Lasseter’s hastily announced sabbatical was made just minutes before The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters published a second piece detailing specific allegations of sexual misconduct against Lasseter, including “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes,” and details about a move that woman would use to avoid him called “the Lasseter.”
Further, inside sources claim that Rashida Jones and her writing partner, Will McCormack, left as writers of Toy Story 4 after Lasseter made an unwanted advance toward her. Disney claims they left over “creative differences.” [UPDATE: Jones later sent a statement to the New York Times denying that she left because of sexual advances from Lasseter. In a joint statement with McCormack, they said they left over creative and philosophical differences stemming from “a culture [at Pixar] where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”]
More details from the Reporter:
Sources say some women at Pixar knew to turn their heads quickly when encountering him to avoid his kisses. Some used a move they called “the Lasseter” to prevent their boss from putting his hands on their legs. A longtime insider says he saw a woman seated next to Lasseter in a meeting that occurred more than 15 years ago.
“She was bent over and [had her arm] across her thigh,” he says. “The best I can describe it is as a defensive posture … John had his hand on her knee, though, moving around.” After that encounter, this person asked the woman about what he had seen. “She said it was unfortunate for her to wear a skirt that day and if she didn’t have her hand on her own right leg, his hand would have travelled.”
The same source said he once noticed an oddly cropped photo of Lasseter standing between two women at a company function. When he mentioned that to a colleague, he was told, “We had to crop it. Do you know where his hands were?”
Another former insider remembers awkward encounters with Lasseter, who liked — as many in the industry do — to hug in meetings. “You’d hug him and he’s whisper in your ear, a long time,” this person says. “He hugged and hugged and everyone’s looking at you. Just invading the space.”
A second piece published in Variety today detailed more allegations against Lasseter, revealing that the Pixar chief’s behavior towards young women has been an on-going problem at the studio for decades, and that women who start working there are warned through a “whisper network” that Lasseter may prey on them.
Some anecdotes from the piece:
Some told Variety that he would make inappropriate comments about women, or touch them on their legs or backs. Some described receiving hugs that went on a few seconds too long.
Another former employee said that after Pixar grew out of its Point Richmond office and moved to Emeryville in 2000, Lasseter’s behavior became more brazen. She said he would walk up to women in the office and kiss them on the lips. “I found it shocking,” she said. “That’s not a normal way of greeting a colleague.”
She said her manager kept her out of meetings where Lasseter would be present, telling her it would be best for her not to attend the intimate weekly reviews because “John has a hard time controlling himself around young pretty girls.”
Nevertheless, she would sometimes see Lasseter in the hallways, and felt uncomfortable when it appeared he was looking her up and down. “It was almost comical how obvious he was about it,” she said.
She said that being excluded from meetings with Lasseter meant that she was not able to pitch or articulate her ideas or discuss her work with the director. She also felt left out of important conversations that went on in the review room. The experience made her feel undervalued and stifled in her career at the company, and she said it contributed to her decision to leave.
She said managers chose to thwart her career rather than “have difficult conversations with the most important, high-ranking and powerful man in the company.”
The Variety piece also touches on Lasseter’s drinking problems, which were known throughout Pixar and Disney.
Though the reports in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety may be shocking to the public, Lasseter’s behavior has been one of the animation industry’s worst-kept secrets, known to many Pixar and Disney employees.
Former Walt Disney Animation Studios artist (and Oscar-nominated director) Minkyu Lee became perhaps the first industry artist to acknowledge this fact in a tweet this afternoon, writing:
Sources additionally tell Cartoon Brew that there has allegedly been at least one financial settlement from the Walt Disney Company over Lasseter’s actions. This implies that the behavior went on with the knowledge of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull and Disney CEO Bob Iger.
The most disturbing part of Lasseter’s letter is that he says he intends to return in six months. The responsible thing to do at the Walt Disney Company would be to open an independent investigation and learn who knew what when, and who was responsible for allowing Lasseter’s behavior to continue for years. Sweeping aside Lasseter’s years-long abuse of power is not an option anymore.
Unlike CBS and PBS, which both fired news anchor Charlie Rose today following similar allegations of sexual misconduct, the Walt Disney Company is reluctant to let Lasseter go. They released the following statement today: “We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.”
John Lasseter’s Memo To The Walt Disney Company
I have always wanted our animation studios to be places where creators can explore their vision with the support and collaboration of other gifted animators and storytellers. This kind of creative culture takes constant vigilance to maintain. It’s built on trust and respect, and it becomes fragile if any members of the team don’t feel valued. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen; and I now believe I have been falling short in this regard.
I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me. It’s never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them. As a result, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the leader I am today compared to the mentor, advocate and champion I want to be. It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent. Collectively, you mean the world to me, and I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.
In my conversations with Disney, we are united in our commitment to always treat any concerns you have with the seriousness they deserve, and to address them in an appropriate manner. We also share a desire to reinforce the vibrant, respectful culture that has been the foundation of our studios’ success since the beginning. And we agree the first step in that direction is for me to take some time away to reflect on how to move forward from here. As hard as it is for me to step away from a job I am so passionate about and a team I hold in the highest regard, not just as artists but as people, I know it’s the best thing for all of us right now. My hope is that a six-month sabbatical will give me the opportunity to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired, and ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve.
I’m immensely proud of this team, and I know you will continue to wow the world in my absence. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to working together again in the new year.
(John Lasseter photo via Shutterstock)