Jennifer Yuh Nelson Is the World’s Top Grossing Female Director, All-Around Groundbreaker

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After making $645 million worldwide, Kung Fu Panda 2 has become the highest-grossing movie to be directed by a woman. That woman, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, surpassed her predecessor Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!), and is also the first woman to ever direct an animated feature for a major studio by herself. It’s a great story about a woman who dreamed of a career in animation, pursued a career in animation, and now finds herself one of the most successful women in animation. Even better when just under a year ago, Brenda Chapman was fired from Brave, and people were wondering if any animation studio would ever let a woman direct a full-length feature. So, finally, we can say yes.

When you read about Nelson’s story, you almost want the term “Cinderella story” to become “Jennifer Yuh Nelson story.” After going to college for animation, Nelson worked on The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest and then for HBO Animation, where she held the positions of director, story artist, and character designer for the Spawn animated series. She then joined the team at DreamWorks, where she worked on the first Kung Fu Panda and won an Annie Award for storyboarding its opening sequence. Jeffrey Katzenberg then approached her to direct Kung Fu Panda 2. Quite a career for a woman who started drawing when she was 3 and just never stopped. Nelson had this to say in a press release:

I am humbled and happy that audiences around the world continue to respond to the story and characters in Kung Fu Panda 2. No animated movie gets made without a huge team of people so I want to offer my sincere thanks and shared congratulations to all of the talented and inspiring artists who worked with me on the movie.

When Chapman was fired by Pixar after they allegedly boasted (at Annecy) about how they’d finally hired their first solo female director, it was a huge setback and a huge disappointment. But Nelson’s proven success — to say nothing of her passion for animation — is a reason to celebrate for a lot of reasons.

(Women and Hollywood)

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