When Skydance Media Chief Executive David Ellison announced this year that he was hiring John Lasseter to head Skydance Animation, many in and outside the company were shocked and deeply unhappy. Only months earlier, Lasseter had ended his relationship with Pixar — where he had worked since the early ’80s — and parent company Disney after multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior and the creation of a frat house-like work environment. Lasseter had admitted to inappropriate hugging and “other missteps.”
After announcing the hire, Ellison sent a long email to staff, noting that Lasseter was contractually obligated to behave professionally, and convened a series of town halls in which Lasseter apologized for past behavior and asked to be given the chance to prove himself to his new staff. Meanwhile, Mireille Soria, president of Paramount Animation, with which Skydance has a distribution deal, took the highly unusual step of meeting with female employees to tell them that they could decline to work with Lasseter.
But it was Emma Thompson, the politically outspoken newly anointed dame commander of the British Empire who made the first real definitive statement on Lasseter, and one of the most significant decisions in post-#MeToo Hollywood.
In mid-February, it was reported that the two-time Oscar winner had pulled out of Skydance’s highly touted animation feature “Luck,” citing her concerns about Lasseter’s hiring. According to her representatives, from the moment the hire was announced, Thompson began conversations about extricating herself from the project; she officially withdrew Jan. 20.
In a letter she sent to Skydance management three days later, she acknowledged the complications caused by a star withdrawing from a project, including the effect her decision would have on the director, the rest of the cast and the crew. But in the end, she wrote, the questions raised by the Lasseter hire made it impossible for her to remain in the film.
Thompson declined to comment on her decision, but she made the letter available to The Times. (When contacted, Skydance representatives had no comment.) Here it is, 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,
These are issues raised by many after news of Lasseter’s hiring broke, and as other men who stepped down or were fired from high profile jobs after being accused of inappropriate behavior have attempted to return to their industries. They are, perhaps, described more succinctly by Thompson — she did win one of those Oscars for screenwriting — but far more important is that they are literally parting words.