The State of Diversity in Animation (2023 Guide)

by | Last updated Jan 11, 2023

What is the state of diversity in animation?

In this post, you’ll learn how inclusive the animation industry really is, including how diverse animated movies and animation studios are. 

Want to learn more? Read on!

History of diversity in animation

For a long time, diversity in animation wasn’t addressed in any way. The industry lacked representation in both its films and workplaces. 

In terms of movies, there have been just 11 animated features where the character was non-white since the first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, came out in 1937. And seven of those came out in the past 20 years, starting with Pochahontas in 1995. 

What’s more, many of these movies have been criticized because they represent cultures from a Western perspective. (For instance, the portrayal of Middle Eastern culture in Aladdin.) 

But it’s not just animated movies that lack representation. Animation studios, game design studios, and other workplaces for animators have traditionally been dominated by white men. It’s only recently that the industry has become aware of its need for diversity.  

So what does the industry look like today? That’s what we’ll look at next.

Is the animation industry diverse? 

Diversity in animation is still a major issue despite of the strides that have been made over the past few years. Women and people of color are severely underrepresented in both the creative and executive ranks of the animation industry. The numbers are especially dismal when it comes to directors, producers, lead animators, and writers.

For instance, a report by USC Annenberg and Women in Animation shows that in 2018, 31% of animated films had female producers. And only 3% of animated film directors were women. 

Overall, women held 19% of key roles in top animated films from 2014-2018. Women of color held 7% of those roles. 

Gender in VFX

Another report by USC Annenberg and Women in Animation shows that of the 400 top-grossing films in 2019, women received VFX credits in just 22.6% of them. 

Diversity in animation

Black in animation

Women in VFX

Women of color animation

Are there diverse animated movies? 

But what does the situation in animated movies look like? 

17% of animated films feature women as the lead or co-lead. 3% of animated films depict women of color as a lead or co-lead. 

It’s clear that movies lack diversity. 

In fact, animated films are often criticized for racism and for failing to represent different cultures without bias.

For instance, The Jungle Book, Pocahontas, Moana, and Aladdin have all been criticized for misrepresenting the cultures they depict. 

And movies like Soul and The Princess and the Frog are accused of reducing the screen time of their black leads (in both movies, their main characters spend big parts of the movies as non-black characters). 

However, some movies are praised for their representation, such as Coco and Raya and the Last Dragon. These movies were produced in the past five years, which indicates that the industry is slowly becoming more inclusive. 

Are Pixar and other animation studios diverse? 

How diverse are animation studios? 

As noted above, women and people of color are underrepresented in the industry. 

At the same time, animation studios understand the importance of diversity. Most of them, such as Pixar, have diversity and inclusion teams. Pixar also leads with SparkShorts, a series of short animated films that aim to give more leadership opportunities in animation.

And the creative studio Framestore has created a global Social Equality Council with a team that is tasked with creating practical initiatives to attract, retain, and develop more diverse talent and create opportunities on the leadership level. ​​

But how else can the industry change for the better? That’s what we’ll explore next. 

How can the animation industry become more diverse? 

Are there ways for the animation industry to become more diverse? The answer is yes. 

Here’s how the industry can improve.

What are the benefits of diversity in animation?

First and foremost, everyone should have the same opportunities regardless of background, race, or gender. This alone is a reason for the animation industry to act. 

But diversity is not only a moral imperative, it’s also good for business. A more diverse industry will result in better, more interesting stories that appeal to a wider audience. 

After all, markets are becoming more globalized. Animated movies need to appeal to a broader audience than they did 40-50 years ago. The same goes for gaming, advertising, and other animation industries. 

How to push for more diversity 

So, how can the animation industry move towards becoming more inclusive? 

Diversity is complex. The issue is structural, so politics play a big part. 

The root of the problem is a lack of opportunity. People from marginalized groups are often not given a chance to showcase their talents, and they are rarely hired for high-level positions.

To address this, organizations in the industry can:

  • Make inclusion a goal 
  • Set target inclusion goals
  • Reduce subjectivity in hiring processes 
  • Ensure that the workplace doesn’t trigger stereotypes

When a broader range of people is represented in animation, animation movies will likely cater to a wider audience. 

And that leads us to what we’re doing about the problem.

The Academy of Animated Art Diversity Action Program 

More can be done on a grassroots level, for example by directly working with underrepresented groups. 

That’s what we’re focused on achieving with our Academy of Animated Art Diversity Action Program

The mission of the Diversity Action Program is to engage and develop a diverse pool of talent who will be the next generation of artists in the industry. We’re active in Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming, and beyond.

