thr_roundtable_2016 thr_roundtable_2016
Feature FilmIdeas/Commentary

Sorry, Women: You Won’t Be Directing Any Major U.S. Animation Releases in 2017

After publishing our 2017 animated feature preview, I noticed a startling trend: every single major U.S. animation release next year (for our purposes, that’s films screening in over 1,000 theaters at the same time) will be directed by a man.

The exclusion of women at the top creative tier of American feature animation is nothing new. During this decade, there were also no women directors for major U.S. animation releases during 2010, 2014, and 2015.

In fact, 91 out of 92 major U.S. animated releases in the decade so far (2010 through 2017) will have had at least one male director. That means that men direct 99% of all the animated films produced by the Hollywood entertainment conglomerates—Disney, Dreamworks, Universal, Warner Bros., Fox, et al. (Well, 98.9% to be exact, but we rounded up that final 0.1%.) The lone feature among the 92 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:


A few weeks, people on the internet were shocked that a Hollywood Reporter roundtable of animation directors discussing issues like representation, feminism, and cultural sensitivity was comprised entirely of men. “Is this a joke?” thought Brenda Chapman, one of a few women who has more than a single directing credit on a major American feature.

The exclusion of women from the roundtable is indicative of a much deeper problem, which is systemic gender bias by major American animation studios. This is not a claim that can be made lightly, but it is valid when 99% of all animated features have a male director. Traditional fanboy excuses like “I don’t care who the director is as long as the film is good” no longer pass muster against evidence of such bias. And if you don’t care about this gross imbalance, I can tell you who probably does: the women who routinely have their voices excluded from the most consistently successful segment of Hollywood filmmaking.

As the feature animation industry continues to expand, more opportunities are available than ever before, yet those opportunities continue to be funneled to the same group of people: white and male. In 2017 for example, Warner Bros.’ The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, Sony’s The Star, and Pixar’s Cars 3, are being directed by first-time feature directors, all white and male [Update: Three are white and male, the fourth is half-white and male and has Hispanic/Caribbean roots]. If white males represented the entire make-up of the American animation industry, then we wouldn’t have an issue, but the feature animation industry currently has more women and POC working in it than ever before.

For the last few decades, roughly the same amount of women have graduated from major animation programs in the United States as men. There has been plenty of time for female directorial voices to emerge in Hollywood feature animation, yet few have. Why is that? “The asking of the question, no matter how awkward, is shining a spotlight on the issue and forcing industry leaders to be self-reflective in their hiring and promotion practices,” Warner Bros. story artist Emily Dean told Elle magazine recently.

And questions will continue to be asked until animation studios address the systemic gender bias that defines the contemporary American animation industry. That bias won’t be addressed in 2017 though when no women directors will have a voice in mainstream American feature animation.

We invite you to share SOLUTIONS in the comments of this post. (If you don’t think women should be directing feature animation, take the conversation elsewhere because your comment won’t be approved here.)

  • Frank Coufal

    I feel that it’s not fair for women to be treated unfairly in the animation industry. I’ve finally realized that women deserve to have greater opportunities in animation as much as men do. I hope someday women receive much larger roles in the animation industry, particularly as directors.

  • I do like that you included the talk of lack of direction by race, though I feel it wasn’t as strong of an issue as the main topic of female directors.

    We finally had an African American direct an animated film (DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians), yet we have not seen any progression to look to more racial diversity for direction in animated filmmaking.

    I honestly don’t have the full answer for ‘both’ problems (race/gender) in providing more opportunities for leadership, in making the change and progression. The one thing I could mention as an answer is the leadership wanting to make it more available for minorities to lead. As we can see, these studios are not very willing to do so, and it will continue to be a culture problem, even if there is a little progress in promoting diverse directors/writers.

    The only other thing, and not to say this is easy to do, is possibly having to go out and do it yourself. Even Steve Jobs knew that: “You want to break new ground, so you have to do it yourself.” (p. 568, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). That’s how Apple got started, after the fact that both Jobs and Wozniak weren’t able to convince their employers to hire them to work on their personal project. We are seeing some breaking new ground in their storytelling like Tonko House (former Pixar artists) and LeSean Thomas. Hopefully more will, to where they are just as marketable as the studios that are being very reluctant to diversity.

