John Lasseter has found a new gig after stepping down from Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios over allegations of inappropriate touching and similar behavior. Skydance Media announced Wednesday that Lasseter will be the new head of Skydance Animation.
Lasseter revealed that he would take a six-month leave of absence from Disney and Pixar in November 2017 after anonymous sources relayed allegations of “grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes” to the Hollywood Reporter. An anonymous staffer told Variety that his “behavior around young women has been known within the company since the 1990s.” The accusations hinted at a larger culture of discrimination at the company: Rashida Jones denied reports that she had withdrawn from writing Toy Story 4 because of an alleged unwanted advance from Lasseter, but she did say in a statement that her departure from the project was the result of “women and people of color [not having] an equal creative voice.”
Lasseter acknowledged at the time of the Hollywood Reporter story that he had made “missteps,” writing that “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.” When he returned to Disney from his leave of absence, his position was limited to a consulting role, which lasted through the end of 2018.
Lasseter will now help run Skydance Animation, a relatively new division of Skydance Media formed in 2017 as a partnership with Spain’s Ilion Animation Studios. Since its formation, the studio has announced three major upcoming projects from directors who have worked on the likes of Shrek, Kung Fu Panda 3, and Tangled. (Lasseter was an executive producer on Tangled, a Disney film.)
“John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them,” Skydance Media CEO David Ellison said in a press release in which he also hailed Lasseter as “a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated.”
In a memo to Skydance staff obtained by Deadline, Ellison took a similar tack, writing that “John has been forthright in taking ownership of his behavior, apologized for his actions and has spent the past year on sabbatical analyzing and improving his workplace behavior.” He added that the company hired outside counsel to investigate allegations against Lasseter, “which we considered serious and have warranted our full attention as we made this important decision. The senior leadership team and I have all carefully evaluated the findings of this extensive investigation.” The company is hosting town hall meetings to discuss the decision with employees.
“I’m grateful to David and the Skydance team and know that I have been entrusted with an enormous responsibility,” Lasseter said. “It is a distinct privilege that I will relish. I have spent the last year away from the industry in deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for. It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader.”
He adds: “With what I have learned and how I have grown in the past year, I am resolute in my commitment to build an animation studio upon a foundation of quality, safety, trust and mutual respect.”
Time’s Up released a statement in response to Lasseter’s new position:
Skydance Media’s decision to hire John Lasseter as head of animation endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence. At a moment when we should be uplifting the many talented voices who are consistently underrepresented, Skydance Media is providing another position of power, prominence and privilege to a man who has repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.
People often ask when a man who has abused his power “gets” to “come back.” There is no simple answer. But here are a few first steps:
1) Demonstrate true remorse.
2) Work deeply to reform your behavior.
3) Deliver restitution to those you harmed.
That’s the bare minimum.
Hiring decisions have consequences. And offering a high-profile position to an abuser who has yet to do any of those things is condoning abuse.