In 2018, of the top 100 grossing films, only four percent had female directors. Of these films, only eighteen percent had female producers and executive producers. While these numbers are shocking in a time and age such as today, these numbers are declining quickly. However, production companies, including Pixar, have taken a stand and are shedding light upon the issue of women in the workplace, specifically in the film and TV industry. Kristin Lester, Pixar SparkShorts director of the new short film “Purl”, is one of the several women to stand up to the “Hollywood Boy’s Club” and support women in the film and TV industry.
In her first short film with Pixar, Lester sets out to address women in the workplace, specifically in the film and TV industry. In the short span of eight minutes, “Purl” follows a ball of yarn on her first day of work at a male-dominated company where she feels forced to express herself in a typical masculine manner in order to fit in. Nearing the end of the short, a new ball of yarn, Lacey, joins the company and Purl is put in a difficult position to either fit in with her guy friends or include Lacey in the antics of the group.
The film ends with Purl deciding to push aside her façade and welcome Lacey with open arms. Purl’s kind actions then set a precedent for the rest of the company, showing a scene of the company a few months later with men and balls of yarn interacting like friends and colleagues.
Lester has stated that the short film is a nod to her early experiences in the film industry. Her very first job happened to be at a male-dominated animation company where Lester recalls feeling forced to become “one of the guys” in order to fit in and work cohesively at the company.
“In order to do the thing that I loved, I sort of became one of the guys,” said Lester in a Disney Pixar interview.
After moving to Pixar and joining a company that was much more women-populated, Lester realized how much of her female side she had lost simply because she wanted to fit in. When Lester approached Gillian Libbert-Duncan, producer of “Purl”, with the idea and inspiration behind the short film, Libbert-Duncan was pleasantly surprised at how much she related to Lester and Purl’s story and fully supported the short and its strong message.
According to a study conducted by a San Diego State University professor, only eight percent of 2018’s 250 highest-grossing films were female-directed, compared to the eleven percent in 2017. As for speaking roles in 2018, only thirty-five percent were female in comparison to the eighty-two percent of speaking roles that were portrayed by men.
“Underrepresentation of women, stereotypes of women, stereotypes of relationships between men and women, sexual harassment, normalizing violence against women – all of these things are common and, frankly, infuriating,” said Garland Waller, Film and Television professor at Boston University.
Putting aside Lester’s push for women in the film and TV industry, as demonstrated in “Purl”, Pixar itself it has not been immune to the backlash it has received for having a large gender gap.
Brave’s director, Brenda Chapman, stated that when she started at Pixar, there were no women in the studio’s story department but her. At the time, she was hired to work on the Cars film but her input was never taken very far for it to have any effect due to her gender. This experience then led her to start working on Brave – the first Pixar film to portray a female protagonist in an empathetic light.
Pixar has also recently been under fire for the sexual misconduct complaints towards their animation leader, John Lasseter. Several actresses and writers have left Pixar due to Lasseter’s behavior, one of which includes Rashida Jones.
However, Pixar has announced that Lasseter has left the company due to these complaints.
While no company in the film and TV industry is immune to gender complaints or issues, it is the work and the movements they do to solve these dilemmas that make them stand out. With Lester’s work at SparkShorts, Pixar is no exception.
“You know, I am a big believer that you have to say what you mean and not expect people to read your mind. Women need to speak up – for themselves and for others. We have a very long way to go in this society, but it seems to me that there’s a new consciousness about gender bias, so I am, ultimately, hopeful,” said Waller.
While Pixar does have much work to do in closing the gender gap, with directors and team members like Kristin Lester, the world-wide movement to include more women in the film and TV industry is gaining momentum faster than ever before.