A number of big industry names have recently been called out for racist words and actions that they’ve directed toward members of the Black community in the past. We’re taking a look at some of the top names who’ve recently made headlines for the wrong reasons. The examples of these top industry members facing the repercussions of their missteps might serve as a cautionary reminder of the accountability we all hold for our words and actions.
Fallon recently faced backlash after a video resurfaced from a 2000 Saturday Night Live skit that showed him in blackface doing an impersonation of Chris Rock. The hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty started trending on Twitter, with people calling for him to resign from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. At first, Fallon put out a brief statement via Twitter that included an apology, but then he addressed the controversy head-on during his first episode back from a break in filming The Tonight Show. “I’m going to start this personally and then expand out because that’s where we all need to start: with ourselves and looking at ourselves in the mirror. And I had to really examine myself in the mirror this week,” Fallon said at the top of the episode. The late-night host expanded on his initial apology statement and relayed how he’d initially been advised to stay quiet and refrain from saying anything about the controversy. But then he had a revelation that “silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing.” The SNL alumnus included in his monologue a call to action for others afraid of saying the wrong thing, stating that it wasn’t enough for people to just talk about change on social media. Fallon acknowledged that he wasn’t an expert on how to make reform happen, but he chose guests more versed in the issues. He brought on the show NAACP president Derrick Johnson and CNN Tonight anchor Don Lemon, and both spoke their appreciation for how Fallon addressed his misstep. Johnson also discussed with Fallon ways he could be “a better ally” to the Black community moving forward.
On May 29, Michele tweeted, “George Floyd did not deserve this. This was not an isolated incident and it must end. #BlackLivesMatter” Fellow former Glee cast member Samantha Ware responded on Twitter in all caps with, “Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! Cause I’ll never forget. I believe you told everyone that if you had the opportunity you would ‘s— in my wig!’ amongst other traumatic microaggressions that made me question a career in Hollywood.” Ware pointed out in an interview with Variety that the comment felt racially charged because “Black women historically are known for their wigs.” While Michele did apologize via Instagram, she lost an endorsement deal with HelloFresh because of the incident. The company stated its zero tolerance for discrimination and racism in reference to ending its collaboration with Michele.
The Flash actor Hartley Sawyer previously played the character of Elongated Man on the previous three seasons of The CW series. But after old social media posts that contained misogynistic and racist references resurfaced, Sawyer was fired from the show. The actor made the posts before he was cast in The Flash, and his Twitter account was deleted after they started to circulate online. But the damage was already done. Screenshots of the posts remained, with one example being a tweet in which Sawyer stated, “The only thing keeping me from doing mildly racist tweets is the knowledge that Al Sharpton would never stop complaining about me.” The Flash former series regular made an apology via Instagram, but it did not change the fact that he won’t be returning for season seven. Deadline published a joint statement from the show’s executive producer Eric Wallace, The CW, Warner Bros. TV, and Berlanti Productions announcing the decision that stated, “In regards to Mr. Sawyer’s posts on social media, we do not tolerate derogatory remarks that target any race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation. Such remarks are antithetical to our values and policies, which strive and evolve to promote a safe, inclusive and productive environment for our workforce.”
Industry members currently facing repercussions for racist remarks and actions they made in the past are not limited to just those in front of the camera. ABC News senior executive Barbara Fedida was recently placed on administrative leave after alleged complaints about her behavior toward staff were brought to light by a Huffington Post report. It was alleged that she made racist remarks in front of staffers, such as in regard to Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts’ contract renewal. According to the report, in response to Roberts wanting more money, Fedida commented that it wasn’t as if the network were asking her to “pick cotton.” After putting Fedida on administrative leave while the allegations could be investigated, ABC News put out in a statement, “These allegations do not represent the values and culture of ABC News, where we strive to make everyone feel respected in a thriving, diverse and inclusive workplace.”
Between big names in front of the camera like Fallon and big ones behind it like Fedida, this roundup of industry members who are facing consequences for racism should be a teaching moment for others. As we come together to work toward a more just society for people in the Black community, these examples show us that past and present instances of racism will not be tolerated. In the words of Lemon, “We can’t go back to the way we were.”