Disney Animation aims for diversity with four new directors on the slate

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From left, Suzi Yoonessi, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Josie Trinidad and Marc Smith. [Walt Disney Animation photo]

Walt Disney Animation is adding more diversity behind the camera to its upcoming cinematic slate.

According to Variety, the Mouse House has appointed four filmmakers to develop new, original films for theatrical release for the studio: Directors Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting”) and Suzi Yoonessi (“Unlovable,” “Dear Lemon Lima”), along with Disney veterans Josie Trinidad (“Ralph Breaks the Internet”) and Marc Smith (“Zootopia”).

The announcement comes as Disney and Walt Disney Animation’s chief creative officer Jennifer Lee works to increase the studio’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“We aim to have Walt Disney Animation Studios serve as the premiere home for filmmakers interested in telling engaging stories within the limitless animation medium,” Lee, who wrote and directed “Frozen” and the upcoming sequel “Frozen 2,” said in a statement. “Carlos and Suzi are two incredible, inventive filmmakers who have both received acclaim for their work. Josie and Marc, master, lead story artists, have been instrumental in shaping such films as ‘Zootopia’ and ‘Frozen 2.’ We are so thrilled to have these four talented artists join our 96-year-old studio as directors and help us build the stories of our future — adventures in completely original worlds, stories from around the globe, and the next generation of musicals.”

Estrada’s debut live-action film, the comedic crime drama “Blindspotting” starring Daveed Diggs, debuted as the opening night movie at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. He received 2018 a Directors Guild Award nomination for first-time directing and was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch. In addition, he recently worked on an episode of FX’s “Legion.”

Best known for helming the Duplass Brothers film “Unlovable,” which received Special Jury Recognition at the 2018 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Yoonessi also directed Warner Bros.’ Scooby-Doo origin story “Daphne & Velma,” as well as short films for Funny or Die.

Since joining Disney Animation in 2004, Trinidad has overseen the story team on films like “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Zootopia.” Her credits also include the updated princess movies “Tangled” and “The Princess and the Frog.”

Smith is the story director for the hotly anticipated Nov. 22 release “Frozen 2,” where he is responsible for bringing the directors’ vision for the story to the screen. He was hired at Disney in 1993 as an intern and has moved up the ladder, working on such animated movies such as “Treasure Planet,” “Tangled,” “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6” and “Zootopia.”

As previously reported, Disney Animation already has on its slate “Raya and the Last Dragon,” an original Southeast Asian-inspired animated feature that will star Awkwafina as Susi the Dragon and Cassie Steele as Raya. Produced by Osnat Shurer (“Moana”) and penned by Adele Lim (the aforementioned “Crazy Rich Asians”), “Raya and the Last Dragon” is being directed by Paul Briggs, who was the head of story on “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6,” and Dean Wellins, a story artist and the creator of the 2010 short film “Tick Tock Tale.”

The Hollywood Reporter notes that animation has made moves recently to diversify its creative teams, from positions of power — there’s now a chief diversity officer at Dreamworks Animation — to talent pipelines – for instance, Pixar’s SparkShorts, a series that gives directing roles to women and people of color – following monotony in their directing pool in recent years.

According to CartoonBrew, a website that tracks diversity in animated projects, only one major animated film was directed solely by a woman between 2010 and 2017: 2011’s “Kung Fu Panda 2,” helmed by Jennifer Yuh.




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