Pixar co-founder John Lasseter has taken a leave of absence after writing an open apology for unwanted hugging.
The positive spin on decades of alleged sexual harassment is that the Pixar co-founder was like an overgrown child with no sense of boundaries. The fact that John Lasseter suddenly sent out a preemptive memo and left his job for six month seems strong evidence that something has been going on.
Of course, the rumors that swirled around him might be exaggerated. And we have to wonder: Did Lasseter do something as bad as what Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey did? Or is he guilty of something less serious but toxic in the current news cycle?
For more than 20 years, young women at Pixar Animation Studios have been warned about the behavior of John Lasseter, who just disclosed that he is taking a leave due to inappropriate conduct with women. The company’s co-founder is known as a hugger. Around Pixar’s Emeryville, Calif., offices, a hug from Lasseter is seen as a mark of approval.
But among female employees, there has long been widespread discomfort about Lasseter’s hugs and about the other ways he showers attention on young women. On Tuesday, that history caught up with him, as Lasseter became the latest prominent person to be accused of inappropriate behavior. This comes in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse and harassment scandal that brought down the movie mogul and has also tarnished other powerful men such as Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and Amazon’s Roy Price.
In a memo to Pixar employees, Lasseter apologized for unwanted hugs and said he would take a six-month leave.
For the last decade, Lasseter has served as Disney’s chief creative officer, overseeing operations at both Pixar and the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The position made him the most powerful person in the field and perhaps the most influential animator since Walt Disney.
Disney had no comment.
Few in animation are willing to cross him. “He is a beloved figure, so I’m scared to speak out,” said one of numerous former employees who spoke to Variety over the last several weeks, all of whom refused to be identified by name for fear of career repercussions. Many described the culture at Pixar as toxic for women. “It’s sexist and misogynistic,” said a former employee.
Many former female Pixar employees said there was a classic whisper network at the animation company, where young women were advised to keep their distance from the co-founder.
Another former employee told Variety that she was cautioned about Lasseter soon after she started work there, in the late 1990s.
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