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Why It Matters That Skydance Hired John Lasseter

“Forgive” does not mean “forget.”
Skydance Header (Shutterstock/FSR Illustration)
By  · Published on January 14th, 2019

It’s awards season and I’m getting ready for snubs. Recent years have been an improvement, but for so long the industry has been ruled over by balding old white dudes who don’t care about stuff that they didn’t create themselves and value their own work over innovation and even the voices of those underneath them.

Wait, am I talking about awards or the film industry in general? Actually, it’s kind of both. An outbreak of rehirings has been sweeping the nation, and the benefactors of said rehirings seem to all be balding old white dudes who have been accused of sexual misconduct. Louis C.K. made headlines with a… eh, controversial set, Kevin Spacey showed up as Frank Underwood to try and get the public on his side for his trial, and now John Lasseter has been hired to run Skydance Animation.

This decision has been enormously controversial since it was announced. With the news dropped a memo from Skydance Media CEO David Ellison, noting that Skydance “employed outside counsel to thoroughly investigate the allegations, which we considered serious and have warranted our full attention as we made this important decision. The senior leadership team and I have all carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation.” A nice sentiment and it shows the wariness of the company to hire Lasseter, a man with a tainted name.

But if the intent of the message was to defuse anger, it doesn’t seem to have worked. Women across the animation industry have spoken out against this decision. And with good reason! Hiring Lasseter in a year during which dozens of newcomers and talented people have distinguished themselves in animation comes across more like an attempt to talent-snipe than any sort of redemption for the man himself. What was wrong with Bill Damaschke, the guy running the animation division before? Why not hire Phil Lord, or Domee Shi, or promote someone internally, or literally anyone besides Lasseter? Is it perhaps because of his Academy Awards?

Like FSR publisher Neil Miller, I’m all in favor of redemption for those who have screwed up. Also, like Neil, I don’t think that means you should get a cushy salary job with benefits and a corner office after a year of Wolf of Wall Street-style rich-people rehab. “Forgive” does not mean “forget.” Lasseter should be competing at the entry level, clawing at each and every contract storyboard artist job with no benefits, and be judged by the very same people that he wronged. He should be put on the same level as the rest of us, regardless of his past. After all, isn’t that the whole point?

Hiring Lasseter sends a message that this balding old white dude’s past accomplishments and talents are more valuable than the safety of the women working for him. Yes, sure, he makes you uncomfortable in the workplace, but think of how much nicer the office will look once there’s an Oscar in that trophy case that we had installed the day he was hired! Furthermore, it implies that nobody else in the office is up to the task, and devalues their work.

Hiring Lasseter is an insult to his victims, his new employees, and to women in general. Male leadership needs to step it up and show that they actually care about the people that work for them. Storyboard artist Ashlyn Anstee said to The Hollywood Reporter that “[Ellison’s] memo was like, ‘We know he’s bad, but trust us.’”

Dude, they did trust you. And then you screwed it up. That’s what the whole #MeToo movement was about. Now it’s time to earn that trust again, and really, really earn that bread. Be better, and recognize that talent can come in more forms than a fancy golden paperweight.

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Hans Qu is an animator with Strong Opinions about animation. Along with said opinions, his art and animation can be found on his Bird App account: @NerdyChineseBoy