When I (Jasmine Katatikarn) founded the Academy of Animated Art, I always knew that I wanted it to offer possibilities to a wide range of students with diverse backgrounds. As a woman in animation, I also saw the need for this.

And that’s why I created the Diversity program.

We achieve our mission by providing training and resources to any young person interested in exploring animation regardless of their background, race, gender, or economic situation. 

We partner with companies, organizations, and individuals to improve representation in the industry. With the help of our founding sponsors, we’re able to provide physical supplies and resources needed for the coursework. 

So far, close to a hundred students have been sponsored through the initiative and we’re looking forward to many more. 

We couldn’t have created this program without our founding sponsors so a big thanks goes to them and their work for making the industry more diverse. Our founding sponsors are: 

  • Framestore
  • Foundry
  • Streamline Media/Ghost VFX
  • Zoic Studios
  • The Mill

I also want to give a big shoutout to Kathleen Ruffalo of ACCESS:VFX, a non-profit that pursues inclusion, diversity, awareness, and opportunity within the VFX, animation, and gaming industries – thanks for your support!

Framestore

Framestore logo

Framstore is an award-winning animation and visual effects company headquartered in London. Some of its portfolio of movies include Harry Potter and Avatar. 

Here’s why Framestore decided to join the Diversity initiative, according to Amy Smith, Head of Talent: 

“As part of the creative economy, it is crucial that the animation industry is diverse – diverse in ideas, experience, skills, education and perspectives. It is only through a diverse workforce that we can be truly innovative and creative and also ensure that our work is reflective of our global audiences.

The animation industry has a long way to go to be considered truly diverse. Things are improving but the movement is too slow and we need to find ways to make a bigger impact. Programs like this are ideal to make that happen! A particular issue still remains around socio-economic diversity, which of course has intersections with so many other underrepresented identities in our industry.

At Framestore we have a Social Equity Board and several other working groups made up of volunteers from across our global business who work together to develop and implement our strategies to improve the diversity of our workforce. This includes looking at our recruitment and attraction methods, our culture and training and our leadership methods to ensure that inclusive practices are embedded at every stage and level of our organization.

A key part of our strategy at Framestore is to be active with young people from disadvantaged communities long before they are considering a specific career or pathway in order that we can encourage them to keep their options open, look at careers they may not have realized existed or careers that they didn’t think were even possible for them. For us, partnering with programs such as the Diversity Action Program allows us to have a greater impact and reach in this space and being a founding sponsor gives us the opportunity to help build something new and exciting in the New York area.”

Foundry

Foundry logo

Foundry is a software company for the digital design, media and entertainment industries with over 20 years of experience. Some of its clients include Walt Disney Animation, Pixar, and Google. 

Jen Goldfinch, Senior Director of Industry Marketing, explains why diversity is important for Foundry: 

“We are delighted to be supporting this initiative which lays the groundwork for the next generation of animation artists. We’re excited to be opening young people’s minds to the possibility of a career in animation and offering them the tools to make their dreams possible. We hope that they will feel inspired to use their creativity and tell their own stories. This is very much in line with our ethos and our shared industry responsibility to empower the next award-winning artists and storytellers.” 

Streamline Media/Ghost VFX

GhostVFX logo

Ghost VFX is Streamline Media’s VFX division with award-winning talent and industry-leading technology.

Here’s why Streamline Media/Ghost VFX wanted to become a sponsor, according to Sarah McGrail, VP / Executive Producer US & Canada:  

“We passionately believe that diversity cultivates creativity through a wider pallet of experience. If a client asks for a creature or environment “no one has ever seen before,” it is vital to have artists with different ​backgrounds, tastes, and visual languages contributing to and collaborating in that creation.

Women In Animation and USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative from 2021 ultimately found that women receive just 22.6% of VFX credits, and that this has only risen by about 2% over the past 5 years. Women of color only fill 2.5% of leadership roles, and less than 1% of VFX Supervisor roles. So unfortunately, by any metric, the VFX industry is not very diverse. We need stakeholders at every level to make D&I a priority in hiring, training (including for implicit biases!), wage equality, and career development.  

At Streamland Media, we are ambitiously curating a culture based on three guiding pillars: DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), Sustainability, and Health and Wellness. Together, these pillars create our foundation and provide us with a true north. Part of that ethos is public service; and, as such, we participate in many local and international schemes that reach deep into our communities.  

