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Gabrielle Union’s AGT Firing Sparks SAG-AFTRA Investigation

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  • SAG-AFTRA, a labor union representing actors, has launched a probe into Gabrielle Union’s complaints while on the set of America’s Got Talent, as well as her subsequent removal from the show. 
  • Reports say that Union urged producers to report a racist joke made by Jay Leno to HR, tried to prevent a racially insensitive act from performing, was told her hairstyles were “too black,” and was vocal about other issues with the show and the culture it created.
  • The show opted to not continue with Union’s contract, ending her arc as a judge after just one season.

SAG-AFTRA Probe Launched

The Screen Actors Guild announced that it is investigating the controversies surrounding Gabrielle Union, NBC, and America’s Got Talent. 

Last week, it was revealed that Union was let go after appearing as a judge for one season. Reports from Variety and Vulture soon followed saying that Union was frequently vocal about addressing issues on set. She allegedly encouraged producers to report a joke many found racist, and tried to remove a performer whose act she found racially insensitive. According to Vulture, her complaints were among the reasons NBC’s America’s Got Talent decided to drop her.

“We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously. We immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement published in full by Deadline on Sunday. “While we have taken steps to investigate this matter, we have nothing to report now.”

Deadline’s report said that the investigations are still in their early stages. Their source, however, acknowledged that this investigation is “a high profile and probably high wire act.”

SAG-AFTRA’s announcement came just hours after NBC published a statement of their own regarding the matter. The network claimed to be working with Union’s team to address her concerns.

“We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” their statement said. “We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”

In what many saw as a response to NBC, Union shared a tweet that gave instructions on how to form a proper apology. 

Complaints in Variety Report

Union’s concerns painted the image of a toxic culture at America’s Got Talent. First unraveled in a report from Variety, it appeared that Union was seeking solutions to these issues to no response. 

One incident involved a joke made by comedian Jay Leno, who was a guest judge in one episode. Four people told Variety that while taping, he pointed to a photo of America’s Got Talent’s producer and judge Simon Cowell surrounded by his dogs. He said it looked like something “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.”

Some of the workers at America’s Got Talent found this joke to be offensive to Asian cultures, with the report also noting that one of the show’s few Asian staffers was present at the time.

Union allegedly encouraged producers and an NBC executive to report the joke to Human Resources, but nothing ever came of it. The joke did not make it into the episode. 

In another case, while taping auditions, one white contestant did rapid costume changes as he impersonated celebrities. While performing as Beyonce, his “hands appeared black.” Finding this racially insensitive, Union tried to convince producers to take him off the line-up, saying the live audience should not have to see this. They disagreed and sent him on stage, though he did not appear on television.

Variety’s report also said that Union and Julianne Hough, who was brought on to judge at the same time as Union and was also let go from the upcoming season, received constant notes about their appearances, hair, and makeup.

Union was reportedly told several times that her rotating hairstyles were “too black” for America’s Got Talent’s audience. One executive disputed this claim to Variety, saying notes on appearance were not given that frequently and only once were judges given notes on “hair continuity.”

Hough, who has a few projects with NBC in the near future, said she had a positive experience on America’s Got Talent and, “loved working with the cast, crew and producers.”

“I am happy to continue my working relationship with NBC. I’m looking forward to what the future holds,” she added.

Vulture Report Includes More Complaints

A few days after Variety’s report went out, a second report from Vulture was published, also laden with riffs between Union and producers. Union, who is allergic to cigarette smoke, complained to staff about Cowell’s habit of smoking inside the theatre, which had only separation curtains and no walls. Even though California law prevents an employer from allowing indoor smoking, producers insisted nothing could be done about Cowell’s smoking. He had reportedly been doing it for years despite complaints, including ones from NBC executives and a fire marshal. 

Producers were also said to have been irritated by Union asking contestants who were competing in drag for their preferred pronouns.

Vulture said a boiling point was reached when Union and producers were discussing contestants they wanted to see continue on the show, including a ten-year-old black rapper whom Union found exciting. The producers, however, told Union that the show needed to pick an act “that America can get behind.” They suggested a dance troupe from Texas that consisted of white performers. 

Vulture said that Union “Felt producers were implying that American audiences couldn’t get behind a 10-year-old black rapper, a viewpoint she felt was racist.”

After Union was working on the show for two months, Cowell allegedly sat her down and said that if she had any concerns, she should bring them up with him and not NBC executives, which Union thought was odd, and looked like he was trying to cover things up. Vulture’s report also included sources who said that Union frustrated Cowell and that she was let go from the show for being “difficult.”

