"Frozen," Walt Disney Animation's adventure tale of two sisters trying to put an end to their kingdom's endless winter, is on track to break a box office record for the studio this weekend.
The critically acclaimed film has already made history in a different way -- as the first feature from Disney Animation with a female director. Jennifer Lee shares directing credit on the movie with Chris Buck.
Since the studio's earliest days, women have played key roles at Disney, initially in the Ink and Paint Department, where their small hands were considered better suited to the delicate work.
Over the decades female artists including Mary Blair, Bianca Majolie and Retta Scott made their mark at the studio, according to Paula Sigman Lowery, who worked as an archivist there.
But there was still a ceiling on their contributions characteristic of the era in which they lived.
All of which makes a speech Walt Disney gave to his employees at the studio in 1941 that much more surprising. Disney told his male animators, who were currently drawing "Dumbo," to expect to see more women working at the studio, according to Sigman Lowery.
“If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man,” Disney said, according to studio archives. “The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could.”
Many of Disney's animators had been drafted to fight in World War II, and the large new Burbank studio was months from becoming a union shop.
"His point was that he was not bringing women into animation to take away men's jobs at a lower rate, which was what there was some concern about," Sigman Lowery said. "So here is Walt Disney very early on saying this is art done by artists, whether men or women. I like to point this out because people have a mistaken impression that animation at Disney was always a man's world."
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