The Bigelow Effect: People Talking About Pixar Firing Its First Female Director

by Melissa Silverstein on October 21, 2010

in Women Directors

I’ve been trying to analyze if there is has been any effect in the larger conversation since Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for best director earlier this year.

While it clearly has not helped women in general to get jobs on big studio pictures, yet (and I say that with high hopes for the future), it has made people aware of the fact that only one woman has won the award and only four have been nominated.

What that has translated into is certain conversations about women directors that we probably wouldn’t have had before.

Case in point – Pixar firing Brenda Chapman from Brave.

Directors get fired all the time.  But this firing has people up in arms for a variety of reasons.  First, because they touted her as their first female director only a month ago; second, she is an experienced animated director; third, the firing doesn’t seem to be rational and folks even in the business are confused as to why it happened.

And another thing to note, the film is about a girl (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) who defies her parents and wants to become an archer. Here’s the description from the film’s Facebook page:

Set in Scotland in a rugged and mythical time, “Brave” features Merida, an aspiring archer and impetuous daughter of royalty. Merida makes a reckless choice that unleashes unintended peril and forces her to spring into action to set things right. The all-star cast features Reese Witherspoon, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson and Julie Walters. Pixar’s very own Brenda Chapman, of “The Lion King” and “Prince of Egypt” fame, directs this Highland tale full of humor, heart and adventure.

Chapman’s name is still on the page, and also the film is produced by a woman Katherine Sarafian.

So they had a woman director on a film about a girl who seems to kick ass.

And now she’s gone.  What message does that send?

They (the Disney side of Pixar) have already toned down Tangled AKA Rapunzel to make it more boy friendly and I really hope that doesn’t happen here too.  Because its not like there are so many films and characters about girls in kids films no matter how many princess movies you see. According to the latest research girls are only 29% of speaking characters in G, PG and PG-13 films.

But the press has noticed this firing and honestly it is Pixar’s own fault cause if they wouldn’t have announced last month that she was the first female director then no one would have noticed that she had been booted.  How does a relationship that has been ongoing for years sour in one month from anointment to firing?

Here are some of the press pieces. First place goes to Cartoon Brew which had the early info and the great comments.

Here are some of the other headlines:
Is Pixar Sexist? Anger as Studio Replaces Female Director on ‘Brave’ – The Wrap
Pixar Removes Its First Female Director – The NY Times
Director Brenda Chapman replaced on Pixar’s ‘Brave’ while animation insiders buzz
– Hitfix

So to me, the Bigelow effect here is that we noticed this, we talked about this, and it didn’t just go by as business as usual.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

K October 22, 2010 at 9:56 AM

During the making of Pixar’s first ever movie with a female lead character, they replace their first ever female director with a dude? You have to laugh.

And of course it’s a princess movie. Way to shake things up, Pixar. (What year is it where you are?)

damn pixar October 23, 2010 at 2:14 PM

This is exactly why they do not get a penny from me, my friends who are mothers and other woman film makers I know. I’m so tired of blatant sexism in the industry. It’s making us all, men, women and children- sick!
Of course, they don’t give a damn about my opinion, or anyone who is well informed, well read and can employ critical thinking. They are after the blind masses and they’ve got em, to continue blinding them.

anne October 23, 2010 at 8:02 PM

It’s pretty ironic in the first place that the heads of a company that’s existed for more than 30 years would be patting themselves on the back for just now hiring their first singular female director.

I’d like to know their reasoning for firing her though.

anne October 23, 2010 at 8:29 PM

And why do they need to make anything more boy-friendly? Especially a fairy tale. The whole world’s boy-friendly. They obviously didn’t bend over backwards to make Toy Story 3 more girl-friendly.

Where is Hollywood? January 9, 2011 at 9:53 AM

In Japan, there are already a dozen woman director who can do successful animated series.
In mainland China, where my people are imfamous for baby gendercide, can have woman direct historical epic films, or large-scale big-budget TV drama series about ancient emperors.

…Hello? I thought Hollywood is located in the United States?

gf revenge October 20, 2011 at 7:09 PM

During the making of Pixar’s first ever movie with a female lead character, they replace their first ever female director with a dude? You have to laugh.

Steven Applebaum December 13, 2011 at 6:46 PM

Directors are fired all the time for a variety of reasons, most of which would seem incredibly irrelevant to those not in the industry. It’s an industry of politics and culture that takes years to become acquainted with.

However, the assumption that Bigelow was fired for being a woman is laughable. She just wasn’t getting the job done on-schedule.

Smatt584 February 15, 2012 at 11:50 AM

She is one of main credited writers of the picture. She personally created the story. Pixar is an extremely collaborative studio made up of many talented men AND WOMEN. Every single Pixar movie made massive changes to the story during the production and thats what makes Pixar a smashing success. Instead of everybody showing their own personal biases and sensitivities by immediately saying Pixar is sexist just because the director they fired (this time) was a woman, maybe they can assume that the person who wrote the movie was probably too inflexible in changing it when it got bad word of mouth from multiple test screenings. I mean, you jut might take it personally if the studio decides to gut out all of the hard work you poured into creating a story, don’t you think? Especially if you have directed before and think you better than a test audience. So maybe, just maybe, we can safely say that Pixar knows how to make a great animated flick and that this DIRECTOR (not man or woman), was no longer the best thing for the story. If you really want to unite the genders in equality, you have to accept the good and the bad equally, not just cry ‘sexism’ when things don’t work out your way. Oh and on a side note, as mentioned, one of the main Producers is A WOMAN. Producers have a big say in whether the director of their film gets fired. They are paying for it after all.

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