Although the broader entertainment industry is still grappling with a lack of gender diversity, the studio Jeffrey Katzenberg built has never lacked the presence of strong women. Indeed, DreamWorks Animation’s co-presidents are Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria, who earned their leadership roles producing such franchises as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Madagascar.”
Arnold says they are not the exceptions, and cites several female leaders at DreamWorks over the years, including Ann Daly, Kelley Avery, Penney Finkelman Cox and Melissa Cobb, now a leader at Oriental DreamWorks alongside Peilin Chou. “To Jeffrey’s credit, he’s always embraced strong women,” says Arnold. “He thinks that a nurturing environment helps artists get their jobs done.”
This also creates a climate where women get promoted. Jennifer Yuh Nelson rose from storyboarding to directing “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Katzenberg had noticed her artistry on the first “Panda” movie, and felt she possessed the quiet authority to helm the sequel.
“Animation has traditionally been male-centric,” Yuh Nelson says. “Disney’s ‘Nine Old Men’ were men. But since CG was brand new and everyone was starting from scratch, it may have allowed for a more level playing field.”
“Jeffrey saw who was making contributions, and focused on empowering them,” says Arnold. “There’s still just a handful of women directors in animation, and we’d love to have more. It’s our responsibility to identify woman we can promote.”
To that end, DreamWorks has a training group in the story department, reflecting the belief that it’s a mistake to have just one gender developing storylines.
On the technology side, DreamWorks’ Kate Swanborg says, “There are still many inroads to make. We need to encourage young women to embrace math and science.”