NBC explained their reasoning for letting go of Union and Hough in Variety’s initial report. 

“‘America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show,” they said. “The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”

Celebrities Stand With Union

Many celebrities spoke up to defend Union and call out NBC for not taking action.

“It’s unfortunate that @nbc the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting up with it…has not changed their practices or culture,” Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo said. 

Popstar Ariana Grande shared more of Pompeo’s remarks and told NBC to “be better.”

Jameela Jamil, an actress on NBC’s The Good Place said Union should be brought back to America’s Got Talent.

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (Vulture) (Variety)

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Joe Rogan Faces Backlash For Promoting Antisemitic Stereotypes

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His comments come as antisemitic hate incidents have increased both online and in the real world.


Rogan’s Antisemitic Comments

Joe Rogan is facing backlash over a Saturday episode of his podcast where he claimed that “the idea that Jewish people are not into money is ridiculous.”

While the “Joe Rogan Experience” episode was posted to Spotify on Feb. 3, the controversial podcaster’s comments did not receive criticism until clips started circulating around social media on Tuesday. Rogan was speaking with “Breaking Points” hosts Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti when the subject of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee came up.

Omar was ousted over a 2019 tweet where she said that American support of Isreal was “all about the Benjamins,” referring to a slang term for money. After she was condemned for promoting antisemitic tropes, she apologized. Some Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy for removing Omar over the remark. 

“She’s apologizing for talking about ‘It’s all about the Benjamins,’ which is just about money,” Rogan said of the incident. “She’s talking about money.”

“She shouldn’t have apologized,” Ball responded. 

“That’s not an antisemitic statement, I don’t think that it is,” Rogan continued. “Benjamins are money. The idea that Jewish people are not into money is ridiculous. That’s like saying Italians aren’t into pizza. It’s fucking stupid.”

Condemned for “Vicious Lies”

His comments were condemned after several Twitter users shared clips of the podcast on the platform. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said it was “disturbing” that Rogan chose to spread antisemitic stereotypes “at a time of rising anti-Jewish violence, when growing numbers of Americans believe in antisemitic conspiracy theories.”

“For centuries, people have used these longstanding tropes to spread vicious lies about the Jewish people,” Greenblatt wrote.

“The thing is, Joe Rogan, Italians were never slaughtered because of the pizza stereotype,” writer and essayist Howard Lovy tweeted. “But because idiots like you believe Jews are into money,’ we have been marginalized, brutalized, and murdered for thousands of years.”

“The ‘Jews are into money’ thing is a generation-spanning smear used as the basis to discriminate against Jews the world over,” attorney Bradley P. Moss added. “Everyone is into money. But we have been accused of secretly hoarding $ to control everything.”

Writer David Baddiel noted how alarming it was that Rogan was able to “breezily” spew “a racist myth.”

“One of the biggest podcasts in the world and no one gives a fuck,” he wrote. 

Rogan’s comments come as antisemitism has been increasingly present in media and everyday life for Jewish people. 

Upon billionaire Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the platform saw an increase in racial slurs and hate speech, including language targeted at Jewish people. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found in December that antisemitic hate crimes rose between 2021 and 2022 in major cities like New York and Los Angeles. 

Kanye West also made headlines late last year for going on several antisemitic rants, including one where he praised Hitler. While he was dropped by major brands like Adidas over his comments, his words have amplified dangerous conspiracy theories far and wide. He even inspired several neo-Nazis to hang “Kanye is Right” banners in Los Angeles, among other antisemitic actions.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (Variety) (The Independent)

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“Seinfeld” AI Parody Suspended From Twitch After AI Wrote Transphobic Jokes

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The parody’s version of Jerry asked if he should make jokes about “how being transgender is actually a mental illness.”


“Nothing, Forever” Suspended

What’s the deal with AI?

While that has been a big question in the media world for the last few weeks, it is being raised yet again after AI software wrote transphobic jokes for an AI parody of the hit sitcom “Seinfeld.”

Titled “Nothing, Forever,” the heavily pixelated program runs 24/7 on Twitch, using Open AI to create endless “Seinfeld” parody content. In this AI version, Jerry is called Larry Feinberg. Larry’s friends, Yvonne, Fred, and Zoltare — who are stands-ins for Elaine, George, and Kramer — often sit around Larry’s apartment, just like in the NBC series. 

