Mere hours before Pixar’s Coco is set to make its Thanksgiving week debut in the U.S., the acclaimed animation studio will be weathering some disturbing news. Co-founder John Lasseter will be taking a six-month leave of absence from the company after “difficult conversations” regarding some “missteps” he’s made over the years. While those carefully chosen words appeared in a Pixar memo that recently made its way online, it was quickly followed up by a report alleging workplace misconduct by Lasseter.
THR reports that “former Pixar insiders as well as sources in the animation community” say that Lasseter is known for “grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes.” The alleged behavior wasn’t confined to company social events, like premiere parties, where it’s said Lasseter is also known to drink heavily. Sources also say that women at Pixar knew to turn their heads to avoid his kisses and even have a maneuver dubbed “the Lasseter” they used to keep his hands off their legs. More disturbing stories follow at the link above.
One casualty of Lasseter’s alleged behavior is the departure of Rashida Jones and her writing partner at the time, Will McCormack, from Toy Story 4. THR’s sources say the pair left the project early on after Lasseter made an unwanted advance. Neither Jones nor McCormack responded to requests for comments; a Disney representative said their departure was over “creative differences.” You can bet that more is yet to come with this story, but in an attempt to get out in front of it, Lasseter released a memo just before the story broke. (Perhaps coincidentally, THR obtained and posted said memo just before posting their more scandalous story.)
Update: It seems THR was quick to jump to conclusions. Here’s what Jones and McCormack said about the accusations in a statement (via EW):
“The breakneck speed at which journalists have been naming the next perpetrator renders some reporting irresponsible. We did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances. That is untrue. We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences. There is so much talent at Pixar, and we remain enormous fans of their films. However, it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice.”
Jones and McCormack called on Pixar “to be leaders in bolstering, hiring, and promoting more diverse and female storytellers and leaders. We hope we can encourage all those who have felt like their voices could not be heard in the past to feel empowered.”
Here’s Lasseter’s full memo to Pixar employees (via THR):
I have always wanted our animation studios to be places where creators can explore their vision with the support and collaboration of other gifted animators and storytellers. This kind of creative culture takes constant vigilance to maintain. It’s built on trust and respect, and it becomes fragile if any members of the team don’t feel valued. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen; and I now believe I have been falling short in this regard.
I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me. It’s never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them. As a result, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the leader I am today compared to the mentor, advocate and champion I want to be. It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent. Collectively, you mean the world to me, and I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.
In my conversations with Disney, we are united in our commitment to always treat any concerns you have with the seriousness they deserve, and to address them in an appropriate manner. We also share a desire to reinforce the vibrant, respectful culture that has been the foundation of our studios’ success since the beginning. And we agree the first step in that direction is for me to take some time away to reflect on how to move forward from here. As hard as it is for me to step away from a job I am so passionate about and a team I hold in the highest regard, not just as artists but as people, I know it’s the best thing for all of us right now. My hope is that a six-month sabbatical will give me the opportunity to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired, and ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve.
I’m immensely proud of this team, and I know you will continue to wow the world in my absence. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to working together again in the new year.
While this news certainly comes as a blow to fans of Lasseter and Pixar, it’s but one of many instances of sexual harassment and misconduct to spread across social media in recent months. And it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg, if we’re being honest. This story, however, seems to be among the first of such allegations in which the reported abuser got his message out into the public before his alleged victims and reporters had their chance to control the narrative. We felt it was important to provide you with both sides of the story so that you might decide for yourselves. This is sad news, indeed, but hopefully it’s cathartic at the very least for the alleged victims and a step towards rehabilitation for Lasseter.