a free pass on. People need to stop jumping on the bandwagon and start thinking for themselves. Articles like this (which also seem to appear frequently on the TAG blog) are just untrue.

  • he specifically says “John Musker and Ron Clements, are both gentlemen who are worthy of respect and admiration…..I want to be clear, isn’t with them at all” and saying someone is eligible for social security is not bad mouthing them :/

  • Seamus

    This article makes me think of that scene in the tv-show Silicon Valley :
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dek5HtNdIHY

    Just replace “engineer” with “artist” or “director”.

  • jawsnnn

    I agree with the concern, but it strikes me as a strange argument that movies about female characters have to be directed by female directors. As an artist, that is one of the most horrifying restrictions to be subjected to. Are middle aged white directors in Hollywood to be constrained to directing films about middle aged white men? What about creative freedom?

    The problem is representation behind the screens. To muddle it with themes of films is dangerous and incorrect. Let’s not forget, some of the best female characters in animation films come from the mind of an old japanese male director – Hayao Miyazaki.

    • AmidAmidi

      No one ever suggested your straw-man argument that movies with female characters have to be directed by female directors. The suggestion was that after 80 years of making theatrical animated features, with all but 1 directed by a man, it takes a lot of gall to assign a uniquely feminine character to male directors while simultaneously continuing to deny women the same opportunities.

      • Steve

        Problem is, you have it backwards. No one “assigned” Moana to Ron and John. Ron and John developed and pitched a story about a girl named Moana TO the studio, and the first thing they did was assign a woman producer upon greenlighting it.

        • AmidAmidi

          Perfectly aware of that and that’s why the article is written the way it is.

      • jawsnnn

        I think you need to figure out what straw-man arguments mean. Your suggestion is literally “Give female characters to female directors because they are female” – which is flawed. It should be “Give more work to female directors”.

  • Lexie

    Before we make knee jerk reactionary accusations of “sexism”, “racism” and “bigotry”, I would like to hear the side of the people who green light projects. I would like to know how many women are actually pitching stories and how many have the experience to be a director. There are plenty women in the industry but it seems to me that many stick to the production roles rather than directing a project. I would like to see a survey asking women in the industry what their overall objectives are. Let’s ask them directly and get actual opinions so that maybe we can move forward rather than chanting, “sexism!” as if that will solve any perceived issue. Have we already ruled out other factors?

    On the topic of middle aged men telling stories about young women. So directors need only direct projects where the characters reflect their sex and or race and or culture. I’m sorry but that propagates segregation which is ironically what we’re supposed to be against. Two middle aged males created Avatar The Last Airbender filled with a wide range of great characters. I’m surprised they haven’t been shamed for, “cultural appropriation,” on that show. Though I’m sure certain sects of the arts industry would have no trouble espousing such things along with the misguided male shaming.

    I need empirical evidence if I’m going to entertain the notion that the industry is
    working against me just because of my genitalia. Maybe that’s just my, “internalized misogyny,” as feminists will claim. In any case, Less focus on pointing out people’s biological characteristics and making general accusations, more motivating people to create.

  • An Artist

    I don’t care what reproductive organs you possess or how old you are or if your skin is blue, purple, or green.

    I just want to see a great animated feature made by animators based on talent not politically correct assumptions.

    If there is a suppression of women wanting to be directors judged solely on their organs and not their talent then it should be addressed and stopped but I am tired of these articles that give percentages with no reasons other than “all men are pigs”. Where are the testimonies of the women in these articles? Why is it always complaining about no women directors and not acknowledging that there are way more artist positions besides director?

    There has been more men in animation than women in animation for a long time up until now. There are a lot more women getting into animation schools now than ever before. I have no doubt we will see a female directing a film within some years but why is this such a big deal unless there really is underhanded movements to stop women from directing?

    If so how did Jennifer Yuh and Jennifer Lee get through? Are the studios only allowing women with the name Jennifer to direct movies?