    • JR

      I don’t know why but Cartoon Brew seems solely focused on the gender discrepancy in the animation industry. Amid wrote many articles on it (which is appreciated of course) but none that focus on race or sexuality or the interconnections between all three.

      Particularly, the lack of LGBT creatives in top positions in the industry is rarely discussed or highlighted (not just here but anywhere online). There seems to be a lingering taboo about having a gay person direct a movie for kids. To my knowledge, only Dean DeBlois (who came out publicly in 2002) and Byron Howard (who came out publicly in 2016) have ever directed a mainstream American feature.

      • AmidAmidi

        We make a sincere effort to acknowledge the diversity of creative talent currently working in animation, whether by highlighting that Daniel Chong is the only minority creator of an original series at Cartoon Network, exploring developing animation scenes in other parts of the world, or covering the comments that Rebecca Sugar made about her sexuality at San Diego Comic-Con.

      • Big Blue Ceiling

        While I’m sure that the CB folks appreciate the range of issues, I feel like there’s a natural tendency to address the biggest and most obvious disparities first because it’s easiest to point to them and talk about them. If we hear that “only 5% of films were directed by people of color” we may have to do some mental arithmetic and probably look up census data to figure out how disproportionate that is. If we hear a similar statistic about women, we know exactly how unrepresentative that is immediately.

        It’s an awkward truth of communication that audiences want simple messages. When you start quoting census data in an article about employment bias, you’re writing for a different audience.

      • Big Blue Ceiling

        Note please that I agree with your message 100% – I passionately support greater diversity at all levels of the creative process. We’re telling a narrow and shallow range of stories if they’re all being told with a straight, cisgender, white, male perspective. I’m only saying that I think journalists face an interesting challenge in addressing intersectional issues like race, gender, and sexual preference in articles aimed at lay readership.

      • Hankenshift

        The Walt Disney Animation Studios was run by many gay men and lesbian women through the 1990’s. Same at Dreamworks, to a lesser extent. Mostly “creative executive” types.

  • Troy

    Correct me if I’m wrong POC is People of Color? Anyways so much for companies stating “We are an equal opportunity employment”, should have been clear stating “We equally employ you if you happen to be white AND male.”

    • Strong Enough

      you are wrong. it means particularly old cranks

  • Lizz Hickey

    If you need talented illustrators and cartoonists for projects and you “can’t find” them, here are some helpful links to get you started and connected:

  • Axolotl

    Big studios run on hearty male camaraderie, the kind that comes from having a shared middle-class white background and the same middle-class white daddy issues. As long as you can swim in these waters it doesn’t matter if your ideas are pure tripe.
    I think what we need is smaller, possibly lower-budget outfits. The big studio system may be in trouble anyway because of streaming and whatnot. (This would also have the benefit that more animated movies would be made in general, and a few of them might even be good, or something.) Women and other minorities shouldn’t wait for the big studios to let them in.

    • AmidAmidi

      Please remember, the idea of these comments is to identify solutions for moving forward, not look backward and cast blame.

      • Axolotl

        Ummmmmmm…okay, you’re right. We should also try to work within the system.

      • Axolotl

        I guess that was pretty obviously sour grapes so I would like to apologize.
        I stand by the second part, though.

  • Karl Hungu

    Ladies! If you want to be a director or have a show/film developed than take your pitch/idea to the studios that are run BY women. That only makes sense at this point right? Plus….You won’t have to look hard to find women in charge.

    The president of feature animation of DreamWorks is Bonnie Arnold
    The executives in charge of development for FX are Gina Balian & Nicole Clemens
    The president of Sony Pictures Animation is Kristine Belson
    The president of IFC is Jennifer Caserta
    The president of Fox Animation is Vanessa Morrison
    The president of DC Entertainment is Diane Nelson
    The president and CEO of A+E is Nancy Dubuc
    The president of 20 Century Fox is Elizabeth Gabler
    The president, ABC Entertainment Group is Channing Dungey
    The Chairman and CEO, Fox TV is Dana Walden
    The Chairman and CEO, of 20th Century Fox Film Stacey Snider
    The president of BBC America is Sarah Barnett
    The president of HBO documentary films is Elizabeth Gabler
    The president of CBS films is Terry Press
    The head of original programming at Hulu is Beatrice Springborn
    The president of NBC Entertainment is Jennifer Salke
    The president of Fox Searchlight is Nancy Utley
    The president, Lionsgate TV is Sandra Stern
    The CEO of YouTube is Susan Wojcicki
    The president of Viacom (Nickelodeon) is Cyma Zarghami

    ^There’s your patriarchy

    • Also, the president of Cartoon Network is Christina Miller.

