Despite Kung Fu Panda 2, Female Animation Directors Are Few and Far Between
In this age of director-as-personality -- witness Todd Phillips' hilariously brash interview tactics as the most recent example of this phenomenon -- it's rare that a blockbuster hits theaters with someone anonymous behind the camera. Which is what makes the release of Kung Fu Panda 2 so extraordinaire. Despite being the sequel to one of the bigger animations hits of the last five years, precious little has been written about its director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Though that might have more to do with her gender than anything else.
Nelson -- who was head story artist on the first Kung Fu Panda -- is part of a rare breed in Hollywood: female animation directors. In fact, she's the first female to ever receive sole directorial credit on an animation blockbuster.
"There aren't a lot of female story artists, and it's baffling to me," Nelson told the Los Angeles Times. "There are a lot of kids in school that are female and I wonder, where did they all go? People have brought it up, asking me, 'What did you do?' I don't really know. I puttered along, did my thing and gender has really never been an issue."
Unfortunately, things didn't go as smoothly for Brenda Chapman. The long-time animator -- she served as head of story on The Lion King -- was removed from the director's chair of Pixar's Brave after "creative differences." Never mind that she spent some six years working on the project.
"I think it's a really sad state," said Chapman, who is on a leave of absence from Disney. "We're in the 21st century and there are so few stories geared towards girls, told from a female point of view." Chapman will still receive a co-director credit on Brave.
Despite those issues, things could get better for female animation directors -- and soon. "It's changing, and it's changing rapidly," said DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, "especially at our place where almost every producer of our films is a woman and all the female directors directed at DreamWorks." Maybe Chapman should inquire for positions within.