    If you think about the percentage of men to women in the industry, whereas there are still more men currently than women. Even if you put every employee’s name at a whole studio in a bag and pulled at random you’d still be more likely to pick a guy’s name than a girl’s. Not to mention, they typically don’t let you be a director without experience at the studio over the course of years, whether you are a man or woman. So simply based on the numbers we won’t see many female directors until those female animation students graduate and get experience.

    My problem with these articles is they aren’t giving any real reasons to why there might be this lack in female directors…and they continue on to make it seem like it is something underhanded without anything to back it up. Back it up and I will take this seriously. Focus on something that actually happened to a woman being told she couldn’t direct solely based on her gender and I will take this seriously.

    Just whining that there aren’t enough female directors ironically just perpetuates sexism. You’re trying to pressure studios into promoting female artists to directors based solely on their gender and not their talent.

    As an artist, I don’t want to be seen as a statistic based on my gender. I want to be seen for the art I can create and it’s value.

    I am an artist, a term that does not denote a specific gender you might notice, and that is how I would like to be seen. Not as male or female number in a politically correct game.

  • babananas

    Oh my god, the comments are just terrible and scary. Any article mentioning stats of inequality makes misogynists shout and get defensive.

    “I DONT SEE GENDER OR RACE! I SEE HUMANS. 90% OF DIRECTORS ARE WHITE MALES LIKE ME FOR NO SPECIAL REASON”
    Of course no ones gonna tell a woman that she cant direct JUST because she’s a woman, you idiots, there are just silent biases and less chances offered to them.

    Thank you for these (very needed) articles, CB. Don’t let these comments from horrible, horrible people discourage you. <3

    • AmidAmidi

      There is no clearer illustration of the problem than some of these comments, which is why I find them a valuable part of the discussion.

      • Kit

        Thank you Amid.

      • Aristocrat

        So, as far as you’re concerned, anyone who does not agree with you is regarded as proof of how right you are no matter what?

        • It’s more along the lines that, for every article about feminism/equal rights that exists and gets disparaging comments further proves the need for these types of articles, and that there is a problem in need of awareness and solutions.

          You tend to see a more volatile version of this in the video game industry (in my opinion, at least), where women will write think pieces not even necessarily about this topic–about something unrelated–only for people to call her inappropriate names or worse, or attack the movement for equality as a whole. Those very comments lambasting these articles create a cycle justifying their existence.

          In a perfect world, the presence of more women, minorities, LGBT+, etc. would become so commonplace that it would be normalized in our society thus spawning fewer think pieces and reports about stunted progress. We wouldn’t bat an eye at a black woman helming a Pixar film or a Latino boy being cast as Spider-Man, because all of the milestones and ‘firsts’ will have happened ages ago.

    • We get it…

      Your comment isn’t any better. You and Amid harp on statistics and ask questions without doing the research. We know the industry is skewed towards men, but why? As a journalist, Amid should actually go through lengths to finding out reasons why rather than just pointing it out over and over again, using the same numbers he always does, then asking why why why. I don’t know Amid, you tell me, you’re the one who should be enlightening us. If anything, I get more information from the comments, especially Dante’s comments, more than the article.

      It is safe to assume silent biases happen, but evidence is what actually matters. And statistics are not secure forms of evidence. Interviews, for example, something a journalist is very capable of. Do we really need another beating the dead horse “Where the Women at?” commentary article by Amid? It feels like these types of articles have been increasing.

      Amid not going through lengths of actually talking to artists to support his statements but rather just making a clickbait title, grabbing some numbers and calling it a day only pushes the notion that CB isn’t an animation news site, it’s Amid’s own personal blog. If I wanted to follow Amid, I would do it on Twitter, I would hope for something more insightful from CB.

      • AmidAmidi

        Attacking the messenger doesn’t fix the problem. The ‘whys’ have long ago been established. If you’re still unclear on that, just click on some of the links in this post.

      • Guest

        Uuuh, CB actually had an article with some interviews with women in the industry. The comments were pretty much the same there as they are here.

