The Walt Disney Company
Scroll through the credit role of any an animated film from the ‘30s and chances are you won’t see a single female name. Why? Because of sexist rejection letters like the ones that recently surfaced from Disney.
Vox recently shared a number of rejection letters issued to women in the late ‘30s that offers a glimpse into just how difficult it was for women to make it in the film industry.
The main reason? They were women and “women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen.”
The letters go on to say that a few positions as “Inker” or “Painter” (basically, the people that traced the animations and coloured them in) were options for women interested in working at Disney but that even these positions were limited.
In 2010, Vanity Fair published an article about the Inkers and Painters of this era who worked on major productions of the time including
Bambi.” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Dumbo.” Although they weren’t considered part of the “creative work,” these women often clocked 85 hours a week perfecting details like the 27 different colours used for Jiminy Cricket. It may not have been seen as creative work – but it definitely was hard work.
The turn around came just before World War II when the fear of losing male workers heading off to fight prompted Disney to update their policies. In Kathy Merlock Jackson’s book Walt Disney: Conversations, she quotes a speech where Disney explains the three reasons for allowing women to finally be involved in actual animation.
First, he wanted workers to be more versatile. Second, by allowing women to animate he could ensure that business was maintained while the men were off at war. The third reason is the most interesting and probably most significant. Disney was quoted as saying that women had the right to expect the same opportunities of advancement as men. He followed up with, “I honestly believe that they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could.”
That said, women still make up an incredibly tiny portion of the industry–particularly animators.
Here are some women animators who managed to break through the barriers and earn some credits:
Carole Holliday: "The Little Mermaid,” “Oliver and Company”
Helen Mingjue Chen: “Wreck-It Ralph,” Frankenweenie"
Brittney Lee: “Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph”
Claire Keane: “Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph”, “Tangled”
Ellen Woodbury: “Meet the Robinsons”, “Chicken Little”, “Fantasia/2000″, “Tarzan", “Hercules”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame", “Pocahontas”, “The Lion King", “Aladdin,“ “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Rescuers Down Under,” “The Little Mermaid,“ “Oliver & Company”
And it’s not just animators. In 2013, “Frozen” co-director Jennifer Lee became the first woman to direct a feature-length animated Disney film.. She also became the first female to direct a billion-dollar film.