    • I can’t tell if your “there’s your patriarchy” is a sarcastic remark to dismiss the idea that there is bias against women, its hard to read sarcasm on the net. But the problem is that you cant just meet the head of a company, you need to know the right people to even get a chance like that. and that seems to be the biggest problem, knowing the right people when most of the right people are in a old boys club. It is great to see more women in charge tho, but sadly women can be just as sexist and dismissive. ugh, I hate being negative but I just don’t see an easy solution to this problem! I really wish there was one and I’m interested to see what people come up with

      • Karl Hungus

        Well, there are only a few things that can be happening here:
        A.) The women in charge of these studios are idiots who are somehow ALL ignorant of the widely reported gender disparity among directors of both live action and animated features.
        B.) Like you feared “women can be just as sexist and dismissive” and these women are being just that.
        C.) There truly aren’t as many women who stay in the industry for as many years as men because so many leave to start a family. And probably then they are stonewalled from picking up where they left off when they re enter the workforce years later. All of this pushing those few savory directing gigs out of reach.
        D.) Hollywood truly is a meritocracy and men are able to accomplish more because of the aforementioned traditional family roles still ingrained in our society that cement them in their career for much longer than the other gender.
        Are each of those as likely as the next? You tell me. What I doubt is that there is an “old boy’s network” that has built a beach head around hollywood to keep the ladies away from their bosses. That would bring us back to Option A, the most unlikely of the four.
        (and for the record I ADORE female directors producers and writers. Especially Debra Hill.)

        • Eric Ellis

          A) Trite and disingenuous straw woman
          B) It can happen but it is not likely a major factor here. Another straw woman.
          C) Silly old school sexist notions that likely statistically are irrelevant. I just don’t know how all those scads of women out there function professionally with all of them opting for family life over their professions. But hey I think we can guess where you are coming from. Another straw woman
          D) Your real and sexist thesis “What I doubt is that there is an “old boy’s network” that has built a beach head around hollywood to keep the ladies away from their bosses.” No doubt- this sexist phrasing indicts itself. Of course, there is an old boys network in default. It is how business in this nation has proceeded historically in all spheres and it is still going strong in all spheres. If you are a half way honest male and capable any level of earnest objectivity you know that to be the case.

          What nonsense, how about you respect female directors rather than Adore them. Like other issues in the world it will be a wonder to behold when we simply appreciate and respect the work of all professionals.

          • Karl Hungus

            I’m offering a simple breakdown of possible scenarios responsible for the situation. You are saying with certainty that only one scenario is possible. Which is simplistic. I’ve worked in animation for 20 years and worked for women in senior positions at nearly every job I have ever had. Never have I seen a chief executive insulated by a cabal of devious men who block her from pursuing goals within the company. If a woman in a senior position in animation wants to have female directors, she will have female directors. To say that she can’t because of a conspiracy by another gender is to portray her as a rube. I don’t think that was your intention, but its basically the message of your commentary.

          • ValjeanLafitte

            Re: A), B), and C), you do know that a strawman is still a strawman even when the gender of the subject is female, don’t you? That being said, you don’t seem to know how the correct way of pointing out a strawman and using that as part of your argument.

            In A) you don’t explain how it’s trite or disingenuous; the word ‘trite’ here seems especially misused–you do know what it means, I hope. It means ‘overused and stale’. So, can you explain how Karl’s option A is a well-beaten dead horse?

            And how can one possibility out of four be considered a strawman? It’s like if you came to with me some wild, crazy-sounding assertion that later turned out to be true, thereby prompting me to say that you’re either insane or a genius. Well, you’re clearly not insane, but does that make my very mention of that possibility a strawman? It doesn’t; that’s not how the strawman fallacy works *at all*.

