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Bear Time

Brenda Chapman: “I Was Hired [at Disney] Because I Was a Woman”


I’m not making assumptions. I was simply told that by the executive at Disney Animation with the cold blue eyes who sat behind his desk. It was 1987. They were getting some flack because they didn’t have enough women in creative positions–especially their story department – their current count: 0.
“We need a woman. And you’re the right price.” His exact words – I kid you not.
Brenda Chapman, speaking of her first job in the animation industry, fresh out of school, in the Disney story department.

Jezebel’s right when they say that another way to put this would be that Chapman was the first in a very long time to not be passed over as a hiring prospect because she was a woman. But it’s just as sad that she was removed from her brainchild because she refused to stray from her vision of a mystical action drama starring women and replaced by a better connected guy with less feature length film experience willing to make it “more marketable” by upping the comedy.

(Brenda Chapman’s Blog via Jezebel.)

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Previously in Brave

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  • http://twitter.com/acidragdoll Bel

    Makes me mourn for her vision. I liked Brave, but I want to see the story she would have told as she would have told it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001447827800 Idle Primate

    Gonna play devil’s advocate. Disney modernized it’s hiring ideology. The first of it’s new outlook was removed from Disney’s project when she proved to be not a team player and wouldn’t work within normal studio editorial development. Same story, different spin. Creative people quit or are fired all the time when they won’t work listen to the studio who puts up the millions. I’m not sure why we should expect her to be treated differently. Unless you are Ridley or Spielberg the product is s quilt that usually doesn’t resemble the original idea. That’s Hollywood. Not a gender story. She was a vanguard and blew it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashe.samuels Ashe P. Samuels

    This is a pretty useless comment.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, yours is pretty useless.

  • Anonymous

    As was that.

  • Anonymous

    And This.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001447827800 Idle Primate

    Something I said that wasn’t true? Or useless like don’t interrupt your ire?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashe.samuels Ashe P. Samuels

    A topic that’s sensitive and frustrating for a lot of people, and you jump on going ‘well let me say a whole bunch of stuff I don’t necessarily agree with just for the sake of argument’.

    Ire? Yes. I’m sick to death of any ‘argument’ that insists on beating around the bush on issues that screw over women every single day.

    I just don’t see the point in entertaining it.

  • Anonymous
  • Nick Gaston

    I gotta agree with this. Yeah, I *don’t* know all the details of creative and/or office politics that went on at Pixar…but maybe that means that Chapman was turning Michael Cimino or Julie Taymor on us.

  • http://www.iamuhura.tumblr.com/ iamuhura

    I wish I were actually surprised by this comment thread but instead I am disheartened.
    What’s sad is the willful inability of people to connect the very
    obvious dots: sexism with regard to hiring is institutional and
    pervasive within many industries. Just because it’s “the way it is and
    has always been” doesn’t make it correct or the right thing to do.
    Furthermore, people have every right to discuss this and other issues with regard to the type of entertainment they are interested
    in, and these classic silencing tactics are pat and unwelcome.

    Lastly,
    it is beyond the pale for people to immediately assume that Brenda
    Chapman simply MUST have been “difficult to work with” or “not a team
    player” because she stuck to her guns while bringing her groundbreaking
    creation to life. Sure, in Hollywood sometimes you have to compromise
    and you don’t always get your way. But somehow (gee, sexism?) everyone
    expects “oh, well, she should’ve just kept her mouth shut and did what
    she was told” instead of recognizing that mayyybe Disney/Pixar’s culture
    is not one that respects creators who are women or treats them equally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashe.samuels Ashe P. Samuels

    Hear, hear.

    People are really quick to jump on the ‘sheesh directors are replaced/fired/demoted all the time what makes her so special YOU’RE USING THE SEXISM CAAAARD’ argument…while closing their eyes to the very low percentage of women directors in Hollywood, Pixar’s personal track record of exclusive male directors working on male-centric films, and the odd choice of hiring someone with less film experience in leu of a woman who has much more under her belt AS WELL AS doing a movie that would ring truer with her perspective (mother raising a daughter).

    Chalk that up to all the controversy Brave got (it’s politically correct because it has a girl!!!! Merida is a lesbian because she doesn’t want to get married!!!! Princesses suck!!!!), and I’m, like you, disheartened at those who don’t recognize the sexist clockwork.

    Never surprised, but always disappointed.

  • Anonymous

    I was pleasantly surprised at Brave when we saw it, definately one of the best Pixar movies, on level with Nemo and Up and well ahead of Cars and Monsters Inc (Toy Story is in another stratosphere). It was a very strong and gripping story about parent-child relationship (just happened to be moter/daughter), and mature in that neither was completely in the wrong. The ‘comedy stuff’ with the triplets was fun but felt very tacked on and I was annoyed at how devoid of personality the boys were. I guess we have Director 2 to thank for that.