    • Be an Ally

      It is ENTIRELY possible to be a white male, privileged from systemic advantages and still ADVOCATE and ALLY with women and people of color. We can sacrifice our own advantages to say “Hey, give these people a shot at it. Give them room to take risks, fail and succeed.” What’s the downside? Nothing. What’s the upside? More perspectives, better stories.

  • Brandon Shorter

    Hm well no black people either black men or woman so yeah , not sure why I should care that Rich white man are Still richwhite man ? news at 11 outrage .Election are also deteermine the same way , Media systems by there defintions are caste systems built on wealth and income . And screaming about identity while igonring the obvious won’t change anything unless you do something about the actual money and resources . Long as a few old white man control all the money and resources it going to be mostly white man . Art is a luxury I am black no one In my area is aspiring to be an artist let alone a director , The only thing my culture has broken into is music , because music is something accessible and cheap , lower-icome black folks banged on a trashcan and starting spitting rhythems and that how we got hiphop, even in comparison average music singer or pop star cost and music production are “Tiny ” compared to Animation , a 300 million dollar whatever animation production that takes 4 years to make is NOT . And Frankly I could care less if more Predominately white Rich Well woman can direct an animation series over Rich white man how the hell does that help me ?

  • AmidAmidi

    The article wasn’t changed and is accurate. The wording in my comment was unclear so I fixed it. And for the record, you edited your initial comment after it was published too.

  • PeterShakes

    Amy Pascow runs Sony, and Vanessa Morrison runs Fox Animation, they’re both very powerful in their roles, so I’m not so sure about the industry vs women argument. Sure, maybe it’s harder for them to get into what is historically seen as a men’s club, but looking at the films from the big studios out there, maybe they just know better! Nowadays, the directors of these films are basically just there to execute whatever ideas come out of executive meetings and marketing research, it’s a very hard and extremely frustrating job, so maybe women just aren’t interested. It’s a lot different in independent animation and smaller films though, where you do see more women in directing and creative roles.

  • babananas

    I am a woman in the industry and I love articles that point out the lack of diversity because it means more people will be aware of how wrong it is.

    • Whoa Man

      Fair enough, but I am also a woman in the industry who would like the problem to be actually addressed and corrected rather than just be made aware of.
      I mean, the people perpetuating the bias are aware of it. We’re aware of it and yet here we are, no closer to having equal opportunities. :/

      • Aristocrat

        Just an innocent question here, but what had you done to show that you were the most qualified for the position, period? Unless you were told to your face that you didn’t get the job because of your gender, there’s no bias going on. Don’t be using PC to justify your paranoia.

        • dantes342

          “Unless you’re told to your face”??

          You’re joking, right?

        • You do realize that if a company ever *actually* said something like that to someone’s face, they would be taken to court for discrimination, right? Do you really think they’d be so blunt about something that would cause a lawsuit and bad publicity?

  • Rodrigo

    “This naive assumption that “people are hired based on competence”
    predicates on several incorrect ideas, the first one being that the
    playing field is equal and men do not have unfair advantages when it
    comes to employment.”

    You are correct. The playing field isn’t flat. If a women shows the same competence as a man she will be hired or promoted before the man with the same qualifications.

    • dantes342

      Not necessarily. Try taking a look at the real world.

    • HAHA

      I would love to hear where you got this rubbish from, because I can give you several statistics proving the exact opposite. By your logic women should be outnumbering men, or men are just so much more genius than women that they get hired despite strong biases working against them.

  • I Like Animation Too Much

    I’ll stop watching animated features when the only criteria for their release becomes that “X” amount of them have to be made by women or minorities. I have no problem watching a film directed by a woman or a minority as long as they are directing it because they are the best for telling the story, not because they are a woman or non-white.

    Also, the comment about the two men directing “Moana” becoming eligible for social security is ageist. I guess sex discrimination and race discrimination is bad in your book, but sex discrimination coupled with age discrimination would, apparently, be perfectly fine.

