Recently, I went to a screening of a 30-minute film called “Family Tree” (2003) that I scored back in the day. Directed by Vicky Jenson (best known for
directing “Shrek” and “Shark Tale,” the film holds up remarkably well — still a
unique balance of humor, magical flights of fancy and personal dynamics. There
was a Q&A with Vicky after, during which she revealed something I didn’t know
even though we have remained friends in the dozen intervening years.
After “Shrek” won the best animated feature Oscar, she applied for
membership in the Academy — and was turned down. Then, after “Shark Tale” was nominated, she applied again — and was turned down again. It wasn’t until
The Hollywood Reporter and Variety began writing articles about how few women
directors there are and how discriminatory the Academy has been toward them
that the Academy finally approved her membership. Had it not been for those
making noise about this issue — often at the risk of being considered cranks — she probably would still be excluded.
This is how discrimination works, folks. I’m sure no one intentionally
voted against her simply because she’s a woman. But I ask you: How likely
would it be if a man had directed two Oscar-nominated (and one Oscar-winning)
films back to back, then turned down from membership in the
I’m a Governor of the Television Academy Music Peer Group. Our peer
group has had a historically poor record of including people of color. But
we have had a historically DISMAL record of including women. It is something
the current leadership — both our peer group and the Academy — are
determined to change and are doing so.
Sex (and race) discrimination in the arts is often very slippery. There
are a hundred reasons someone gets — or doesn’t get — a job. Few people are
even aware they are being discriminatory. One person just feels more
“right.” On the other hand, some years back, when major orchestras began to do
blind auditions — where you could only hear but not see the players — the
percentage of women hired rose dramatically. Unfortunately, that’s not
practical for directors.
As for Vicky, after making a live-action film that did poorly, she was in
“director jail” for years. Again, I doubt the “sentence”
would have been as long for a man. In watching “Family Tree,” I was reminded of
what a singular and stellar talent she is. Let’s hope we get to see much more of
her work in the coming years.
Vicky Jenson’s extensive body of work has earned countless awards, including
an Academy Award, recognition from the Annies, BAFTA, the Broadcast Film
Critics Association, Cannes, the People’s Choice Awards and the Golden Globes.
Watch her short film “Family Tree” here and
follow her on Twitter at @VickyJenson. Jenson is currently developing a live-action
gender-flipping fairy tale, as well as a graphic novel, both centered on a
troubled young heroine.