            Same with B). You say it’s not likely a major factor here–again, why? You can’t just declare ‘this isn’t likely, therefore it’s a strawman’. If, in an argument, you want to say that your opponent has misrepresented the subject(s) of his argument, you should be prepared to explained how he got it wrong rather than toss the ‘S’ word around like its an automatic argument crusher.

            C), Again your use of the word ‘likely’ means that you don’t really know how to accuse someone of building a strawman. It’s evidence–such as actual statistics–that expose and demolish strawmen, not whatever you perceive to be a likelihood.

            D) kills me in a different way–you didn’t heap accusations of strawmen on Karl here, but you did call his “thesis” sexist, and failed to show how. Can you explain how it’s inherently sexist to doubt the existence of a patriarchical system in Hollywood?

            Your misapplication of the strawman fallacy as well as your misuse of the word ‘thesis’ (meaning “a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved”–not quite the same thing as casually expressing a personal opinion or a doubt) give me the impression that you are either very young or under-educated and are using such pseudo-intellectual arguing tactics to cover for a lack of experience in waging successful arguments. Apologies if I’m wrong.

      • Capital_7

        I’d guess he’s being a sarcastic scold, given the moniker he chose (and tried to type) for this discussion.

        Little tip: years ago, I processed some applications for a large corporate headquarters HR unit. Applications sent from email addresses like [email protected]__ or [email protected]__ were not considered. They were filed, but were not enterted into the job base. If you want to be taken seriously, Karl Hungu(s) is probably not the name you should have sailed under. If you want to out yourself as a problem in the industry, that’s a perfect name.

        • Karl Hungus

          Its a “Big Lebowski” reference. Also, you’re shooting the messenger and is nothing but an aside to the topic at hand.

      • Netko

        I read about a study somewhere a while back than oftentimes women in charge in male-skewed industries can be more critical and dismissive of women than men can because they see themselves as a special exception in the general trend of incompetent women.

    • Eric Ellis

      This post is a bit of a red herring
      The veracity of this listing should be looked at more closely. So, for example, there are multiple VP’s for Sony Animation. Two of those VP’s are directly in charge of Production and Post Production ergo- the upper limit of selection of whom will direct a project. CEO’s and Presidents are occupied by different issues in most large companies though some topics are no doubt philosophically addressed if nothing else. In this case both of these VP’s are male.

      Mike Moon is the SVP of creative affairs and perhaps one of the people that would field a “film pitch” yet, even that would be after the culls of subordinates beneath him.

      There are 12 VPs with different functions and each of them have subordinates to be delegated to tasks. The VPS job is to run departments / wings etc. not hire people far beneath them though they may indeed input into those decisions dependent on the particular Company structure.

      The point is that it is case by case disingenuous to suggest that “Ladies! If you want to be a director or have a show/film developed than take your pitch/idea to the studios that are run BY women.”

      In different circumstances that might well work in others the not so much as again, that female president will likely never hear that pitch.

      As well, Corporations are about money and as long as the money continues flowing in and increasing then there is no impetus to change regardless the potentials. The president has the responsibility to monitor overall production (not ‘Productions’) and insure the bottom line. If the bottom line is being met it stands to reason that philosophical issues (even where that may affect quality of product) are of no issue to the president unless otherwise brought to their attention As for gender equality, outside of an issue raised, they are only likely to monitor their overall gender hiring record division wide within the division they manage.

      Coming full way ’round what I do like and find of value in your post is the need for those interested in pursuing such objectives to delineate real and functional lists of approachable parties in the matter and parties that have some sway in changing the mindset of those businesses involved.

      • Karl Hungus

        Be that as it may, empirically, those women wield significant power and directives come from the top.And those women are well aware of the gender disparity so clearly those companies would be a better bet for women to bring their projects. Why? Because powerful women are in the mix. The other option would be a company without that element. And we are all operating under thew assumption that all women want more women directing.

  • Dawn Brown

    While this conversation is certainly not new, I sincerely appreciate the attention given to this issue from time to time. I am a woman and a stop-motion filmmaker. I self-produced and directed a small web series last year and it has been difficult if not impossible to gain any traction. A couple years ago, the gender topic was raised at a WIA event and my suggestion then, and my suggestion now, is that there needs to be an effort from the talent agencies to represent more women so we can even be considered by the studios for directing opportunities. I suggest that organizations like Women In Animation provide assistance to help place women with proper representation. In response to Karl Hungu’s comment, as much as I would love to just call up Bonnie Arnold at DreamWorks and get a pitch meeting, the world doesn’t work that way. Agents are the gatekeepers. And until we can get through the gate, we’re not going anywhere.

