Lack of Representation in Tim Burton Films

 

 

 

 

 

Every year in October, I find myself watching a lot of Tim Burton movies to get into the Halloween spirit. I’ve always loved their creativity and eerie nature, but recently, along with many others, I have begun to notice the lack of diversity in the characters being portrayed. This lack of representation is present in both his live action and animated films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990), Corpse Bride (2005), Frankenweenie (2012), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) just to name a few. For a while this seemed to go unnoticed, but with the recent push for diversity in Hollywood, Burton’s films have started to become more scrutinized.

 

Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Barron in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 

Burton has made upwards of 25 movies now, and the only non-white actor in any major role is Samuel L. Jackson who plays the villain in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which isn’t exactly a victory. The first time a Tim Burton movie has a black character, and he is absolutely evil. Yikes. In a 2016 interview with Bustle on the subject of why there is no diversity in his movies, Burton stated “Things either call for things or they don’t,” which is about the weakest and least articulate defense possible. Essentially, Burton recognizes his complete lack of diversity, but doesn’t plan on doing anything about it. It is not as though he is unaware of the problem, but rather he is making the conscious decision to only cast white people, and his only defense on the matter is basically the equivalent of “because I just feel like it.”

 

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd on the streets of Sweeney Todd’s fictional London

 

One could try to make the argument that many of Burton’s films take place in areas like Victorian London where it wouldn’t be historically accurate to include a racially diverse cast, but seeing as Burton’s films never even approach the idea of being normal or realistic, once again this would be a pretty weak response. If a man can have scissors for hands, Victorian London can have a diverse population. Since Burton’s films include themes of people being different or outcasts, it seems odd to have a cast of people that all look exactly the same.

 

More diversity in Hollywood starts with the people making the films, and people like Tim Burton are slowing down the process of incorporating more cultural representation into the media. It is one thing to not realize that what you are producing lacks diversity, but it is so much worse to be aware of what you are doing and not see a problem with it. I’m sure there are plenty of other directors and producers who share Burton’s mind set. Nothing is going to change unless the people with power in the film industry become aware of the need for diversity, and actually start caring.

Awareness of Exploitation of Women and gender non-conforming people in the Animation Workforce.

In 1941 Disney animators protested Walt Disney Studios. They started the protest because it was impossible to live with the hours and pay Walt was offering. It wasn’t sustainable for their mental wellbeing or to support their families. The protests lasted nine weeks until Roy Disney had to give in because he was compelled by federal mediators, the boycotts, and his Bank of America Financier (Sito). He was forced to recognize the guild. After the guild was established everyone went back to work and money was doubled and the animators actually got screen credits. It is hard to believe there was a time where animators weren’t credited in the films they helped create (Sito).
The Screen Cartoonists guild made one of the largest impacts on the Hollywood animation scene. They helped pave the way for animators to earn a pension, medical insurance, and a higher standard of living (Sito). So, this must mean that, since the guild is in place, everything is fixed, correct? We all know this is false, the one thing they forgot about was women or gender non-conforming people and sexual harassment in the workplace.
After the #metoo movement, a lot of people’s eyes have been opened about the way Hollywood has been treating women. After the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many women in animation also stepped forward and have started talking about what has happened throughout their time in the animation field. The world has woken up to the fact that sexual harassment in every workplace is actually a thing, even in animation (wow shocker). Especially since the John Lasseter scandal, and especially since he has been fired from Disney and Pixar altogether. Since then, more and more people have spoken up and accused people who have sexually assaulted them, like the creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show was accused of systematic sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse of teenage girls over the entirety of his animation career (The dot and line).  Also, Chris Savin who was the showrunner of The Loud House was fired a year ago because of allegations of sexual wrongdoing and threats of retribution (The dot and line).
More and more women are speaking up about sexual abuse in the workplace, which, even though it is difficult, they are making a difference by speaking about it. Studies show that one in three women experience sexual harassment in the workplace (Vagianos). That’s an insane amount of women who have gone through something like this. And sadly studies also show about only 29% of women actually report the harassment, and only 15% feel like they have been treated fairly (Vagianos). Those are staggering numbers. Which is why speaking up and giving a voice to other women is a brave and amazing thing to do and it can help create change. But speaking up can be hard especially from the fear of if you speak up you might be blacklisted. A woman who worked on Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil in 2012 gave an account, at a Women in Animation panel, of what happened to her when she was sexually harassed, “she initially confided in a manager, who discouraged her from reporting the harassment to human resources. The Animation Guild former business agent offered no help, saying, “At least you have a job.” Once she finally met with human resources and sought assurances that she would not be blacklisted or fired for pursuing a complaint, she was told: “I can’t guarantee your job”” ( Chmielewski).
Since this woman was a single mom, and she needed to support her family, she really didn’t have a choice so she kept quiet. But she finally spoke out in 2017 and identified the man who sexually harassed her as Chris Savin, the now ex-creator of loud house ( Chmielewski). Times are changing, and women are a bit more comfortable speaking out especially after the #metoo movement ( even though they shouldn’t have to because knowing that you shouldn’t sexually harass people should be common sense). Such as the 200 female animators, who have spoken out and have written a letter to Hollywood executives insisting on an end to sexual harassment in the animation industry (Kew). This letter makes many demands to improve the workplace for women, including improving sexual harassment policies by amending the Animation Guild constitution to make sure that if someone is guilty of sexual assault they are properly punished for it (Kew). The letter also asked that men in the workplace start speaking up for the women around them if they are seeing them being harassed. Chris DeFaria, the CEO of Dreamworks, and Margie Cohn, head of Dreamworks TV, responded to the letter by reestablishing their policies on sexual misconduct in the workplace (Kew). This letter and people speaking out are taking amazing steps and making many opportunities for women in the animation industry to change the way men treat women in the office.
Change only happens when we band together and speak out. Just like the 1941 protests, the animators protesting knew that if they all didn’t band together and speak out as a whole union, change wouldn’t come if only a few of them stood together, If that happened the people who protested would run out of money would have to come crawling back to their old jobs, back to the old unfair intolerable status quo. But those protestors banded together and the majority supported the cause which caused a change in the industry. History does repeat itself, If we speak up about the sexual harassment in our field, band together and make sure this industry knows that their workforce won’t stand for this, then there is nothing we can’t achieve. I am attaching the note that those 200 women sent and signed, as well as a link to Women in Animation sexual assault resources. If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted you are not alone.
http://womeninanimation.org/sexualharassment/

