Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brenda Chapman Off "Brave"

Okay, it's late and I have things I need to be doing aside from this, but I won't be able to sleep tonight until I get this off my chest. It seems the upcoming Pixar film Brave (formerly known as The Bear and the Bow) will no longer be directed by Brenda Chapman as she has left the studio. For anyone who missed my commentary on the discussion around the lack of leading females in Pixar films, Brave was kind of a big deal, not just because it marked the studio's first female lead but also because it would mark its first female director as well. And just like in live-action, female directors in animated features is a rare thing. In fact, Chapman is America's first female animated feature director with The Prince of Egypt. She hasn't directed another movie since then, and I'm having a hard time coming up with another female animated feature director outside Nina Paley (who was totally independent and not part of a big studio). So now, it's being directed by Mark Andrews who co-directed the Pixar short One Man Band, but beyond that I don't have much info on him.

No one's saying why Chapman was replaced yet, and honestly, it could be for legitimate reasons. Directors and people in all sorts of positions get replaced in films all the time, so what makes this such a big deal? Precisely because there are so few women directors out there, especially in feature-length animation. Especially because it's at a studio with the prestige and clout that Pixar has. The reason this studio gets singled out for this sort of scrutiny is because they make good films, period, and people pay attention to them. Why does anyone care if Pixar has a female lead or a female director? Because it matters what they do. Because they set a standard in the industry that matters not just in animation but in live-action film as well. Up was the only animated film aside from Beauty and the Beast to break into the Best Feature category at the Oscars, and before that there was questioning amongst critics as to why Ratatouille hadn't made that leap as well. John Lasseter has stated that Pixar is a director-driven studio and that telling a good story and artistic vision come before anything else there, so it's especially troubling that its first female director left before her project was even finished. Said project is now to be finished by someone else, who is male. This isn't surprising, seeing as how female directors are so hard to come by, but it begs the question yet again: when are women going to be able to tell our own stories? When will this not be a big deal? When will we stop having to put "female" in front of "director" to clarify that it is a woman directing a movie?

I'm far from the only one asking these questions, too. The Animation Guild Blog posted about this in June with Where the Girls Aren't; Film.com recently asked In What Year Will Female Directors Make Up Half the Workforce?; and Women and Hollywood reported on the Zero Progress Made on Gender Disparity in Films Targeted at Kids. I'm sure there are others out there as well, but the point is, as much as gender shouldn't matter in terms of replacing a director on a project, frankly, it does. Not only does the director guide the cohesiveness and vision of the entire film, but in a project like this, where much of the creation of the project was helmed by the director, the loss of a rare female vision for a female-centered story is sad, disappointing, and for someone like me who hopes to break into both directing and animation, it's discouraging and frustrating. Mark Andrews may be more suited to helm this project than Chapman was, and he may do a fine job and help produce a good film with a good female lead. But it won't cease to be troubling that Chapman is one of the few women successfully blazing this trail in American animation, and that her leaving a project is causing such a stir specifically because she's a woman. Yeah, gender shouldn't matter, but it does. When half the population of the human race is considered "other" and "token" and under-represented in such a huge way, the loss of one in a position like that matters.

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