    On the subject of “Moana”, who came up with the Idea? Musker and Clements or a woman? I could see complaints about two middle-aged men directing a story starring a female lead as legitimate if the original story idea was presented by a woman and that idea was taken away and given to two men for development. However, if the idea for the story came from them then I see no issue with them telling the story. INSIDE OUT stars a female lead and was directed by two men, Pete Doctor and Ronnie Del Carmen (a Filipino) and nobody is complaining or spotlighting that as some sort of evidence of sex discrimination. On the flip side, it is interesting that nobody is spotlighting that IO, one of Pixar’s biggest successes ever, was co-directed by a minority.

    • We get it…

      “On the flip side, it is interesting that nobody is spotlighting that IO, one of Pixar’s biggest successes ever, was co-directed by a minority.”
      CB also isn’t talking about how Daniel Chong, an asian-american, has his own show (We Bare Bears), but doesn’t mind having lots of articles on Rebecca Sugar or Daron Nefcy.

      CB sensationalizes things just as much as any other news site. They really are no more different than Yahoo! news.

      • dantes342

        Yes, it is interesting! All the major news/press coverage is about good ol’ midwestern All-American Pete Docter, lone genius.

        Do you not even see how this plays into the thesis of this article? Who is it that Pixar is interested in being their ‘face’? Who is it they want to push out front as ‘the sole creator/genius’? Can you not see how this has played into hiring and decision-making over the course of decades — and is only now beginning to shift the tiniest bit? Pixar’s been making movies for twenty years or so — finally, two non-whites are in prominent positions in a couple of features and one of them, so everything’s ‘fair’, and articles like these are the problem for having the gall to bring the subject up?

        Yes, you can always point to the exceptions, but the problem is the rule — the weird rule that every white male with an upper level job in the industry must obviously be ‘the best possible choice for the job’ — while women and minorities are looked at as unqualified interlopers whiners and quota hires by folks on comment boards.

        • Fried

          “Who is it that Pixar is interested in being their ‘face’?”
          I want to say in this instance, it’s an unfair thing to say since Pete Doctor is one of Pixar’s original directors and has been there since Toy Story. He’s the one to give a big credit for some of their biggest classics, of course they’re going to push him more than Ronnie where this was his first co-directing position. What you’re saying is true, but in this example, I don’t believe it’s silent racism as much as just giving their more seasoned director of the two more credit.

          Peter Sohn would be a better example. He got to direct Good Dinosaur and has been with Pixar for awhile, voicing a handful of characters, and still has next to no exposure aside from one article here. Whereas people are still discussing Brave despite that movie being just as mediocre as Dinosaur simply because of the controversy with Chapman. Both movies went through development hell and the final products weren’t that great, but guess which one is more talked about?

          In fact, Pixar STILL credits Chapman to gain brownie diversity points rather than patting Peter on the back for picking up a film that was all over the place and doing his best with it.

          Pixar, just like anyone else, knows what sells. Ex-woman director sells way more in story than current Asian-American director for latest film. You certainly won’t see Ed Catmull making any “we want more Asian-American directors in the next five years!” statements any time soon.

          • dantes342

            I don’t think it’s unfair to ask why, if Ronnie Del Carmen was a co-director, that he’s virtually invisible in any of the publicity for the movie. Maybe it wasn’t ‘silent racism’ — yet, it happened. My point was that the curious way that race (as well as gender) is dealt with at Pixar speaks to a larger issue of how the animation industry as a whole deals with non-white male creators and how difficult that may make it for women and minorities to advance.

  • Matt

    Articles like this is what is wrong in America at the present. Let us not look at talent no we must fill quotas but in doing so are you not saying that the male sex or another ethnic group is not on same level. It is called liberalism. The term racists and bigotry are being thrown around here a lot as well, look up the definition of words before you throw them out there and save yourself a lot of embarrassment. I would hope and I would hope others would want to be hired or put into a position based off of their merits/talents and not their gender or race. Glad to see others speaking up on this as well in the comments.

  • We get it…

    “But it’s also just as insane we ended up with the first black princess, being a frog for most of the film.”

    Why is that insane? Mulan spent most of the film pretending she was a guy.
    Ariel spent half of the film as a mute.
    Aurora spent most of the film asleep.