    • Karl Hungus

      What I posted is a massive slice of the Hollywood entertainment industry being under the control of women. Each entry on that list has lots of power in this town, and definitely the power to give more women directing positions. I don’t think any of those women are stupid, they seem to all be visionaries at the very least. They know that there is a dearth of female directors. They would probably very much want to hire women in directing positions, so put your focus on those companies. Thats encouraging.
      Work around agents. Be the sand in the vaseline.

    • Monica M

      Dawn do you know who which agencies rep animation directors? CAA, WME, Gotham, Paradigm, UTA, Gresham?

      • Dawn Brown

        UTA, WME, Gotham Group rep quite a few.

  • Strong Enough

    as expected

  • Chicken McPhee

    Psh, everyone in the animation industry knows that women are incompetent.

    Dark jokes aside, of the people in the industry I know, there are more competent women than men, proving the point that the system’s just a ‘sausage party’. Pun intended.

  • Kit

    Don’t stonewall women who wish to return to the industry after raising children. Make an real effort to find the women who are talented, seasoned, and ready for their prime storytelling animation years- possibly a decade later then their male peers.

    • Karl Hungus

      ^ Yes! This.

  • Rae

    and thus that THR article becomes even more painfully ironic

    EDIT: oh my god i shouldnt have read the comments. stop blaming the effects of oppression on the oppressed, point, click, boom. end-o con-vo.

  • Big Blue Ceiling

    Perhaps this is a job for the DGA – to lock in, say, a 20 year plan that encourages recruiting, recognition and selection in the industry, aiming to improve the situation year over year by making it a significant contracting issue. I know that a year ago they began publicly campaigning on the intersectional issues of ethnicity and gender among directors hired by signatory studios. I’m curious how far they’d be willing to exercise their influence to remedy the disparity.

    If there’s any organization that can address this, it’s them. I wouldn’t wait for the studios to address it on their own – they’re unlikely to be agents of change.

  • Too Many Cooks

    I think the way to do it would’ve been to make a huge stir on social media when Lauren Faust left Medusa, or when Brenda Chapman left Brave. You can’t just say “hire more women” without looking silly, but when a studio gives a woman a chance to direct a movie, don’t let them change their minds. Next time, we should be ready.

    • Netko

      Kicking directors off their projects is hardly the only time Pixar or Sony did that.

  • nolive2020

    Given that there’s only one animated movie with a shot at being decent (LEGO Batman), and the other big movies are Boss Baby, Cars 3 and the freaking Emoji Movie, I don’t think anyone, regardless of gender really wants to be attached as directors of these movies.

    • Sara Bersani


    • Grampa Slappy

      Ding ding ding! Now we’re getting somewhere. Just because you’re offered a directing opportunity, it doesn’t mean it’s worth the stress and sacrifice. Maybe women have actually turned down these “opportunities” because they would rather have quality time with their families than deal with years of lame executive notes and watered-down corporate bullshit, with a forgettable bargain-bin DVD as the only result. No thanks.

  • Eli

    I experience discrimination, not only for being a woman but for being a latino. I agree that women executives contribute to that discrimination. Just few words, I co created an idea for Cartoon Network, they offer to the other male a job and a contract. When CN find out that I was co creator, the lawyer of CN, who was a woman, told me that in order to secure the project I will have to give up my rights. I told her no, and they did it anyway. I contribute to the creation of the story and many pilots later, now CN is being taking my name away from the credits. The statue of limitations apply and I couldn’t do nothing about it. The executives were females, the lawyer was a female, this was all run by girls, but girls that were only interested in hired a white american male . I also created another idea for a pilot that CN did it. I was never pay or hired, they just run over me. I was nominated for an Emmy for writing that new cartoon idea, thankfully CN could not remove my name of the nomination. I wrote other stories, one for a movie and is impossible to even an agents answer me.Agents are not interested in latino women. They think that women could not be funny at all.
    This is the wonderful world of animation.

    • Sara Bersani

      Sorry about that, I feel you