John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is the latest media executive to face allegations of inappropriate behavior.
In a memo to employees, Lasseter acknowledged “missteps” and said he will be taking a six-month sabbatical. He added that after “a number of difficult conversations,” he realized, “I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable.”
“That was never my intent,” Lasseter said. “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.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, former Pixar employees and others in the animation industry have said that Lasseter is well-known for hugging employees and “grabbing, kissing, making comments about physical attributes,” while Variety reports that others have described the environment at Pixar as “sexist” and “toxic” for women.
Lasseter directed Pixar’s first short films, as well as its initial features, starting with Toy Story. Following the studio’s acquisition in 2006, he was also put in charge of Disney’s animation division, leading to a string of critical and commercial hits, including Frozen.
“We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work,” a Disney spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.”
Update: One of the stories recounted by The Hollywood Reporter involved Toy Story 4 writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, who supposedly left the project early because Lasseter made an unwanted advance. However, Jones and McCormack have now released a statement saying that it isn’t true: “We parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences.”
They go on to say:
There is so much talent at Pixar and we remain enormous fans of their films. But it is also a culture where women and people of color do not have an equal creative voice, as is demonstrated by their director demographics: out of the 20 films in the company’s history, only one was co-directed by a woman and only one was directed by a person of color. We encourage 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.