Weta Digital, "Lord of the Rings" Weta Digital, "Lord of the Rings"

Weta Digital is one of the most successful vfx studios in the world. It has also been a hotbed of bullying, sexism, and harassment, according to dozens of testimonies from people who have worked there. Since the allegations emerged last month, the company has commissioned an independent inquiry into the matter, to be conducted by a QC (Queen’s Counsel, or senior barrister).

Based in New Zealand, Weta Digital sprang to fame through its work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy (whose director Peter Jackson co-founded the company). It has since worked on major productions including Game of Thrones, Avengers: Endgame, and the Avatar films. In June, the company launched a new animation banner.

But while its profile in the industry continues to grow, its workplace culture is coming under new scrutiny. A months-long investigation by 1 News, the news division of New Zealand’s state-owned network TVNZ, has dozens of accounts of toxic behavior at the company. At least 48 current and former staff have anonymously shared their stories (read them here).

Multiple women described their harassment by a certain senior colleague. “He would send me videos of things from his past and make comments how I was hot or cute or that he would like me and protect me, and help me get further in my career,” one said. “I endured a lot of stuff and kept quiet about a lot of stuff because I didn’t want my dream [of working at the company] to be over.”

Another woman says she was assaulted at a company party. When she reported the incident to HR, “I was told that I should ‘get used to it,’ that as a woman, men will feel ‘entitled’ to my body.” She was also told there was “no way to prove it’s someone from Weta [Digital].”

The reports paint a general picture of a “boy’s club” at the company, where men outnumber women in senior roles by around seven to one. A number of sources discussed a culture of openly sharing and watching porn in the office. Male staff distributed pornographic material on internal mailing lists from at least 2002 to 2015 — a habit that made many colleagues uncomfortable. Several people claim that senior staff signed up to these lists, and in some cases ran them.

Weta Digital acknowledged in a statement to 1 News that there have been “historical behavior issues” at the company, including sharing of inappropriate content and commentary. “As soon as it was brought to management’s attention,” it added, “immediate steps were taken to stop this activity.” Sources have disputed that, saying pornographic images continued to circulate or be held on servers after 2015.

Many sources describe more insidious forms of discrimination. There are reports of heavily pregnant women receiving no help with physically strenuous tasks, mothers being subjected to unfair scrutiny, and female staff being dismissed as “emotional” and having their technical abilities questioned.

Men also allege bullying. Some talk about homophobia, while others say they were generally demeaned by their seniors. One source says his head of department “constantly looked to undermine those around him and made everyone working for him miserable. I did make a formal complaint to HR about his bullying. Nothing was done.”

In these accounts, one claim surfaces time and again: that management routinely dismissed complaints. Some sources welcome the new inquiry. “I feel like we can’t sweep it under the rug,” says one, referring to the opportunity to change the company’s workplace culture. “We have to face it head on and stop it.”

In a statement, the company said the complaints “do not reflect the Weta Digital of today.” Apologizing for “any distress” caused by the reported behavior, it added, “There is no room for inappropriate behavior of any kind within the company. If crew members feel uncomfortable for any reason, we want to hear about it. All concerns are taken very seriously.” It said it now has “comprehensive policies and procedures” in place to supporting staff who wish to complain.

The inquiry was commissioned by Weta Digital’s owners, including Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh, and its CEO Prem Akkaraju, who joined the company in June. It will be led by Miriam Dean QC, who “has the ability to look into more historic complaints,” but will focus on current complaints and the workplace culture, according to the company.

The revelations follow a similar investigation by 1 News into Weta Digital’s sister studio Weta Workshop, which specializes in concept design and special effects. In July, 1 News published a report based on the testimony of 11 current and former staff members, who described a toxic workplace permated by harassment, bullying, and paranoia. A separate inquiry into this behavior, conducted by an external consultancy firm, is currently underway.