Brenda Chapman, the original director of Pixar's Brave, claims she got her first job at Disney in 1987, because she's a woman. In fact, she writes that she was told in no uncertain terms that she was hired straight out of CalArts to be their first ever female story artist — it was some 1987-style Real Talk.
I'm not making assumptions. I was simply told that by the executive at Disney Animation with the cold blue eyes who sat behind his desk. It was 1987. They were getting some flack because they didn't have enough women in creative positions–especially their story department – their current count: 0. "We need a woman. And you're the right price." His exact words – I kid you not.
Dang! I think it's rad that Chapman is a pioneering woman in a male-dominated field, her importance as the first female director of a Pixar movie (even if she didn't finish the film), is a big fucking deal. And I love that she involves herself in the conversation, it's important for women working in historically men's-only professions to speak up, be heard, be seen, rinse, and repeat. However, can I just correct her and her boss on one thing? She wasn't hired because she was a woman. All the women before 1987 were NOT hired because they were women. And by not framing the conversation in that way, I think we do a disservice to the true story, which is that affirmative action works. Also, if we're going down that route, every white man who writes anything about pretty much every job ever should first issue the disclaimer, "I was hired because I'm a man. Now here's what else I have to say." Which, actually, I would really like because, for real, let's rap on this. Her whole story is "person majors in story art, applies for job, after graduation, gets hired, works hard, has talent, does a good job. No story here." Well, except that it's the EXACT same story that could've happened anytime between the year Disney was founded and 1987, but didn't.
Chapman then talks about her work on Disney princesses Ariel and Belle, and about how they were, for Disney at that time, or really any time, considered fairly progressive. Or, progressive-ish. Progressive-lite? She writes:
I know some hardcore feminists have ripped both of the above to shreds. But I consider both films a huge step forward compared to the old ones from the 30s and 40s. Can't have it all at once – never seems to work that way. Just know we tried the best we could.
I think it's great that Chapman's proud of her art in those films, but is there really the need to defend Belle and Ariel as improvements on "heroines" like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White? Yeah, okay, Belle is more of a go-getter than Sleeping Beauty, but girlfriend has some major problems, including the fact that her real value comes down to her looks.
Chapman's post is definitely worth reading, and celebrating, but we gotta move away from this whole, "Disney female characters are getting slightly better, let's all be glad" thing — they wouldn't be any better at all if weren't for the hard work of what she calls "hardcore" feminists. Just like she never would've been hired without feminism.
I Was Hired Because I Was a Woman [Brenda Chapman]