An Open Letter to the Animation Community

We, the women and gender non-conforming people of the animation community, would like to address and highlight the pervasive problem of sexism and sexual harassment in our business. We write this letter with the hope that change is possible and ask that you listen to our stories and then make every effort to bring a real and lasting change to the culture of animation studios.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many of the women who work in animation have begun discussing more openly issues that we have dealt with quietly throughout our careers. As we came together to share our stories of sexism, sexual harassment and, in some cases, sexual assault, we were struck by the pervasiveness of the problem. Every one of us has a story to share, from tossed-off comments about our body parts that were framed as “jokes” to women being cornered in dark rooms by male colleagues to criminal assault.

Our business has always been male-dominated. Women make up only 23% of union employees, so it’s no surprise that problems with sexism and sexual harassment exist. Sexual harassment and assault are widespread issues that primarily affect women, with women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups affected at an even greater rate.

As more women have entered the animation workforce, it seems that some men have not embraced this change. They still frequently make crass sexual remarks that make it clear women are not welcome on their crews. Some have pressed colleagues for romantic or sexual relationships, despite our clear disinterest. And some have seen the entrance of more women into the industry as an opportunity to exploit and victimize younger workers on their crews who are looking for mentorship. In addition, when sexual predators are caught at one workplace, they seem to easily find a job at another studio, sometimes even following their victims from job to job. We are tired of relying on whisper networks to know who isn’t safe to meet with alone. We want our supervisors to protect us from harassment and assault.

This abuse has got to stop.

The signatories of this letter demand that you take sexual harassment seriously. We ask that:

1. Every studio puts in place clear and enforceable sexual harassment policies and takes every report seriously. It must be clear to studio leadership, including producers, that, no matter who the abuser is, they must investigate every report or face consequences themselves.

2. The Animation Guild adds language in our constitution that states that it can “censure, fine, suspend or expel any member of the guild who shall, in the opinion of the Executive Board, be found guilty of any act, omission, or conduct which is prejudicial to the welfare of the guild.” To craft and support the new language, we ask that an Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Committee be created to help educate and prevent future occurrences.

3. Our male colleagues start speaking up and standing up for us. When their co-workers make sexist remarks, or when they see sexual harassment happening, we expect them to say something. Stop making excuses for bad behavior in your friends and co-workers, and tell them what they are doing is wrong.

It has not been easy for us to share our stories with each other. Many of us were afraid because our victimizers are powerful or well-liked. Others were worried that if they came forward it would affect their careers. Some of us have come forward in the past, only to have our concerns brushed aside, or for our supervisors to tell us “he’s just from a different era.” All of us are saddened and disheartened to hear how widespread the problem of sexual harassment still is in the animation industry, and how many of our friends had been suffering in secret.

It is with this in mind that we resolve to do everything we can to prevent anyone else from being victimized. We are united in our mission to wipe out sexual harassment in the animation industry, and we will no longer be silent.

