At the head of the biggest stop motion studio in Southern California, Margaret Dean is also an ardent defender of women in the animation sector. She tells us about their situation and role in the production and creation of animated films, their image and their representation on the screen, but also the actions of Women In Animation in their favor.
Orange Pop : How was your organization, Women In Animation, born and why ? What are its actions and objectives ?
Margaret Dean : Women in Animation (WIA) was founded over 20 years ago as a way to bring together a handful of women who had ventured into the industry. The purpose of the organization was to give support to women who often found themselves alone in meetings, on teams and in studios. Two years ago WIA announced a call to action : 50-50 by 2025. We want 50% of creative roles across the Animation industry to be filled by women. All of our programs are focused on this goal. In the last two years, women have gone from 20.63% to 23.22% of the creative staff in Los Angeles (The Animation Guild 839). The increase is good but still not enough to hit our 50-50 mark in 8 years.
In addition to offering programs that develop female talent, such as mentoring, skill building workshops and screenings, we have an advocacy strategy which drives us to approach the issue from both sides : working with the industry and all the major studios to open the doors wider, and with women to be more confident and push their ambitions.
O.P. : How has the image and representation of women in animated films evolved from the first great Disney classics to recent productions, more progressive or just more faithful to reality ? Can we say that the Japanese animation was a pioneer in this matter (the Studio Ghibli in particular) ?
M.D. : There have been great strides in the representation of women and girls in Animation. Looking at Snow White and Sleeping Beauty next to Judy Hopps (Zootopia), it’s plain to see. But hearing the Geena Davis Institute‘s researchs, the overall number of female characters still does not reflect the reality of the gender breakdown of the population. And as she has said many times, if an audience sees a world on the screen that is predominantly male, then the message understood is that women don’t count.
However, we know that studio folks are working hard on rectifying this misrepresentation. My expectation is that we’ll see a huge improvement over the next few years. At the core of WIA’s mission is the belief that having more female and diverse voices heard will make animation and our culture in general richer, more entertaining and more lucrative.
Miyazaki is absolutely a pioneer. Most of his lead characters are girls, spunky, adventurous, thoughtful and clever girls at that. I discovered his films in the 80’s when I was raising my children. I was so relieved to have for my daughter as well as my son, something to watch that gave them an alternative view. It’s unfortunate that more parents aren’t aware of his films. But I wouldn’t give the pioneer medal to all Japanese animation. There is an awful lot of Anime that undoes all the good that Miyazaki did. Perhaps if there were more women directing and writing Anime, we’d see a great art form elevated.
O.P. : Behind the screen, what can you tell us about the representativeness of women and parity in the studios of creation and production of animation ? Even today, what explains why women are always a minority in this sector ?
M.D. : Our research showed that animation programs across the country were predominantly women. This last year, California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) announced that their animation program was 75% female. But it turns out that women are only getting about 23% of the creative jobs. Interestingly, they get 65-70% of the production management jobs. Women are not ending up in the place where their voices will be heard but rather in a role where they foster and support the vision of others.
The risk-averse culture leads to the same people getting jobs over and over again. A lot of money is at stake and people don’t want to take a chance on someone newer. Also there is still the misconception that boys won’t watch stories with girl leads and women don’t know how to tell boy stories. We can’t forget, that this industry is still controlled by people of an older generation (mine), who have old ideas of what women can and can’t do. But there is something different with the upcoming leadership. Most younger men that I meet completely embrace women in creative roles and see women as a great untapped resource.
And then there are the women themselves with issues of confidence and being driven enough to go after a position no matter what. It is contrary to the socialization of most women to be aggressive in any way especially on behalf of themselves. And that’s what it takes to be successful in the creative industry. You need to be talented, tough and driven. WIA’s work is to remind them that they deserve to have their voices heard, and support them through the challenges and hardships by building a community of people committed to a greater diversity of animated films, television, shorts, games, VR/AR and VFX