Almost two years ago, word leaked out that Brenda Chapman, who was to be the first woman to head up a Pixar film, had been replaced as director of Brave. The reasoning provided by Disney for the removal was “creative differences.” Chapman stayed at the animation studio while Brave was in production, but then quietly headed for the exit after the film was released in theaters. For the first time, she is speaking out about her removal, describing it as “devastating.”
As part of a discussion on how women can gain influence in Hollywood in the NY Times’ Room For Debate section, Chapman contributed an essay titled, “Stand Up For Yourself, and Mentor Others,” where she explains the necessity for the female filmmakers of her generation to mentor the students and young artists who are trying to find footing in the industry. She offers advice that they need to provide good examples to the up-and-comers, citing her personal experience of keeping to her principles although she was replaced on a film she felt was her own:
When Pixar took me off of “Brave” – a story that came from my heart, inspired by my relationship with my daughter – it was devastating.
Animation directors are not protected like live-action directors, who have the Directors Guild to go to battle for them. We are replaced on a regular basis – and that was a real issue for me. This was a story that I created, which came from a very personal place, as a woman and a mother. To have it taken away and given to someone else, and a man at that, was truly distressing on so many levels. But in the end, my vision came through in the film. It simply wouldn’t have worked without it (and didn’t at one point), and I knew this at my core. So I kept my head held high, stayed committed to my principles, and was supported by some strong women (and men!). In the end, it worked out, and I’m very proud of the movie, and that I ultimately stood up for myself, just like Merida, the protagonist in “Brave.”
Chapman confirms what we all thought – that having a film that she based on her own relationship with her daughter taken away from her was extremely difficult for her. I cannot imagine the pain she felt after she was given the news by the studio. Although she did not direct the film to its finishing line, she remains positive about the way Brave turned out, being “very proud” of the final film.
Noting the continued difficulty of women rising to powerful positions within Hollywood, Chapman writes that a great way to go down that path is for women filmmakers, like herself, to mentor the new generation. It is sad that women continue to be vastly outnumbered by men in the film industry. Like Chapman, I hope to see more women directing films and leading film studios, and mentoring younger filmmakers seems like one way to get closer to achieving that goal.