Signed,

Abigail Davies
Ae Ri Yoon
Alejandra Quintas
Alex Mack
Alice Herring
Aliki Theofilopoulos
Allie Splain
Allison Kim
Allison Perry
Alyx Jolivet
Amalia Levari
Amanda Li
Amanda Turnage
Amber Vucinich
Amelia Lorenz
Aminder Dhaliwal
Angela Li
Angelina Ricardo
Anna Hollingsworth
Anna O’Brian
Anne Walker Farrell
Annisa Adjani
Arlyne Ramirez
Ashley Fisher
Ashley King
Ashlyn Anstee
Audrey Diehl
Aurry Tan
Becky Lau
Bethany Lo
Bri Neumann
Brianne Drouhard
Bridget Ore
Brittany Rochford
Cameron Butler
Careen Ingle
Carly SIlverman
Caroline Director
Caroline Foley
Carrie Liao
Casey Follen
Catharina Sukiman
Chelsea McAlarney
Cheyenne Curtis
Chivaun Fitzpatrick
Christina Faulkner
Christine Liu
Citlalli Anderson
Clio Chiang
Daniaelle Simonsen
Danielle Bonadona
Danny Ducker
Diana Huh
Diana Kidlaied
Diem Doan
Elaine Wu
Elisa Phillips
Elise Fachon
Elise Willis
Elizabeth (Betsy) Bauer
Elizabeth Ito
Elizabeth McMahill
Emily Brundige
Emily Rice
Emily Walus
Emily Quinn
Erin Kavanagh
Eunsoo Jeong
Evon Freeman
Faryn Pearl
Ginny Hawes
Gizelle Orbino
Grace Babineau
Grace Mi
grace young
Haley Mancini
Hannah Ayoubi
Heather Gregersen
Hilary Florido
Hillary Bradfield
Hsuan Ho
Ilana M Schwartz
Jackie Bae
Jacqueline Sheng
Jean Kang
Jen Bardekoff
Jen Bennett
Jenn Ely
Jenn Strickland
Jenna Boyd
Jenny Cho
Jess Marfisi
Jessica Gao
Jessica von Medicus
Jessie Greenberg
Jessie Wong
Jihyun Park
Jill Sanford
Joanna Leitch
Jocelyn Sepulveda
Jordan Rosato
Julia Kaye
Julia Layton
Julia Pott
Julia Srednicki
Julia Vickerman
Julianne Martin
Kaitlyn Ritter
Kaitrin Snodgrass
Karen C. Johnson
Kassandra Heller
Kat Good
Katie Rice
Kayla Carlisle
Kelly Gollogly
Kellye Perdue
Kelsey Norden
Kendra Melton
Kennedy Tarrell
Kiki Manrique
Kiley Vorndran
Kim Le
Kim Roberson
Kimberly Knoll
Kristen Gish
Kristen Morrison
Kristin Koch
Lacey Dyer
Lamb Chamberlin
Laura Hohman
Laura Sreebny
Lauren Duda
Lauren Faust
Lauren Patterson
Leah Artwick
Lily Williams
Lindsay Carrozza
Lindsey Pollard
Lisa Hanawalt
Lissa Treiman
Liz Climo
Lorraine Grate
Lorraine Howard
Lucyola Langi
Lynn Wang
Maaike Scherff
Madeline Queripel
Maggie Kang
Maha Tabikh
Mallory Carlson
Maria Nguyen
Mariah-Rose Marie M
Mariana Chan
Mary Nash
Mayumi Nose
McKenna Harris
Megan Dong
Megan Lloyd
Megan Phonesavanh
Megan Waldow
Megan Willoughby
Melissa Juarez
Melissa King
Melissa Levengood
Michelle Lin
Michelle Thies
Miho Tomimasu
Mingjue Chen
Minty Lewis
Mollie Freilich
Monica Davila
Monica DeStefano
Naomi Hicks
Natasha Kline
Nicole Rivera
Niki Lopez
Nooree Kim
Nora Meek
Patricia Burgos
Phylicia Fuentes
Rebecca Sugar
Rebecca Wallace
Reem S. Ali-adeeb
Rianna Liu
Rikke Asbjoern
Sabrina Cotugno
Sabine Doerstling
Sam King
Samantha Gray
Sarah Johnson
Sarah Marino
Sarah Oleksyk
Sarah Soh
Sarah Visel
Sasha Schotzko-Harris
Shadi Petosky
Sheri Wheeler
Sofia Alexander
Sona Sargsyan
Stacy Renfroe
Stephanie Gonzaga
Stephanie Simpson
Stephanie Stine
Su Moon
Sue Schaller
Sydney Sharp
Talia Ellis
Tara H.
Tara N Whitaker
Traci Honda
Tuna Bora
Valerie Schwarz
Victoria Harris
Wendy Molyneux
Yingjue Chen
Zabrina McIntyre
Zoe Miller

Bibliography

Chmielewski, Dawn C. “One Female Animator’s Emotional Story Punctuates Harassment Panel.” Deadline, 7 Dec. 2017, deadline.com/2017/12/women-in-animation-sexual-harassment-1202221766/.