We continue to support and develop DEI programs that attract and retain phenomenal talent from all backgrounds, continually expanding our collective palette of experience and insight. We work with many organizations, including Women In Film, Access VFX, Made In New York, Exceptional Minds, 100 Black Men, Pride Pantry, Ghetto Film School, Reel Works, LA Mission, Global Media Makers, and Reel Start, to name a few. We are forming Culture Clubs, which are internal groups comprised of employees based on shared characteristics, life experiences or a common interest, to unite and empower our employees company-wide.  

A key part of our DEI program is creating visibility into our industry. The Diversity Action Program targets an overlooked and incredibly important group: teenagers. Our focus is on connecting with, supporting, and developing the next generation of talent in our industry.”

Zoic Studios

Zhoic logo

Zoic Studios is an entertainment company based in California, New York, and British Columbia that crafts innovative VFX for film, television, advertising, video game, and interactive projects. 

These are the reasons Zoic Studios wanted to participate in the initiative, according to Tim McBride, Co-Founder of Zoic Studios and Zoic Labs, and Brooke Brigham, Head of Recruiting:

“Zoic believes that diversity is more than a legal requirement; we also believe diversity is a moral and ethical imperative.

Additionally we believe diversity is a competitive advantage. The visual effects industry is always evolving, changing, and pushing technological and creative boundaries. Having folks from across all walks of life represented in visual effects encourages unconventional creative problem solving for our clients. This need will grow as visual effects continues to expand into Real Time technology, and many other technological and creative evolutions.

Not as diverse as the industry at large would like to see. The visual effects industry is making a genuine effort to make diversity a priority, and there is more work we can do to encourage inclusion. There are still barriers for newcomers to overcome including access to hands-on industry experience. Attending higher education and participating in internships or apprenticeships helps artists foster their skills, but not all have access. By supporting more opportunities outside these traditional paths to access hands-on experience, the more diverse and talented pool of candidates is presented and expands the talent pool.

Zoic is an active member of AccessVFX.org and has participated in numerous events with the organization including the U.S. Chapter kick off, Artist Mentorship, and DEI Panel at Siggraph 2021. Zoic is also involved with other DEI organizations and/or initiatives, including the Diversity Action Program.  oic is active in reviewing ways to improve its DEI position via efforts such as: having a DEI committee meet regularly to evaluate ways to improve; surveying the company on its past, present and future DEI policies and procedures; engaging with an independent DEI consultant firm for a professional assessment of our DEI efforts, etc.

Hands-on experience with VFX and animation is an invaluable tool for up and coming VFX artists, and Zoic wanted to make sure more people could have access to this experience. Many do not have access to the computer software needed to create visual effects, let alone know what the industry standard is all about. This will open the doors to many underprivileged people. Zoic is proud to be a Founding Sponsor of this exciting organization!”

The Mill

The Mill logo

The Mill is a global creative and production partner for agencies and production companies and brands with studios in London, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Shanghai, Seoul, and Bangalore.

Here are Jessica Groom’s, CG Lead at the Mill, thoughts on diversity in the industry:

“Diversity is so important for anything where creativity is involved. Without diversity in the people involved in making decisions or coming up with new ideas we will stagnate. Coming into contact with people from a range of backgrounds gives us inspiration in how we can tackle new problems and keeps us constantly learning and questioning our own thought patterns.

There is a good range of diversity within the industry although there is still room for improvement. One of the things I enjoy most about working within the industry is that I now have friends from all corners of the globe. I’ve had the luxury of working in multiple countries and have worked with people from all over Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and India. Of course like most other businesses we are still off balance in our ratios of ethnic minorities and women in certain types of managerial roles. But I feel as a collective we are one that is open and welcoming to people and strives to find solutions to this issue.”

And here’s why The Mill decided to participate in the program, according to Anastasia von Rahl, Managing Director:

“At The Mill we believe it takes a village to move the needle. Nobody is perfect and there’s always more to be done, but we can’t make real change without supporting initiatives we believe in whether they’re internal or external, big or small. Investing in a more diverse next generation gives the industry as a whole more opportunity to be better.

The Mill supports a host of different organizations that work to inspire and provide opportunities for people of all backgrounds from non-profit, to collegiate and international groups. We invite them to our creative hubs for workshops, networking events and collaborative opportunities.”

Over to you!

There you have it! Now you know what the state of diversity in animation is. 

Diversity should be a priority in the industry. In fact, if it wants to stay relevant, diversity is a key area to focus on. 

What are your thoughts on diversity in the animation industry? 

I’d love to hear from you!

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