Right before the Thanksgiving break and the wide release of his studio’s newest film “Coco,” news broke regarding the six-month leave of absence of John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, as well as creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering.
According to the memo written by Lasseter and first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the reason for his leave was due to “missteps” that were made by Lasseter. While those missteps were left out of the announcement, multiple outlets including the LA Times reported that they were due to multiple women who worked with Lasseter complaining about interactions they had with the Disney executive.
Those complaints ranged from “unwanted hugs” and kisses on the mouth to inappropriate, crude jokes – all directed toward young, pretty women.
Revelations of the powerful Disney leader’s behavior came to a shock to many fellow creative leaders who worked close to him for years, before and after the Disney acquisition of Pixar back in 2006. It’s no coincidence that the news is coming out now on the heels of the Harvey Weinstein allegations of his harassment towards women in Hollywood.
While many women are speaking out about their mistreatment by men in all industries now, the solace for many of these women also comes from when their harasser comes clean and admits to their “missteps.” While Lasseter did admit to his actions, this fact still remains: Lasseter still remains at Disney and the Company has yet to call the missteps for what it is – harassment.
Additionally, sources familiar with the matter and Disney’s response to the harassment allegations have said that the Company is unsure what to do when Lasseter returns from his paid leave. Their official statement on his leave claimed that they want to support an “environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work,” but they continue to support Lasseter and his decision to leave for a limited time.
Lasseter is expected to return to work mid-2018, but sources close to Lasseter have said that he had plans to retire in the next few years. “Inside Out” director and Pixar veteran Pete Docter is seen to be a candidate to take over for Lasseter as he was seen with him multiple times during the year “shadowing” during a typical Lasseter work day. The harassment allegations might accelerate the timeline to Lasseter’s retirement.
Whatever Lasster’s future at the Company, Disney must not protect even its more creative assets who might take advantage of their position to create a hostile environment for women and men to do their jobs. Creativity comes and goes, but the reputation of not addressing something as harmful as harassment will destroy a kingdom and its ‘happily ever after’.