On the morning of Saturday, October 6, as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was being confirmed after facing sexual assault allegations in hearings that riveted the country, a group of animation professionals came together at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts for an event called “Breaking the Glass Frame: Women and Animation, Past, Present, Future.” The three-day symposium designed to focus on female contributions in the art and business of animation as well as exploring major challenges facing women and LGBTQ such as sexual harassment, bias and lack of diversity.
The event was organized by Women in Animation, USC, UCLA and CalArts.
The timing of the event and the rise of the #MeToo movement were not lost on keynote speaker, Academy Award-winner Brenda Chapman who spoke at length about her own struggles to break into the animation industry which included being told once she was only being hired to fill a female staff quota. Though Chapman didn’t name the person who said this to her, she did stress that once she got past that initial job interview, her fellow animators supported and accepted her and her work.
Chapman went on to be a story artist for Beauty and the Beast and a story supervisor for The Lion King. She also became the first woman to direct an animated feature, The Prince of Egypt, for a big studio and later won her Oscar for co-directing Brave. That last achievement came despite a legendary dustup over creative differences on the film that resulted in Chapman being taken off the film. But Chapman fought to have her credit for her work, she told attendees on Saturday.
“What I’m saying to you is don’t take that stuff lying down,” said Chapman. “Don’t go away and think they must be right or there’s nothing you can do. There are things you can do. You may not get exactly what you want in that moment. I wanted my film back. I could have my dignity and my ability to keep moving forward and making things that I love to make.”
Chapman also credited Jeffrey Katzenberg for his support of her at that time.
“The thing that surprised me the most was how much my colleagues in the industry, knowing my body of work, stood behind me on that one,” said Chapman. “I thought at first I was going to be abandoned and instead, the day that it happened, Jeffrey Katzenberg called me and said, ‘Come home and come back to DreamWorks.’ I had a call from almost every studio.”
Panels at the event also included “Pushing for Diversity + Inclusion in Animation: Race, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Disability + Age,” which featured Kaitlyn Yang, founder and visual effects supervisor at Alpha Studios. Yang, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at a child and is wheelchair bound, was included on Forbes 2018 30 Under 30 list for Hollywood/Entertainment.
“I had pretty much freelanced at every major studio in town and one of my memories is I was in a room with about 300 other artists and (the visual effects supervisor) had no idea what my name was but he remembered all the Johns and Davids and that was really the springboard of me wanting to start my own visual effects company,” said Yang.
Erika Dapkewicz, lead editor on Sony Pictures Vivo told of navigating resistance to her opinions at various points. She previously worked on Mulan, Pocahontas and Puss in Boots.
“Since I’m transgender, I’ve encountered gender bias and power plays as a man and a woman,” said Dapkewicz. “Since transitioning I’ve been told things like, ‘You’re looking really hot these days.’ I’ve been told that I’m a bitch when I stand up for my opinion and not in a funny way. “
Caress Reeves, visual effects animator for Stoopid Buddy Stoodio’s Robot Chicken and Supermansion added that, for young black, female artists, there are struggles as well. In the past Reeves has faced pushback when trying to contribute creatively to a project or explain that she disagrees with unfair treatment.
“I see advocacy for the inclusion of more women and marginalized people in animation as imperative,” said Reeves. “There will always be talented young artists looking for mentorship and let there be as many female alternatives for those looking to enter the industry.”
During “Breaking through the Boys’ Blub: Effective Strategies for Positive Change in the Industry,” Sidney Clifton, producer and creative recruiter at Riot Games, said it’s also crucial for women to advocate for each other.
“The reality is that empowering your sister does not disempower you,” said Clifton. “It’s in all of our interest to help empower other women and get more women into the industry and on our productions because it makes it better for you and just healthier for everybody.”
Sunday’s panels focused on “Animation Outside the U.S.,” “Empowering Women in Animation Through VR Tools,” “Mindy Johnson’s An Invisible History: Trailblazing Women of Animation,” Women in Animation’s NextGen World View,” “Navigating the Cutting Edge of New Media,” and a closing keynote by industry veteran Brown Johnson, exec VP and creative director of Sesame Workshop.
For more info about this important event, visit www.breakingtheglassframe.com.