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Artist RightsIdeas/Commentary

For The Second Year In A Row, Women Will Not Direct Any Major Animation Releases in 2018

At the highest creative level of U.S. feature animation, women continue to be systemically excluded from any opportunities to direct animated features.

For the second year in a row – and the fifth time in nine years – every single major U.S. animation release in 2018 (for our purposes, that’s films screening in over 1,000 theaters at the same time) will be directed by a man.

In the decade so far (2010-2018), 103 out of 104 major animated releases will have had at least one male animation director, which means that men are involved in the direction of over 99% of all the animated films produced by the Hollywood entertainment conglomerates—Disney, Dreamworks, Universal, Warner Bros., Fox, et al. The lone feature among the 104 films that was directed solely by a women was Kung Fu Panda 2, helmed by Jennifer Yuh.

Here’s our analysis of major animation releases in the United States this decade:

Animated features directed in 2010s.

Ninety-nine percent is an irrefutable statistic. This is not a mere matter of underrepresentation, but of systemic gender bias in the U.S. animation industry, an issue that we’ve discussed at greater length in the past.

The situation is especially striking in view of what is happening in the global animation industry. Take a look, for example, at the 26 animated features submitted this year for Academy Award consideration. While all 11 of the American features submitted were directed by men, five of the fifteen foreign features had women directors, including three that had solo women directors.

Who knows when things will finally change, but from our perspective, there does not seem to be any end in sight to the American industry’s extreme bias toward men in a directorial capacity.

  • Jen

    Thanks for always highlighting this. I know lots of steps are being taken to remedy this, and so much came to light and shifted this year in the film industry, so I hope that by the time we see the things in development now out in the world in 4 years we’ll have some concrete proof. Things don’t look great based on past data, but I want to be optimistic!

  • SnicksterFace

    Kung Fu Panda 2 was so good, it’s suprising it took Kung Fu Panda 3 for her to get another directing gig, and then they added a male co-director. It’s good to see she’s working on another movie, but I’m surprised Kung Fu Panda 2’s success didn’t spark more offers to female animation directors.

    I guess I’m not really that surprised.

    • Renard N. Bansale

      Actually, Ms. Nelson requested Alessandro Carloni to co-direct KFP3 with her.

  • Jimmy Bain

    Now do the gender statistics for the producers of animated feature films in 2017.
    (who make much more money than directors and have much more power)

    • Wood

      Its not creative though. Back in the day, women could enter animation through production easier than creative/art positions because production is more secretarial and society was more okay with women doing that type of work. Now that women are more accepted on the creative side of animation, more will hopefully rise to director as well.

  • Slim Cognito

    how do you know they’re being systematically excluded from directing films?

    if you look at the statistics, yes, more and more women are going to art school and entering the industry. But people are forgetting that getting a position like director is based on seniority, and a lot of veterans (decades of experience) are men. So it’s gonna take a while before we fully see the effects of more women entering the industry.

    I also wonder if people realize most studios are run by women (Cartoon Network, Nick, Warner Bros, Sony)

    • AmidAmidi

      Putting a man in charge 99% of the time is the very definition of systemic bias. There is no way to prove it, but common sense suggests that such an extreme statistic is impossible to achieve without the conscious exclusion of women. You will never convince me that from a sample set of over 100 films, every single one of those times, except once, a man was necessary to direct the film.

      Further, women have been entering the industry in much greater numbers for the last decade and a half, and there has been ample time to encourage the development of women directors. That they continue to be systemically excluded from the directorial rank is a clear indicator that skill, talent and merit are not enough to become a director in the US industry.

      • Jimmy Bain

        Ummmm…. the overwhelming majority of producers of animated films are women.
        (I think last year EVERY film had a woman has a producer)
        I work in animation and I’d like to maybe point out something: the producer is in charge. Also, the producer hires the director. If the producer is the woman, your claim of a bias by men against women is totally baseless.

        • AmidAmidi

          A.) It is unequivocally false to claim that individual producers are solely responsible for hiring directors on studio features. There are many other stakeholders who are involved in that decision, including EPs and studio execs.

          B.) No one ever claimed that there is a bias by men against women. There is a claim of systemic bias. You decided to reframe the argument as men versus women, which distorts the conversation. Systemic ≠ men.

