John Lasseter and Hollywood's Infuriating Journey From #MeToo to #TooSoon (Guest Column)

John Lasseter - Illustration - H 2018
llustration by Læmeur

Disney is reportedly considering allowing the animation guru to return amid claims of unwanted touching and kissing, which just shows the industry is too eager to forgive and forget, writes the director of a new sexual harassment documentary.

How long does it take for a historic scandal to go from raging wildfire to merely cold ashes?

For executives at Walt Disney, it took just about eight months. Yes, eight months after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and #MeToo spread faster than California's Thomas fire, Disney is considering bringing animation guru John Lasseter back to the company. The Wall Street Journal reported he could return in a "reduced" role after taking a six-month sabbatical for behavior that included "grabbing, kissing and lurid comments."

What exactly does a reduced role mean for Lasseter? No hugging? No kissing? He can shake hands, but he must wear gloves and avoid leering? Maybe he works from his laptop in a secluded location? This could be a precedent that shapes the future for many executives and artists who have been exiled in recent months, some of whom are accused of behavior not considered "Harvey-like" enough to warrant permanent termination. Are co-workers and victims really ready to just forgive and coexist?

What is motivating Disney to dip its toe in what might still be toxic waters? This is the same studio that recently lost a court battle to keep secret an old Miramax employment contract it had with Weinstein. I assume it's bottom-line driven, since Lasseter was crucial to its past success. Perhaps Disney is banking on the public becoming oversaturated and bored with #MeToo.

Having just completed The Reckoning, the first post-#MeToo documentary, I am of the opinion that bringing back some of these disgraced players, wherever they lie on the bad behavior spectrum, is putting women on the losing end of the equation again. It makes their stories and pain irrelevant. The paradox is that Hollywood took the first step in making changes in the face of a widening scandal, and now it's considering bringing back some of the bad guys #TooSoon.

Melissa Hood, my co-producer, and I made this film to keep the momentum alive, document a watershed time in history and, more importantly, prevent the kind of apathy that could result in serious setbacks to this movement. It was not an easy undertaking. People were still nervous in the late fall when we began shooting. There would be no large advance from a network or studio. There were many brave souls willing to speak, but there also were those who would cancel due to legal threats, impending book deals or a fear that the whole movement might just collapse.

During the shooting of this film, I was privy to much uneasiness in Hollywood about what to do with the bad guys who are still profit-making creators. Many hoped it would start and end with Harvey. But as the scandal widened, the mood went from containment and how quickly can we get the bad guys back in the saddle and producing for us to outright panic. I know a few A-list offenders who were still being courted by the studios until the headlines got worse.

Still, Hollywood loves a comeback and has a long history of forgiving notorious behavior. Is there the potential for a newly reformed bad guy to do Kimmel and The View, take his lumps and then land a huge role? In many off-camera interviews with Hollywood players and even the fans, there was forgiveness in his or her heart if the predator could say the right thing or do what he does: act. Today, there is very little shock value in new revelations. After news broke May 24 about Morgan Freeman harassing women, one agent said to me, "He will work."

This could prevent #MeToo from making the inroads it must. Many of the survivors we spoke to already feel the spotlight shifting away from the abuses of power and worry that many of the lessons are being forgotten. That would be a shame, given the potential for change. Say what you will about Rose McGowan: Her crusading may be eccentric, but it's relentless and unavoidable.

We wanted to keep the conversation going out of fear of what might be happening now: Hey, bad guys, it's safe to come back in the pool. It doesn't have to be black and white, but the middle ground is not a "reduced role" charade. Are the studios this dependent on their dinosaur talent? Why not take this as an opportunity to replace creeps with new creators or hire more women in creative and executive positions?

Now it looks like Weinstein could go to jail. We should be cautious about premature celebrations. It was never just about Harvey. It was about the need for a massive cultural change in Hollywood. The willingness to let Lasseter (or others) back prematurely suggests Hollywood still needs some direction.

Barry Avrich is the director of The Reckoning: Hollywood's Worst Kept Secret and the author of Moguls, Monsters and Madmen.

This story also appears in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.