Women in Animation Summit Talks Inclusion: "The World Is 50/50 — Why Isn’t This Industry?"

“If people who are in position of hiring start setting that precedent, the agents will start looking more closely for that talent on their roster."
Courtesy of Women In Animation World Summit/Facebook
From left: WIA Summit speakers Fox Family's Vanessa Morrison, Passion Animation Studios' Cara Speller, Paramount Animation's Mireille Soria, Fox Animation's Andrea Miloro and Swedish Film Institute's Jenny Gilbertsson

"Last fall was a real turning point and I think the biggest change is people are started to listen to women and believe them," Marge Dean, president of Women in Animation, said Monday as she opened the Women in Animation World Summit, which is being held in conjunction with the Annecy International Animation Festival in Annecy, France. 

Speakers urged work toward inclusion and diversity, citing iniatives such as women's mentoring programs and expanding hiring practices. "It comes down to a conscious decision," asserted Fox Animation co-president Andrea Miloro. Annecy organizers also said the fest would join others in the community in taking the pledge of 5050x2020.

Neither Dean, in her comments, nor any other speakers addressed the biggest development in the animation world — John Lasseter's exit from Disney and Pixar at the end of this year following admitted "missteps," which was announced Friday by Disney. (While Disney/Pixar was an event sponsor and Disney was represented in the program, there were no speakers from Pixar.)

The event kicked off with Julie Ann Crommett, vp multicultural audience engagement at Walt Disney Studios, who discussed unconscious bias.

Citing Black Panther as an example of what happens when bias is set aside, she said, "There had been a myth that films with black leads didn’t sell outside the U.S. — $1.3 billion later, they do. It’s shattered a myth because now there’s data."

Crommett added, however, that there’s much more that needs to be done. Citing 2016 research, she reported that just 34 percent of onscreen speaking roles in movies were women, and 31 percent of leads or co-leads were women. And only four percent of directors were women.

Numerous speakers noted that diversity makes good business sense. "If we keep making the same films, we will fail," asserted Paramount Animation president Mireille Soria.

Added Jenny Gilbertsson, commissioner at the Swedish Film Institute: "This isn't about justice, it's about quality. ... If we keep reproducing the same stories, the film industry is dead."

She added: "Changing structures is always controversial because some lose power and some gain power."

Miloro pointed out that Fox's Blue Sky recently signed up its first female director, Karen Disher, who, with Steve Marino (The Peanuts Movie), will helm Blue Sky’s 2019-scheduled animated musical Foster.

Miloro reported that Disher has been with Blue Sky for roughly 15 years, and the company is expanding its internal mentoring as well as taking these efforts to schools to involve the next generation.

"We can get involved in change," asserted The Little Prince director Mark Osborne, who also chairs WIA’s new Male Allies committee. "The world is 50/50 — why isn’t this industry? We love this industry and we are stronger together.”

On a panel of “Male Allies,” which Osborne moderated, Aircraft Pictures co-president Anthony Leo pointed out that only two animated feature releases in 2017 were helmed by women — Nora Twomey, director of the Oscar-nominated drama The Breadwinner (which Leo produced), and Dorota Kobiela, who co-directed the Oscar-nominated biopic Loving Vincent.

Leo related that his company is now working on a Hulu production based on the Holly Hobbie property “and we did achieve 50/50.” But he explained that during that process, he reached out to one talent agent for directors and there were no women on the roster, so he moved on. “If people who are in position of hiring start setting that precedent, the agents will start looking more closely for that talent on their roster,” he asserted.

Roland Poindexter, vp television development at Fox Family, emphasized that when hiring, he considers everybody. "That gives me a wider opportunity to have a great talent base," he said. "Different elements of your production are gong to speak to different people in the audience.

"And while there needs to be a single voice at the top," he added, "hopefully that person is open to listening to their creative team."

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