Last week, the news became public that Emma Thompson was departing a film project at Skydance Animation because the studio had hired John Lasseter. Now Thompson is publicly posing questions about why she believes Lasseter’s presence there is problematic — and why she won’t work with him on the animated movie “Luck.”
In her letter last month to Skydance, which was published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, Thompson wrote: “It feels very odd to me that you and your company would consider hiring someone with Mr. Lasseter’s pattern of misconduct given the present climate in which people with the kind of power that you have can reasonably be expected to step up to the plate.”
Lasseter, the former creative chief of Pixar and Disney Animation, began leading Skydance last month, immediately after retiring from Disney/Pixar in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal in which employees accused him of inappropriate contact.
He has admitted to professional “missteps” in his behavior without specifically acknowledging the allegations.
Last month, Skydance Media chief executive David Ellison referred to Lasseter’s past actions as “mistakes” and told workers that Lasseter had promised to “comport himself” professionally. In hiring Lasseter, Ellison called the Pixar co-founder and “Toy Story” director “a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated.”
In her letter, Thompson, who worked with Lasseter seven years ago on the Pixar film “Brave,” writes: “If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave ‘professionally’?”
Thompson expressed regret for stepping away from working with “Luck” director Alessandro Carloni, who has worked on such blockbuster animated franchises as “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”
A representative for Thompson told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the Oscar-winning actress-writer hopes her letter can have a ripple effect, stirring further conversation within Hollywood in the #MeToo climate.
Melissa Silverstein, founder of the website WomenAndHollywood.com, which promotes gender equality and inclusivity in the entertainment industry, told The Post that she “can’t convey the gravity” of Thompson’s letter and its potential impact.
“What she has done is put a line in the sand,” said Silverstein, who called the letter a “rallying cry.”‘
Thompson, she adds, is using the privilege of her power not only to leave “Luck” but also to pose “the questions we need to be asking” about such issues as workplace safety, career protection and freedom from harassment.
Skydance declined to comment on Thompson’s letter.
The announcement of Lasseter’s hiring led to a long town hall meeting between concerned Skydance employees and Lasseter, who reportedly fielded tough questions. Following the backlash to Lasseter’s hiring, Skydance Animation production head Holly Edwards was promoted to president.
Thompson’s departure and letter are the most visible indications that Skydance may face ramifications over the hire.
Here is Thompson’s letter to Skydance in full:
As you know, I have pulled out of the production of “Luck” — to be directed by the very wonderful Alessandro Carloni. It feels very odd to me that you and your company would consider hiring someone with Mr. Lasseter’s pattern of misconduct given the present climate in which people with the kind of power that you have can reasonably be expected to step up to the plate.
I realise that the situation — involving as it does many human beings — is complicated. However these are the questions I would like to ask:
- If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave “professionally”?
- If a man has made women at his companies feel undervalued and disrespected for decades, why should the women at his new company think that any respect he shows them is anything other than an act that he’s required to perform by his coach, his therapist and his employment agreement? The message seems to be, “I am learning to feel respect for women so please be patient while I work on it. It’s not easy.”
- Much has been said about giving John Lasseter a “second chance.” But he is presumably being paid millions of dollars to receive that second chance. How much money are the employees at Skydance being paid to GIVE him that second chance?
- If John Lasseter started his own company, then every employee would have been given the opportunity to choose whether or not to give him a second chance. But any Skydance employees who don’t want to give him a second chance have to stay and be uncomfortable or lose their jobs. Shouldn’t it be John Lasseter who has to lose HIS job if the employees don’t want to give him a second chance?
- Skydance has revealed that no women received settlements from Pixar or Disney as a result of being harassed by John Lasseter. But given all the abuse that’s been heaped on women who have come forward to make accusations against powerful men, do we really think that no settlements means that there was no harassment or no hostile work environment? Are we supposed to feel comforted that women who feel that their careers were derailed by working for Lasseter DIDN’T receive money?
I hope these queries make the level of my discomfort understandable. I regret having to step away because I love Alessandro so much and think he is an incredibly creative director. But I can only do what feels right during these difficult times of transition and collective consciousness raising.
I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year. But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out — like me — do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.
Yours most sincerely,
This post has been updated.