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A Former Designer at Pixar Talks About the Company’s Sexist and Toxic Atmosphere in a Damning Essay

Cassandra Smolcic talks about the Old Boy's Club that ruled Pixar and sidelined its women.

john lasseter

In a harrowing personal essay, former Pixar graphic designer Cassandra Smolcic discusses the habitual sexism and harassment she endured while working for the storied animation giant. Smolcic describes a pervasive atmosphere of harassment and objectification that defined Pixar’s corporate culture, starting with its CCO John Lasseter.

Smolcic started working at Pixar as an intern, and from the minute she’s hired she is warned of Lasseter’s notorious lechery:

“Oh, John’s gonna LOVE you,” he remarked about one of Pixar’s highest ranking executives, teasing and warning me at the same time. During the next few days, male and female employees alike told me that the company’s Creative Chief Officer, John Lasseter, could be touchy-feely with members of the opposite sex; that he had a tendency to make sexually charged comments to and about women; that interactions with him were often uncomfortable or even mortifying for female Pixarians. The women who endured this unwanted attention often had a less flippant take on it, but on a broader level there was a collective attitude of, “Oh, ha ha; that’s just our John.”

In addition to Lasseter, Smolcic endured leering and harassment from various project leaders and co-workers. Coupled with the harassment was a continuous dismissal of ideas and projects from female artists, who were frequently ignored and shut down during meetings. It’s no surprise that Pixar made 12 films with male leads before finally making Brave in 2012.

And even during the making of Brave, Pixar’s first female director, Brenda Chapman was fired and replaced with a man. One artist (a woman) talked to Smolcic about her experience on the project, saying “From where I was sitting, the only problem with Brenda and her version of Brave was that it was a story told about a mother and a daughter from a distinctly female lens.”

Smolcic continued to endure harassment from what she and her female co-workers termed their “manolescent counterparts.” She was even kicked out of meetings on a project she was staffed on because her appearance would be “too distracting” for Lasseter to focus. And in more infuriating developments, she was not given any support from her female superiors.

“We’ve decided it’s best if you don’t attend art reviews on this production,” she announced, looking over the wall of my cubicle. “John has a hard time controlling himself around young pretty girls, so it will be better for everyone if we just keep you out of sight,” she said with a shoulder shrug, referring to our film’s director and the company’s CCO.”

Smolcic finally left Pixar after it became clear that her work would never be valued at the company. After years of enduring verbal and at times physical harassment, she was finished with the toxic misogy-nerd culture that the company was built on.

“When I received a perplexing performance review after finishing my fourth production, it felt I’d never be equally recognized as a valuable asset by the company. The lengthy negative column listed things like, “designs too many options; seems like she’s trying too hard; asks too many questions.” When I shared the document with my candid male mentor, who openly acknowledged the culture of sexism at Pixar, he said, “If you were a man, every one of those negatives would be in the positive column.” Physically and mentally burnt out after years of bumping up against the glass ceiling, I left Pixar at age 30, hoping to find a workplace where I could genuinely thrive.”

In the wake of Lasseter leaving, Disney has brought in Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and promoted director Pete Docter to lead the company in his place. Here’s hoping that they can establish a new corporate culture that values the women of Pixar instead of objectifying them.

(via Be Yourself, image: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.