Also mirroring “Seinfeld,” Larry is a stand-up comedian who does a cold-open set of jokes in front of a brick wall. On Monday morning, he asked if anyone had suggestions for jokes before going on a transphobic rant. 

“I’m thinking about doing a bit about how being transgender is actually a mental illness,” Larry said. “Or how all liberals are secretly gay and want to impose their will on everyone. Or something about how transgender people are ruining the fabric of society. But no one is laughing, so I’m going to stop.”

“Thanks for coming out tonight. See you next time,” he continued. “Where’d everybody go?”

Plans to Return

The bit could almost come across as self-aware commentary about how pervasive transphobia is in stand-up comedy, but it’s unclear what the AI’s intent was or if it deserves that much credit. 

Soon after the jokes aired, the “Nothing, Forever” Twitch page was closed, showing only a message announcing the channel “is temporarily unavailable due to a violation of Twitch’s Community Guidelines.” It did not specify what rule was broken, but Twitch does have a Hateful Conduct policy that bars attacks against someone’s gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other protected identities. 

Skyler Hartle, one of the co-creators of “Nothing, Forever,” told The Washington Post that the team was “super embarrassed” by the transphobic rant, which “in no way reflects the values or opinions of our staff.”

Hartle said they hope to resume airing the AI parody with new safeguards in place soon. According to The Post, the suspension will last for 14 days. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (The Verge)

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Grammy Awards Face Backlash For Snubbing Beyoncé of Top Prize

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This marks the fourth time the “Renaissance” singer has lost Album of the Year.


Beyoncé Loses Top Awards

Beyoncé may have broken the record for the most Grammy wins on Sunday night, but her snub for the top prize of Album of the Year has left music fans outraged.

Beyoncé nabbed Best Dance Recording, Best Dance/Electronica Album, Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song on Sunday night, all related to her latest album, “Renaissance.” While that crossed her Grammy total to a record-breaking 32 trophies, she was shut out of all the major categories she was nominated in: Record, Song, and Album of the Year. 

This was the fourth time Beyoncé was nominated for and lost Album of the Year, largely considered the show’s most coveted prize. This year, Harry Styles took home the Grammy for “Harry’s House.”

In his speech, Styles said, he has been “so inspired by every artist in this category” and claimed there is no “best” in music. People in the crowd were heard shouting “Beyonce!” while he spoke, outraged the singer had lost the award yet again.

The moment was reminiscent of the 2017 Grammy Awards when Adele’s “25” beat out Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” for the same category. While accepting the prize, Adele suggested that the “Lemonade” should have gotten the gold. 

“The ‘Lemonade’ album was just so monumental, Beyoncé, it was so monumental,” Adele said on stage. 

Beyoncé’s History of Grammy Losses

This is part of a long trend in Beyoncé’s Grammy history, as she is almost always shut out of the major categories. Of her 32 Grammys, only one belongs to one of the top slots: her Song of the Year win in 2010 for “Single Ladies.” She has yet to ever win Record or Album of the Year, and most of her wins come from genre categories like R&B.

Many fans think that is an abysmal record for an artist who is considered one of the primary musical talents of her generation. Compare those stats to the similarly-adored Taylor Swift, who has three Album of the Year wins out of 12 Grammy trophies, and it’s not hard to see their point.

“Beyoncé represents every Black woman that is constantly applauded for their work but when it comes to promotion time their white colleague gets it instead,” culture reporter Ada Enechi tweeted in response to Sunday night’s snub.

The Grammy Awards have long been accused of having a racial bias, especially when it comes to Black women. In Beyoncé’s case, every time she has lost Album of the Year, she lost to a white artist. 

Even some of the progress made during Sunday night’s telecast only proved how frequently Black women are excluded from major awards. For example, Lizzo won Record of the Year for “About Damn Time,” marking the first time a Black woman has won that award since Whitney Houston in 1994. That’s a nearly 30-year gap.

Backlash From Music Fans

Beyoncé’s repeated snubs have consistently been used as a prime example of the strides yet to be made in the music industry. 

“Renaissance not winning AOTY is another example how of a Black woman can consistently deliver excellence, reinvent the wheel + shake the culture, AND still not be recognised to the extent that she deserves,” another person said on Twitter.

“Absolutely wild that the person with the most Grammys ever is still the underdog who was robbed,” BuzzFeed News reporter David Mack pointed out.

Podcaster Sam Sanders called her loss “criminal.”

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (People) (The Washington Post)

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