Kew, Ben. “200 Female Animators Write Letter to Top Hollywood Executives Demanding End to ‘Widespread’ Sexual Harassment.” Breitbart, 21 Oct. 2017, www.breitbart.com/entertainment/2017/10/21/200-female-animators-write-letter-top-hollywood-executives-demanding-end-widespread-sexual-harassment/.

Sito, Tom. “The Disney Strike of 1941: How It Changed Animation & Comics.” Animation World Network, 19 July 2005, www.awn.com/animationworld/disney-strike-1941-how-it-changed-animation-comics.

The Dot and Line. “#MeToo Comes to Cartoons – The Dot and Line.” The Dot and Line, The Dot and Line, 30 Mar. 2018, dotandline.net/john-kricfalusi-sexual-abuse-ab30b6f53b6e.

Vagianos, Alanna. “1 In 3 Women Has Been Sexually Harassed At Work.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/19/1-in-3-women-sexually-harassed-work-cosmopolitan_n_6713814.html.

Finding the Horizon Line: Intersectionality as a Part of Animated Media

Representation, though intertwined in an intersecting and overarching issue, in any form of media is addressed as several individual movements – where advances may be made in the form of fleshed out and multi-dimensional female protagonists, we as an audience will only address it for its female representation and not for the fact that the character may be straight and white. Where there may be a character that identifies within the LGBT community, it will seldom be discussed that they may be male and white. If a person of color is a protagonist, they are, more often than not, male and straight. This pattern of ignoring the intersectional nature of a large population of people is not one to originate in media – beginning in social movements such as in the feminist movement with the rise of white feminism at its forefront, or the Black power movement displaying a lack of inclusivity towards the experiences of black women. The fact of the matter is that while it is not a new phenomenon in the slightest, the ignorance towards intersectionality is still a problem in media today. Where you may see yourself in a person of color, they may be of a gender and sexuality different to your own, or any of the variations on those combinations. Although many facets come into play in what defines people as inherently intersectional, gender, race, class, and sexuality play a large role in what is largely considered what contributes to an intersectional identity.

 

What is rightly talked about in the rhetoric of media representation is the impact that depictions of various identities has a developmental impact on children of every new generation. However, intersectional representation is more than just cultural representation, or any one kind of background. The act of depicting one form of representation and leaving it at that is flawed – varying personalities and three-dimensional characteristics are all well and good, but seeing multiple facets of oneself reflected in characters specifically designed to pose as heroic figures towards children is incredibly influential. I know for myself, someone who identifies as a mixed-race, LGBT identifying woman of color, having a distinct lack of characters who even somewhat resembled me led to a severe disconnect with my own race and culture, sexuality, and even femininity and comfort in my body as a woman. It is not only catering to one identity at once, but reaching towards many, and growing up in a climate that depicts characters and backgrounds that reflect one’s own experiences as a child shape the way that we as people interact and identify with our varying cultures, identities, and looks. Intersectionality, in itself, finds itself in a small, less discussed, subset of the rhetoric of the diversity conversation, and it is important to address that where it is shown, we as media and content creators not only address the multiple identities of people in lieu of inclusivity, but also that in doing so,in the name of diversity, we do not shoehorn these many identities together into stereotypical pairings.

 

For instance, while the intersection of characters is seldom addressed in the general scope of media representation as a whole, animation’s involvement in it is even less so. And specifically, with larger, streamlined animation companies such as Disney perpetuate the stereotypical couplings of two r more of those facets. Thus, even in the few instances of intersectional characters, there is inherently the emphasis on the co-construct of certain gender and races being inherently linked with certain dispositions, classes, and backgrounds. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, in her 2002 dissertation Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research discusses the varying complexities of specific intersections of American labor classes and citizenship in the United States as institutions that are “co-constructing systemic inequalities” within the identities that they appeal to. Glenn also goes on to discuss how while intersectional representation is on the whole an important part of representation of the whole person, it can be portrayed in a negative way: when it further perpetuates stereotypes and social constructs as a means of “representation” and under the guise of diversity and inclusion, intersectionality can be used to insinuate that harmful link between identities such as people of color and lower classes are the norm, or queer women being linked with a given body type/image, etc.

 

Instances of intersectionality portrayed poorly include the link between femininity in Euro-centric women in Disney films, and the juxtaposition of racially diverse women to  their race as being indicative of their class, and not as a facet of their personality as their cultural background. Examples of recent developments in intersectional characters done well include the women portrayed in shows such as Steven Universe, which, while showing women of color and of varying sexualities, does not prescribe to shoehorning these identities together into harmful stereotypes.