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Sidekicks, Nerd Girls, Tomboys and More: the Animated Woman Symposium on Gender Bias in Animation

Sidekicks, Nerd Girls, Tomboys and More: the Animated Woman Symposium on Gender Bias in Animation
For highlights of the 2015 Symposium, click the image.

For the second annual symposium, CalArts explores how female characters are presented in animated films.

Valencia, CA—November 11—The roles of women in film, on and off the screen, are among today’s hot-button issues. Since its founding by Walt Disney in the 1970s, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) has been renowned for educating the world’s top animators. Now, the Institute investigates female representation in the world of ‘toons with the second annual Animated Woman Symposium on Gender Bias in Animation. In a year when three of the ten highest-grossing animated movies of all time opened in theaters, the symposium looks behind the surface of this increasingly influential medium. Event highlights include premiere screenings of original short films, discussions and an exhibition exploring past and present incarnations of female characters in animation.

The Animated Woman Symposium on Gender Bias in Animation takes place on December 9 at 5 pm in Langley Hall on CalArts campus in Valencia, California.

Symposium originator Erica Larsen-Dockray is special faculty in CalArts’ Experimental Animation Program in the School of Film/Video. She designed and teaches the popular class, The Animated Woman, which is the source of the symposium’s visual work and topics for discussion. “It has been such a pleasure to work with these students who are a delightfully diverse group coming from a variety of backgrounds and artistic practices,” said Larsen-Dockray. “Their projects reflect important perspectives from marginalized communities as they investigate animated characters and issues of biases, which in many cases, has impacted them directly.”

With a critical eye and often satirical viewpoint, symposium participants bring a feminist perspective to animation.  This year, students from across the Institute, in programs ranging from Character Animation, Experimental Animation and Sound Design to Stage Management and Fine Art, are taking part in the class and symposium.  Their work includes original animated films, installations, drawings, paintings, songs, zines and keynote presentations—and features such areas of investigation as the nerd girl, magic as a gendered plot device, body hair, female superhero sidekicks, tomboys and more.

At the first symposium, CalArts Provost Jeannene Przyblyski spoke on the future of women in animation.  “We will only have gotten there when we can tell any story we want to tell. When we can be any character we want to be, choose any color that we want to choose. I believe that we can do that and I believe that CalArts can lead that.”

Breaking the glass ceiling, female students, faculty and alumni of CalArts have impacted the industry. In 2015, the Institute was the subject of a Los Angeles Times feature on the rise of women in college animation programs. In 2012, Brenda Chapman, alongside fellow CalArtian co-director Mark Andrews, became the first woman to receive a Best Animated Film Oscar® for Walt Disney Pictures’ Brave. Alumna Daron Nefcy originated the television seriesStar vs. the Forces of Evil on Disney Channel/Disney XD. Launching the series in 2015, Daron was the second female show creator of a Disney Channel animated series and the first in 18 years. Star has been picked up for a third season.

More information:

Trailer from 2015 Symposium:

To see presentations from the 2015 Symposium please visit the
Animated Woman Youtube playlist: 

The Class the Roared, Vanity Fair:

Animation: At CalArts and elsewhere, more women are entering the picture, Los Angeles Times:

The Character Animation
Program at CalArts:

The Experimental Animation
Program at CalArts:

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) has set the pace for educating professional artists since 1970. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions. As successive generations of faculty and alumni have helped shape the landscape of contemporary arts, the Institute first envisioned by Walt Disney encompasses a vibrant, eclectic community with global reach, inviting experimentation, independent inquiry, and active collaboration and exchange among artists, artistic disciplines and cultural traditions.