    Brenda has every reason to be proud of her story. It made my son cry (and me and his father too)

  • http://twitter.com/zeroanaphora Abbie

    So that’s the real reason she was removed from Brave? Always wondered what happened. The dumb comedy in the trailer put me off and I haven’t actually seen it yet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001447827800 Idle Primate

    this woman wasn’t screwed over. she was presented with a huge opportunity. i distinctly was not beating around the bush about this. She refused to behave the way professionals do in this particular field and she was penalized. Because she is a bit of a pioneer in a field that is only kicking and screaming its way into the 21st century she will be seen as representing women, as opposed to just representing herself. Certainly, had she been successful, it would have been framed as a victory for women. But having failed, it is framed as more evidence of a misogynistic industry, instead of her blowing it by playing enfant terrible who expected far more control than is normally given. Just as it would have been a victory for women in the film industry, so it is a blight on women in the film industry that she squandered what, for disney, was a progressive step and may reinforce in their minds some misguided idea tha women won’t fit in the system or that they will feel entitled.

    it is sensitive and frustrating. That doesn’t mean we should pretend it is something other than what it is. Perhaps some of this frutration should be directed at her for her behaviour. If this offends you, that does not change what happened, Your offense seems like a tired attitude that women are simply victims and not agents affecting their own outcomes. That’s sexist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashe.samuels Ashe P. Samuels

    “Just as it would have been a victory for women in the film industry, so
    it is a blight on women in the film industry that she squandered what,
    for disney, was a progressive step and may reinforce in their minds some
    misguided idea tha women won’t fit in the system or that they will feel
    entitled.”

    There is a lot that’s really wrong with this whole sentence.

    First off, you’re really quick to compliment Disney for its supposed progress, when they shouldn’t have been such a Boy’s club the entire time. You don’t commend someone for being a decent person, because that’s the standard we should all uphold. If someone goes above and beyond the call, that’s when you should note it. There’s nothing here to warrant praise: they remembered, LATE into the game, women deserve recognition, and even then, in very small doses. Not progressive!

    Two, if this reinforces a mindset that women won’t fit into the system, then they clearly haven’t progressed all that much, have they? Women aren’t allowed to make mistakes now? Yep, equal treatment.

    Call my attitude tired: I call yours victim blaming. Pointing fingers at women and telling them they are ‘playing victim’ is a fine way to divert attention from the real issue: asshole men squandering women’s chances in the field.

    Are we the agents of our own outcomes? Sure, I guess. Here’s a metaphor for you:

    Five people enter a race. They have similar builds, stamina, gear and peak physical health…except racer #4 has chains wrapped around his right leg, his hands tied behind his back, and a broken nose. The man who put on the chains, tied his hands behind his back and punched him in the face then goes to say he has to compete JUST like that, or he can’t compete at all.

    If racer #4 stumbled, slowed down, or even fell, would you point and blame HIM for not being the agent of his own outcome?

    Sexism, discrimination, lack of representation, stereotyping AND victim-blaming are all social chains that weigh women down. You commend those who succeed, but you NEVER blame those that stumble.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001447827800 Idle Primate

    All film making is compromise. When people resist they get fired. Why is this news because the director was a woman?

    Your beliefs and expectations about the world smack of youthful ivory tower fiery ideals untested against the world. If you aren’t a youth then there may be some denial. Change is always slow, grudging, and arduous. Change is always met with resistance and only granted begrudgingly. Insisting on a fairy tale black and white world of either victory or victimization is inaccurate and counter productive. Her being hired was change happening regardless of context. Her not making the best of that was her error. The public framing Disney as villains fails to acknowledge the ground that was gained and disincentivises further change–if the public thinks your a bastard either way you say fuck ‘em.

    When you ‘re breaking ground in a traditionally male field and you insist my way or the highway you give an excuse for you to be sidelined. I’m guessing she must have been adamant about no changes and unwilling to work in the studio system because however Disney feels about women they hired her knowing they had to change and wanting the social credit.

    Why would we not assign any responsibility to people who stumble? Your attitude is exactly what I mean when I talk about the kind of insidious sexism that creeps out of feminism in refusing to grant women agency, responsibility and accountability.

    When a man is fired from a set for being unwilling to adapt his story to what the producers want is there an injustice, a “story”. Should there be a call to arms? She wanted to make an independent auteur picture with a big studios money and distribution and it worked out exactly as one would expect regardless of gender.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashe.samuels Ashe P. Samuels

    She would’ve been the first woman director in Pixar. She also would’ve been the first woman to direct a big-budget animated movie in the U.S (that going to Jennifer Yuh Nelson later with Kung Fu Panda 2). That sounds like news to me, dude.

    You don’t need to tell someone against sexism that change is slow. I know. I’m looking at it right here. It goes along the lines of, “Her being a woman has nothing to do with it! It must’ve been her fault! You’re the real sexist!”

    Assign responsibility to women, yes. Agency, yes. Accountability, absolutely. Refusing to see a pattern of women RARELY being in the director’s chair, in an industry that still struggles with equal representation, stereotyping and limited access? No. That’s not a fault I’m going to give to women because last I checked, women didn’t set up this shitty system.

    We have a responsibility to keep working, keep fighting the good fight, supporting what supports US with our money and our voices. Shunning what doesn’t. But why would you want to rail against those who apparently just don’t ‘work hard enough’ or ‘do things right’ to break new ground, instead of focusing your efforts on those that create and enforce sexist safeguards in the first place?

    My point isn’t that women should never be blamed: I’m disgusted at how quickly they are blamed, and how obvious trends are ignored.

    “She wanted to make an independent auteur picture with a big studios money and distribution and it worked out exactly as one would expect regardless of gender.”

    And *I’m* supposedly the one in an ivory tower. There’s no such thing as ‘regardless of gender’ today. Or…decades ago, really.

    “When a man is fired from a set for being unwilling to adapt his story to what the producers want is there an injustice, a “story”. Should there be a call to arms?”

    Give me a call when directorial positions for men in Hollywood waver from 5-10% of any given year, m’kay?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah the thing about devil’s advocates is that they serve no function at all. Best not to bother with it.

    In other words, “Son, just don’t.”