• Actress Emma Thompson. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
In an open letter against former Disney boss John Lasseter, Thompson stakes her reputation and her income to put a value on women, which appears a bizarrely radical thing to do, even in 2019.
Natalie Reilly

28 Feb 2019 - 12:52 PM  UPDATED 25 Oct 2019 - 2:26 PM


Emma Thompson has received an Oscar for her writing, so it should come as no great shock that the actor and writer, a proud feminist with a long history of social activism, would be willing to not just take a dip but launch head-first into the rough seas of a reckoning.

Thompson, who already announced last month she had quit the animated production, Luck, because of John Lasseter’s employment at the Skydance company, went into greater detail about the former head of Disney animation in a letter, published in the LA Times on Wednesday.

Lasseter was the former chief creative officer of Walt Disney animation studios, including Pixar. He had been on a leave of absence since November 2017, after apologising for his sexual harassment. He began his new job as the head of animation at Skydance last month, amid calls from the head of Skydance to give him a "second chance". But Thompson wasn’t having it.

“Much has been said about giving John Lasseter a 'second chance'. But he is presumably being paid millions of dollars to receive that second chance. How much money are the employees at Skydance being paid to GIVE him that second chance?” she asked.

Thompson makes a great point. If companies (and the wider culture around them) cared as much about women as they do profit, John Lasseter would not be allowed back. Or if he was hired, imagine instead a scenario where his salary was docked and the funds divided among the women wearing the risk of his 'second chance'. Women who don’t have the resources Thompson has to be able to say no to a steady income stream in a highly competitive industry. Women who don’t have pockets deep enough to take Lasseter, who has amassed a personal fortune of an estimated US$100 million, to court.

Lasseter, who has fathered five sons with his wife of 34 years, did admit to “missteps” with his colleagues in a staff memo, which he maintained were ‘benign’ in their ‘intent’.

According to an article published by Deadline, Disney knew about it as far back as 2010. So it seems Lasseter was already on a second chance of sorts – for seven years.

It’s a fascinating concept, this ‘second chance’, as if a man can go away and think about what he didn’t mean to do and is sorry if anyone was offended by it.

If companies, (and the wider culture around them) cared as much about women as they do profit, John Lasseter would not be allowed back. 

Hypothetically, what if it was embezzlement rather than sexual harassment that Lasseter was accused of? Would a six-month sabbatical (in which Lasseter still played a key role as a consultant at Disney before he left) be enough in any other scenario?

It’s doubtful. Because profit, even if it comes via a grubby man who can’t keep his hands to himself, is in the end, what companies aspire to. Less aspiring: taking care of employees. Loss of (female) human capital is a shrug, a footnote, especially if the company doesn’t value women all that much to begin with.

These men get to return, under the banner of ‘second chance’ or a ‘comeback’. They formulate a pseudo apology and then slide back in to their careers. And why? Because they’re in demand, for one thing. Lasseter's inappropriate behaviour was well known, but he was also hailed as a genius. Guess which persona matters to Skydance?

No man wants to wait too long anyway or their careers might disintegrate. The irony being that that’s exactly what happened to the women they harmed.

Louis CK. Matthew Weiner. Both men who were accused of inappropriate conduct and went right back to work. And, pre-MeToo, Woody Allen, who took some time out so people could forget that a judge ruled Allen’s behaviour toward his adopted daughter Dylan to be “grossly inappropriate”, before he went right back to making movies.

But we live in a post-#MeToo world now. And while it may, as Emma Thompson admitted in her letter, take more than one year to make sure offenders don’t keep repeating their actions, we have to start somewhere, with more than a slogan or a pin.

Thompson has put her reputation and her income on the line. She also put a value on women, which appears a bizarrely radical thing to do, even in 2019. And she did so without sanctimony. She offered an alternative vehicle for Lasseter by suggesting he start his own company and invite people to work with him, rather than inflict himself on others and get paid millions to do it. It was a fair solution, lodged within a measured, eloquent letter. It’s more than a start – it’s a major turning point, and something Skydance should seriously consider.

But we won’t hold our breath.

Natalie Reilly is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @thatnatreilly. 

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