Women in Animation has partnered with a group of independent studios on a pledge to have zero tolerance for harassment in the industry.
The advocacy group has lined up 11 companies — OddBot, Inc., Six Point Harness, Titmouse, Bento Box Entertainment, CounterPunch Studios, Duncan Studio, Incessant Rain Animation Studios, Renegade Animation, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, Tonko House and Wild Canary Animation — and hopes to convince others to join and affirm their commitment to creating healthier work environments. In each instance, the studio president and owner have agreed to sign the pledge and to have it counter-signed by each of their employees.
The move came about in the wake of an open letter that was sent last October to studio chiefs. It was signed by more than 200 women and gender nonconforming people in the animation industry, urging others to speak out about sexual harassment and calling the problem pervasive.
The movie business has been rocked by a mushrooming series of sexual misconduct and abuse scandals. In October, news broke that indie mogul Harvey Weinstein had allegedly abused, harassed, or assaulted dozens of women. That prompted a wave of fresh allegations against industry figures such as Dustin Hoffman, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, and Brett Ratner. It’s a reckoning that also impacted the animation sector of the film and television business. “Amusement Park” director Dylan Brown was fired from the film in January after an investigation into complaints of inappropriate conduct. Nickelodeon fired “Loud House” showrunner Chris Savino in October after at least a dozen women accused him of unwanted advances and harassment. And John Lasseter, the creative force at Disney’s animation division, was put on leave in November after employees complained about misconduct. It is unclear if he will return to his former role.
“When all of this stuff was going on last fall I kept getting calls and emails from friends and colleagues who were upset and asking what they could do,” said Marge Dean, the group’s president and the head of studio for Ellation Inc. “We realized that we needed to create some kind of safety net because a lot of us work job to job or for a lot of different companies.”
In November, Dean convened a group of Women in Animation members and studio chiefs to try to craft a solution. Chris Hamilton, who runs Oddbot, an animation company with roughly 50 employees, hit upon the idea of writing a code of conduct that could be embraced across the industry.
“So many of the stories we were reading around the time were from employees who said they didn’t feel supported, so they stayed silent and didn’t come forward,” said Hamilton.
After months of consulting with one another and with lawyers, the companies hammered out a finished product. The pledge that they are signing and sharing asserts a commitment to “…providing safe and equitable work environments free of discrimination and harassment.” It defines harassment as: “unwanted conduct on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. which has the purpose or effect of either violating the claimant’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. Harassment is against state, federal and local laws.”
Chris and Shannon Prynoski, the owners of Titmouse, said they were so moved by the initial open letter from animators that they printed it out and put it on the wall of their company. But that didn’t go far enough. They’ve adopted the anti-harassment pledge as a way of broadcasting their support for a safer work environment.
“We want to make sure that people know this sort of thing shouldn’t happen again,” said Chris Prynoski.
The pledge establishes a code of behavior for all employees and a vow from studio leaders to enforce that code. The hope is that many of the major studios will eventually adopt the initiative themselves.
Brendan Burch, a Women in Animation board member and the head of 6 Point Harness, said he thinks that the rules will be an important way to safeguard the next generation of artists and animators.
“The majority of people entering the animation field get their start in independent studios,” said Burch. “By creating this web of safety at the beginning of somebody’s career we’re going to give them more confidence going forward. We’re sort of creating a no fly zone for creeps.”