    I’m not sure what’s wrong about it, her being a frog fit the story. That was the whole point, she was cursed and needed to be un-cursed. I understand the rest of your post, but that bit there just felt a little misguided. It would have been racist to give her special treatment because she was a black princess and they wanted to push that as much as possible rather than write a fitting story.

  • dantes342

    No, there’s not. You can’t name a single successful male animation director whose accomplishment is tainted by those kinds of charges. A wonderful movie is a wonderful movie, in the end, and that’s what we all want. So you never hear anyone saying that Brad Bird or Dean DeBlois only got their job because they’re men. No one believes that.

    But that’s just the kind of complaint a vocal majority is voicing here in the other direction, toward imaginary people making hypothetical movies. Weird what fear seems to do to people.

    • Fried

      “So you never hear anyone saying that Brad Bird or Dean DeBlois only got their job because they’re men.”

      But Amid did voice the implication that the two directors for Moanna were favorited because they were men and you even voiced the idea that Pete Doctor was favorited as the face of Inside Out because he’s a white man.

      So obviously people do believe that.

    • Karl Hungus

      Its called “snark”.

  • UPVOTED for TRUTH.

  • Steve

    I completely agree with dantes342. Animation roles are determined by who likes working with you. If most of those people are straight white men, they are going to hire straight white men. It’s who they like to have lunch with, and it’s who they will hire. There has never been a gay animation director at Disney. Why is no one discussing this as well….

  • You, perhaps unintentionally, brought up an interesting issue for women though, specifically in live-action. In this interesting article (http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/quote-of-the-day-time-warner-ceo-on-wonder-womans-power-to-boost-the-box-office-20151210), screenwriter Diablo Cody said “If a movie starring or written by or directed by a man flops, people don’t blame the gender of the creator. It’s just kind of weird how the blame is always immediately placed on female directors.”

    Of course, there are exceptions to everything, but more often than not, that’s the case. Even with the sub-genre of superhero films featuring female heroes, there’s this idea that if one fails, none of them will sell. There was a string of terrible ones (Catwoman, Electra, etc.) which shut people off from the whole genre.

    Meanwhile, Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” was a total box office flop, but he already has his next film lined up. Obviously he has an impressive track record, but you also hear stories about people like Seth Grahame-Smith who, without any feature-film directing credits under his belt, was given the reins to DC’s 2018 Flash movie. You just never see that kind of opportunity for minorities/women.

  • I think you touched on an interesting point when mentioning having people of different genders/races/backgrounds telling the stories of people with differences to their own. It reminds me of how there are many women authors who write stories with male protagonists, going to the point of hiding their name behind initials because boys won’t read books written by girls. A larger example of this (and where you can google to learn more) is JK Rowling with Harry Potter.

    Similarly, and again, boys won’t read books about girls because they see them as books “only for girls” whereas girls or more open to it. This sort of self propels itself, because in school, the majority of the books we are assigned feature straight white males, and much of the Western literary canon is written and about straight white males. Here’s an author’s experience about it: http://www.slj.com/2015/03/diversity/when-boys-cant-like-girl-books/#_

    I think the question is, how to we get young kids to see past these ideas, and have young boys interested in a story about a little Latina girl, or get to a point where we see a black man telling a story about a Korean boy. I think it starts with parents speaking up, which leads to things like Target in the process of de-gendering its toy section, and companies offering more diverse skin tones for their dolls. Sadly, it will probably take forever for this to trickle up to Hollywood. Marvel did a great thing in creating Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man, but missed an amazing opportunity to cast a half black/half Hispanic boy for their upcoming film slate.

    Not trying to argue with you or anything, I completely agree with everything you are saying! : )

  • Renard N. Bansale

    So you’re saying that Ms. MacLaine’s answer to the gender diversity question (in the link I provided in my original comment) is a correlation thing, not causation? Because having seen many 30s and 40s films in my time, the female characters in those films most definitely have interesting roles compared to today. Their sex appeal becomes a bonus, a trick up their sleeve in tight plot situations, as opposed to being the focal point of their characters.