          • Netko

            Yeah, you just need to ask yourself, is it really likely men are always the best of the best in every field (which they objectively are not considering how many animated features are crap), even in something like art? Really? Like, maybe I can get these discussions in some areas like STEM, but art? REALLY? There is only so far that “It’s all just a coincidence!” can take you, especially if that “coincidence” just happens to match a century of sexism and biases.

        • AnimationFemme

          Producer is RARELY if not NEVER In charge of directorial choice. That is the decision of the studio brass. As a female working at an animation studio for over 15 years as an executive, i can say with certainty (at least at our major animation studio) that females candidates exist yet are overlooked all of the time….. regardless of whether a woman or a man is running the studio. And this is 100% evidence of gender bias.

          • Slim Cognito

            The main thing that confuses me is it’s illegal to discriminate in terms of who you hire/give positions.

            If that indeed is the case they’re breaking the law.

            I could potentially see this being the case after the Weinstein stuff came out and how much of an open secret sexual abuse/misogyny is.

      • Too Many Cooks

        Interestingly, by that same metric, they’re systematically discriminating against the half of Americans that voted for Trump.

        (Sorry for bringing this up in every thread about discrimination, but no one ever talks about it, so I do.)

      • Tyrone

        After seeing The Breadwinner, I find Pixar’s reasoning for letting go Brenda Chapman even more hollow. They mention wanting to add humor, but mostly that there would be too many characters. Both The Prince of Egypt and The Breadwinner had sprawling casts, yet still managed to be superb, character focused films. Every report from people inside the industry said The Bear and the Bow was going to be something special, yet they replaced her and severely cut her story.

        Her replacement was the moment I realized there was a real problem being swept under the rug. Seeing these statistics is even more damning. It’s not even that men don’t make great films: They do. It’s that people are so worried about women not making a film studios consider perfect that they stop them from being made in the first place. Men are allowed to make films that are bad or mistakes and have it be treated as a problem with the storytelling. With women, there are so few examples that anything is automatically going to be put on her gender as a contribution to a failure than solely one of concept. Having that pressure is not conducive to good writing. It’s a problem that’s so easily remedied, but it seems to be one of the biggest factor when deciding which films to produce and who will helm them. I hope things change. It shouldn’t be this difficult.

        • nice hat

          The Bear and the Bow could have come out and been what it was and maybe not earned the Oscar but it would be fully hers. In a better world we should have more female created stories so we can compare female storytellers to each other rather. Women are not all of the same mind and many have decades of art experience. I’d like to hear what they have to say.

  • GW

    How come you’ve yet to post an article on North of Blue, Joanna Priestley’s abstract snimated feature? It’s only the second abstract animated feature ever made. I should have sent CB a tip but I figured one of you had heard of it already.

  • Too Many Cooks

    Because of all the big wigs’ crowing about feminism, I honestly didn’t believe there was institutional sexism in Hollywood until Weinsteingate. I wouldn’t have expected to ever say this a year ago, but I actually do believe they’re intentionally keeping women out of power. This makes their platitudes about tolerance even crazier.

  • Xandasu

    You want more women in animation directing? Start by stop giving subsidies, tax credits and incentives to major studios and ignore unions, to democratize the industry. If anyone could start their own studios, and produce and distribute their films with no intermediaries, we’d see not just more women, but more foreign directors too.

    • Red-walker

      Here here! And we’d probably get much more interesting films rather than the Emoji Movie and Cars 3.

  • Brian L.

    If I could see more content from women creators that didn’t look like My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Steven Universe, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil, which are markedly more feminist in theme and feminine in style, I’d have more confidence that the bias is just sexism alone.

    I have reason to think that there’s not just a boys-only tone to the industry (which is surely evident), but also a stylistic preference in the industry–or rather, an assumption about style preference in the industry regarding gender.

    Simply said, whether actual or perceived: Men are more action-oriented, women are more relationship-oriented.

    Seemingly, most stuff created and/or directed by males tend to put more emphasis on exaggerated action. Most of the (admittedly, lesser available) stuff created and/or directed by females tend to put more emphasis on relationships (friendship, romance, etc.). Men tend to be more focused on the visual; women tend to be more focused on the sentimental.

