It took until 2011, just six years ago, for Hollywood to allow a woman to solo direct an animated feature. That woman was Jennifer Yuh Nelson and the film was Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2.
Time interviewed Yuh Nelson as part of a special project called “Firsts: Women Who Are Changing the World” to learn about how she got the job.
In the piece, she gave much of the credit to Kung Fu Panda producer Melissa Cobb, who found a sly way of convincing Yuh Nelson to take the job. Says Yuh Nelson:
“My producer for the first Kung Fu Panda movie, Melissa Cobb, is an amazing woman. She’s supersmart and helps push everyone—male, female, anyone—to do their best. There was an animated opening sequence that had to be hand-drawn and outsourced. The directors were very busy, so Melissa said, ‘Jen, why don’t you direct it as a sequence director?’ I had a great time, the scene turned out fun, and people had a wonderful time seeing it. When the second movie came around and the director position was open, she said, ‘Jen, you should direct it.’
And I’m like, ‘No, no. I’m too quiet, I’m too introverted.’ And she said, ‘You can do it. You have done it. That whole thing with the opening sequence was a test, and you passed.’ I thought, Oh, my gosh, you were testing me to see if I could do it! She said, ‘No, no. I knew you needed evidence before you could believe you could do it. I always knew that you could.’ That vixen! She’s sneaky. When you talk about glass ceilings, she put me in a catapult and threw me at it.
So far, Yuh Nelson’s industry first has also been an industry last. No woman has solo-directed an animated feature since 2011. In fact, 91 out of 92 major U.S. animated releases in the decade so far (2010 through 2017) have had at least one male director.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson should be celebrated. The Hollywood feature animation industry, on the other hand, should be ashamed.