Purl’s colleagues are stereotypical “bros”. They make loud, vulgar jokes, they constantly talk about hitting the gym, and rowdily leave en masse at 17:00 for all-you-can-eat wings happy hour. When Purl gleefully bounces into the office, they’re dumbstruck and speechless, with no idea how to relate to her. Almost immediately, they start ignoring her in meetings, and ditch her when it’s time for after-work hangouts.
It’s an example of tribalism, which can be damaging to both individual workers and the companies that employ them – when people are in an environment where everyone looks, sounds, acts and thinks the same, it can create an echo chamber and cyclical system that only includes and rewards the same kinds of people over and over. (All the photos on the “employee of the month” wall at B.R.O. are of white men sporting the same grin.) Study after study has shown that more diverse teams are more innovative, more successful and make better decisions than homogenous teams do.
Eventually, Purl reinvents herself as a two-dimensional, defeminised caricature in a suit. She copies their behaviour to the point where she becomes one of them. She swears, she’s aggressive in meetings – and she’s instantly accepted. (In a montage later with the boys, she throws up strings of green yarn-vomit after a heavy session at the pub.)
Between the cursing and the on-screen regurgitating, Purl isn’t typical Pixar fare. But that’s exactly what Pixar has aimed to do: Purl is one of six short films in an experimental series called “SparkShorts”. The company gave a handful of employees of varied backgrounds six months and limited funds to make their own films based on their personal stories, allowing for more latitude and edginess.
Why depict women as balls of yarn?
“We can change into whatever we want in order to negotiate a situation where we feel uncomfortable,” Lester says. “This idea of shape-shifting and ‘knitting new personas’ was something I thought could be a cool metaphor.” At her early jobs, Lester says she had to do little things, like self-edit her conversations around her male colleagues, to fit in. One example was avoiding referencing films that she feared were viewed as “too girly”.
“I didn’t want to be associated with those things because I felt it emphasised that I was different,” she says. “So, I would choose to reference movies that I knew my male coworkers had watched and liked. It got my point across, but it wasn’t the movie that I had personally connected to.”