    One common complaint I hear from many feminist-toned writers about superhero-based movies (which is not an animation, but still drives my point home here) is that they wished stuff like The Avengers movies were less about action and more about exploring the relationships and sentimentality of the characters. “Bucky needs a hug,” as one feminist writer joked on Twitter, at the debut of the Infinity War trailer.

    Some of their affiliates even once suggested they’d like to see #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend, giving weight to the feminist article writers calling for more “softer” stuff in these hard-hitting action movies.

    But that would immediately destroy the wide appeal of these films. Yet, it’s so demanded by more feminist (and other social justice) audiences. And because that’s viewed as the feminist voice, it gets viewed as the female voice. Sadly, women get painted by the broadest brush.

    There are far more women who’ll watch an action film focused around dynamic action and animated films centered around being exaggerated visual spectacles, sooner than there are males who’ll watch an action movie focused around relationships and sentimentality. So, industry centers around this.

    Even a film like Wonder Woman proves this, I think. It was huge, and industry took a chance on it, because it became a huge memento. It didn’t just get marketed–it got marketed as a female-directed film about a fan-favorite heroine. The industry used a memento-like marketing for the movie, as a “Where was you when a woman directed Wonder Woman?” moment, rather than any “This is a preview of a rising trend, from now on.”

    I actually bet that it’ll actually just get harder for women to direct films now, because if the next one or two don’t follow up with the success of Wonder Woman, it’ll increase the perception bias towards women director. And industry execs knew this. Sorta like Trump-voting folks who voted Obama, almost as if just to say they “Hey, I voted for Obama, so…” as if to imply “I already gave you a chance.”

    Anyways, when given the opportunity to direct, be it animation or even live-action film, many women tend to bring such a different style and vision to directing their own features, which I think this too plays a part of the bias set against all of them. And because few of them ever prove to be global success, this increases the bias set against them, as well.

    With the exception of Frozen (which you either loved endlessly or got seriously annoyed by), few films prove that feminist/feminine themes are globally successful. And because that’s the issue, I think women will continue to face that bias. A bias of not just in being women, but of being “feminine” in vision, as well.

    (Even though, ironically, most family-targeted animated films are a tad more on the “feminine” side, anyways (even when men direct them), because they center around invoking softer emotions. Still, almost every male-directed family movie has some intricate fight scene or elaborate action sequence, because, again, males tend to be more visually-oriented.)

    Not saying this perception is true, mind you. I’m pointing out what seems to be part of the perception against women, and how much marketing is black-and-white, in terms of how big executives think. It’s a pretty cruel industry. The dollar drives all else. They couldn’t care less about feelings or social justice.

    Feminist-themed female directors work well enough for television and Netflix (where women are the largest demographic now), but suffer at the box office. This drives their decisions in hiring males.

    Though, I bet if more overtly-feminist themes suddenly proved to be smash hits in box office more often, big companies would jump on the trend, trying to capitalize on being seen as “progressive” for the move.

    [This was hard to word carefully. I hope I said this all as carefully as I tried.]

    • Netko

      It’s unsurprising that women would be allowed to make girly-looking shows first because, as much as it seems like common sense that women would make things for women, huge amounts of female-targeted entertainment or ones with a “feminine” side are given to men to direct. And yet women rarely get the chance to do the opposite.

      Friendship is Magic is a far cry from the originals (which had a male creative director and mostly male writers), and has attracted such a diverse following precisely because it’s like a regular kids’ show rather than a vapid girly show, Steven Universe is highly sentimental and sometimes deals with heavy subjects, while Star is an animated comedy that’s taken a more dramatic turn in the latest season. You’re cramming them all into the same box based solely on them having a girly aesthetic. All of them frequently feature action and fight scenes, even wars and are very successful with 4+ seasons. You mean to tell me that great shows like the Avatar, Kim Possible and Gravity Falls were all emotionally stunted and devoid of any romance and drama?

      The idea that “feminists” of all people want to turn movies into chick flicks (which have their large, if not larger share of male directors and writers, funny that) is absolutely ludicrous. Feminists are the ones who insisted on more action oriented female characters and ones who have development beyond just being a love interest. I don’t believe you’re unaware of the bitter “butch man-hating lesbian” stereotyping of feminists, so it’s downright bizarre to see someone try to make a case that, no, feminists are actually the ones who want to make all female entertainment girly and filled with romantic drama. It’s not opposite-day, is it?

