“Lift as you climb” is an old adage that sadly often fails in practice. Power is a powerful drug, after all, and the temptation to abandon a good cause to indulge in it can be hard to resist.
Actor Emma Thompson is determined to hoist and pull, though, as seen by her departure from a highly anticipated animated movie. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times published a letter that the two-time Academy Award winner shared after sending it to the management of Skydance Media.
Eloquent and excoriating, the letter confirms Ms. Thompson’s rumoured departure from the cast of Luck. It also outlines her reason: Skydance’s decision to name John Lasseter head of its animation department barely six months after he left the Walt Disney Co. in a cloud of allegations of sexual misconduct.
Animation is a new area for Skydance, and it wants to make a splash. If Mr. Lasseter’s CV were the only consideration for hiring him, then sure, he’s a catch. During three decades at Lucasfilm, Disney and Pixar, he made movies that grossed billions. He has his own two Oscars.
But what’s most recently notable is his inclusion on the ever-growing list of men whose alleged bad behaviour is no longer an open secret. In late 2017, Mr. Lasseter (who executive produced the girl-power hit Frozen) took a leave of absence amid reports of his long-time reputation for unwanted kissing, hugging and “grabbing.” By June, 2018, Disney/Pixar showed him the door.
Some employees, The Hollywood Reporter said, “used a move they called ‘the Lasseter’ to prevent their boss from putting his hands on their legs.” Variety reported that he was trailed by “minders” meant to moderate “his impulses.” As has been noted time and again as the #MeToo movement unfolds, workplace predators are often enabled by both individuals and entire systems.
The backlash to his hiring at Skydance was immediate and furious. The response by chief executive David Ellison, obtuse. He condescendingly ensured employees that the company had had “substantive conversations” with Mr. Lasseter, and asked them to be patient.
Ms. Thompson, though, is 59 years old, wise enough to know that later often turns into never. Her letter notes that “centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies” have already passed.
"I’m well aware” that this “is not going to change overnight. Or in a year,” Ms. Thompson wrote. “But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out – like me – do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.”
There are many, many good points in her letter, including the meaninglessness of having Mr. Lasseter promise not to harass women in his contract. It’s already illegal, after all.
Ms. Thompson also addresses what’s been one of the most controversial issues, as #MeToo rolls along, which is whether offenders deserve a “second chance,” and what redemption would look like. Noting the significant power imbalance, she points out that Mr. Lasseter is probably being paid millions to try again, while rank-and-file Skydance employees don’t get a bonus for tolerating a rumoured lech.
A second chance is only deserved by those who have learned something since the end of the first. Redemption and atonement takes time, but as seen in the quick attempts at comebacks by people such as Louis C.K. and Mario Batali, quite a few disgraced stars want to skip ahead. Plenty of people are willing to help them – it was less than a year since Mr. Lasseter’s departure from Disney/Pixar that Mr. Ellison offered up a prestigious job.
There are exceptions: At last year’s Oscars, best-actress winner Frances McDormand challenged the industry to take up inclusion riders, or legal commitments to diversify cast and crew. Michael B. Jordan committed to doing so for his new production company, Outlier Society, and Brie Larson signed the one required to work on its first movie, Just Mercy.
And in proof that #MeToo is international, Bollywood stars Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan recently left projects in protest of allegations against their colleagues.
True change often means adding new bumps to formerly smooth roads, and some people are decent enough to go ahead anyway. And now, Ms. Thompson has publicly lent a hand to young women such as her daughter, as well as everyone who can’t turn down a paycheque, even when they’re the ones being groped.
Read more from Denise Balkissoon