Jennifer Yuh Nelson
First woman to solo-direct a major Hollywood animated feature
I’ve been asked about the glass ceiling a lot, and I don’t think of myself as some kind of crusader going around smashing glass. I don’t feel like I had to—and that is a very, very strong flag showing the people around me made it so I didn’t have to. Everyone I’ve worked with were the ones holding me up, saying, “Yeah, go!”
My producer for the first Kung Fu Panda movie, Melissa Cobb, is an amazing woman. She’s supersmart and helps push everyone—male, female, anyone—to do their best. There was an animated opening sequence that had to be hand-drawn and outsourced. The directors were very busy, so Melissa said, “Jen, why don’t you direct it as a sequence director?“ I had a great time, the scene turned out fun, and people had a wonderful time seeing it. When the second movie came around and the director position was open, she said, “Jen, you should direct it.”
And I’m like, “No, no. I’m too quiet, I’m too introverted.” And she said, “You can do it. You have done it. That whole thing with the opening sequence was a test, and you passed.” I thought, Oh, my gosh, you were testing me to see if I could do it! She said, “No, no. I knew you needed evidence before you could believe you could do it. I always knew that you could.” That vixen! She’s sneaky. When you talk about glass ceilings, she put me in a catapult and threw me at it.
Nelson’s Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) is the second highest-grossing film directed by a woman, only recently surpassed by Wonder Woman (2017).