      Romance, friendship and idealism have long been a part of superheroes and to suggest that male writers are on the level of angry cavemen who cannot write anything with a shred of emotion and sentimentality to it is downright false and completely unsupported by the movies they make. Or are you saying that men should be kept out of the director’s seat because they can’t possibly write anything beyond Micheal Bay’s level of complexity? So if you want to have any interpersonal relationships and character development in your movie, or God forbid a hint of romance, better kick the men out and call women in to get the job done properly.

      For all your stereotyping, many, many movies made by men (especially ones that aren’t crap) have romance in them and deal with heavy emotions. In fact, it’s truly ironic that you’re mentioning #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend as an example of feminists’ irrational demands when the second Avengers had a focus on a relationship between Hulk and the Black Widow, complete with a teary-eyed discussion of their potential parenthood (which feminists weren’t happy about). And you know, the fact that romance has been a part of superheroes since their beginnings to the point where even “casuals” can name one of the love interests, and with insane soap-opera levels of drama in the comics. Wonder Woman was a massive success and one of only a handful DC movies that aren’t garbage, so I guess that proves that DC’s male directors should get the boot and be replaced with women, huh? DC certainly isn’t benefiting from “Who would win in a fight” male directors.

      And how exactly is Frozen so much more “feminine” than any other (male-directed) Disney classic, and let’s not even mention the ones before Disney Renaissance? Just because it has, Lord save me, TWO main female characters? That’s too many cooties to handle!

      “Feminist-themed female directors work well enough for television and Netflix but suffer at the box office. This drives their decisions in hiring males.”

      Yes, like Frozen and Wonder Woman and Kung Fu Panda 2…oh. Oh. Yeah, where are all these failures that have convinced Hollywood big wigs that women are box office poison? Brave? Oh wait, that one was taken from a woman and given to a male director to “fix”. Yeah, that worked out great, huh?
      But you already know this because you then try to spin the whole argument into an even sillier “More successful female directors are putting pressure on other female directors to perform”. So if a female director fails, it’s because women can’t direct. If a female director succeeds (as is the case with every single female-driven show and movie you’ve mentioned in your comment), she’s just putting more pressure on other female directors to perform so when the first failure comes, all the accomplishments of female directors will just crash and burn. Is it possible for women to ever win in your little scenario?
      At least with that “men can’t handle female characters” bs there was a string of awful movies made by incompetent sexist male directors. It was a stupid argument then, but at least it had a tiny bit more sense than this.

      You are just trying to regurgitate the same old, long failed argument that no-one is going to watch a movie with a non-objectified/main female character, but this time it’s even worse because the audiences really couldn’t give a damn about who’s directing the movie. There’s a reason why trailers keep emphasising “from the directors of…” while no-one has to remind you of the actors’ previous accomplishments. Most audiences can’t even tell you the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks, they’re certainly not fixated on the gender of the directors, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for female directors to fail (eventually).

      “Though, I bet if more overtly-feminist themes suddenly proved to be smash hits in box office more often, big companies would jump on the trend, trying to capitalize on being seen as “progressive” for the move.”

      You mean like how we’re getting more and more movies that actively try not to have crappy/sexist female characters and are using that to brag about how progressive they are, specifically in response to feminist criticism? Have you been living under a rock for the past decade?

      Also the idea that people working in these industries have a perfect nose for smelling success is the biggest fallacy you can make. The latest string of failed Hollywood adaptations of Japanese properties and failed reboots certainly doesn’t support that.

      “I actually bet that it’ll actually just get harder for women to direct films now”

      Better keep your ungrateful heads down, ladies, or your chances to direct might get even worse than 0%-5%.

    • nice hat

      This is a cruel general comment and tries to throw everyone under the bus but maybe yourself. It doesn’t work though, and you just look mean spirited. I don’t know how old you are but you don’t seem to know women personally and you must not have a daughter of your own or you would know that women are not walking around with their heads full of fluff.

  • JoGo

    * Additional note*

    *Neither will an African American or Hispanic person*

    ok….carry on with article!

  • Split Loafer

    Do the announced movies for the next two years seem any different in this respect? Frozen 2 seems the only one with a female director/co-director.
    There have been lots of female producers shown as the third person after the co-directing team, what does it take for the producer to become a director in an animated film?