- 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.
Houseparty Denies Viral Hacking Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty for Proof of Smear Campaign
- Users of the group video chat service Houseparty have complained that their online accounts like Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and even bank accounts were hacked after downloading the app.
- Houseparty said it found no evidence to suggest a link between its app and the hacking of unrelated accounts.
- The app also believes the rumors are part of a “commercial smear campaign” against it and are offering a $1 million dollar bounty for evidence that proves this.
- Forbes enlisted a cybersecurity expert who found no obvious dangers with the app, but damage to Houseparty’s reputation may have already been done as people continue to urge others to delete it.
Hacking Accusations Surface
Houseparty is now the latest group video-chatting app to come under fire over privacy concerns, but the app is fighting back, aggressively denying recent data breach rumors.
People forced indoors all over the world during the coronavirus pandemic have been turning to video-chatting apps over the last few weeks, not only for school and business meetings but also for virtual gatherings with friends and family.
With apps like Zoom facing increased criticism over data sharing policies, meeting crashers, and other issues, many have instead opted to download its “fun” competitor, Houseparty, which features in-app group games like Heads Up!, QuickDraw!, and Trivia.
But over the last few days, Houseparty users have been complaining on social media that their non-related accounts were compromised, including Instagram, Netflix, Spotify, and online-banking accounts, among others.
Many have suggested that the Epic Games owned app is in some way the reason for this.
bro be safe— garvit garg (@garvitgarg12) March 30, 2020
multiple reports house party hacked into Netflix and banking apps pic.twitter.com/MlxuNLrVu4
Houseparty Denies Rumors, Offers $1M Bounty
On Monday, an Epic Games spokesperson issued a statement saying, “We’ve found no evidence to suggest a link between Houseparty and the compromises of other unrelated accounts.”
“As a general rule, we suggest all users choose strong passwords when creating online accounts on any platform,” it added.
The company also took to Twitter to assure users that its “service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t collect passwords for other sites.”
Later that same evening, the app launched more aggressive measures to shut down the hacking rumors, saying, “We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty.”
The company even said it was offering a $1 million dollar bounty “for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign.”
Is Houseparty Safe?
So is the app actually safe to use? Well, no app can be guaranteed 100% secure, but it seems like as of now, there are no dangerous flaws that have been found. Forbes released a report examining the app and enlisted cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukas Stefanko to take a look at the Android version of it. Stefanko ultimately determined that there was nothing of concern.
“I analyzed the app’s permissions usage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that requested permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of them by the app,” said Stefanko said. “The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”
From a privacy perspective, the Forbes report said there is one obvious issue that some might want to note before downloading. That is that the app’s games are open to any of your friends and any of your friends’ friends unless you lock the “room” where you’re playing.
So essentially if you don’t lock rooms down, there’s a chance people you don’t know will invade your game. However, the report noted that there is an easy fix for this issue: simply hitting the padlock button at the bottom of the screen.
And while the app collects contacts so you can find friends to play with, the company promises that it “will never share your phone number or the phone numbers of third parties in your contacts with anyone else.”
Forbes noted that there is the standard warning that user data can be used for more targeted advertising and if you’re concerned enough about that, they provided specific steps you can take to boost privacy and still use the app.
Thomas Brewster, the Security, surveillance and privacy reporter who wrote the Forbes report, later tweeted that he had reached out to a few different researchers for their opinion. They too had not found any notable security issues with Houseparty.
So as of now, it seems like the app is fine to use, but some don’t seem too convinced. The damage to Houseparty’s reputation may already be done as social media users continue to urge one another to delete the app altogether. However, we’ll all have to wait and see if Houseparty’s interesting efforts to debunk the rumor pay off in the future.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Engadget) (BBC)
Taylor Swift Uses Leaked Kanye Call to Raise Money for Coronavirus Relief Efforts
- Over the weekend, the full-length footage of the phone call between Taylor Swift and Kanye West about his song “Famous” emerged online.
- The call seemed to back up Swift’s original story that she didn’t know West would call her a “bitch” in the song, years after Kim Kardashian released snippets of the footage that seemed to indicate otherwise.
- Both Swift and Kardashian acknowledged the drama and the larger crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Some were critical of Kardashian for seeming to focus more on the drama and only offering to donate 20% of her profits to emergency response efforts, while Swift quickly directed followers to donation pages unrelated to her.
Background of Taylor-Kim-Kanye Feud
Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, odds are you’re at least somewhat familiar with the drama between Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian West, and her husband, Kanye West.
But just for good measure, here’s the gist of it:
It all started in 2009, when pop star Taylor Swift accepted an award for “best video by a female artist” at the MTV Video Music Awards. She was interrupted by Kanye West coming on stage, saying the infamous four words, “Im’a let you finish,” before proceeding to imply, in front of the crowd and on television, that Beyonce Knowles should have won the award instead. The moment stunned Swift and many of her fans.
Then, in 2016, West dropped his song “Famous,” referencing the incident and Swift directly by name.
“For all my southside n***** that know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous,” West raps in the hit.
According to a report from TMZ, Kanye said that Swift had approved the song before it was released. Swift denied this through a publicist.
“Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account,” Swift’s representative Tree Paine told The New York Times. “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message.”
“Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous,’” Tree Paine added.
Meanwhile, West maintained that he received Swift’s approval. Months later, the feud got worse when Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian West released bits of the phone call between the two musicians, defending her husband and claiming Swift actually did okay the song.
This resulted in a lot of backlash for Swift, with many slamming her and accusing her of lying, and Swift said in her recent documentary “Miss Americana” that the whole affair made her want to “disappear.”
Stars Acknowledge Developments, Point to Coronavirus
Over the weekend, the full-length, 25-minute phone call between West and Swift from years ago was somehow leaked and made its rounds on social media, appearing to back up Swift’s claim that she didn’t know about the line referring to her as a “bitch.”
There’s actually one part of the call where Swift is relieved he didn’t use that word, saying “I thought it was going to be like, ‘That stupid, dumb bitch.’ But it’s not.”
From listening to Kim’s snippets of the call released in 2016 alone, it was not known whether the pair of musicians talked about the use of the word “bitch.”
The hashtags #KimKardashianIsOver Party and #KanyeWestIsOverParty were trending over the weekend, imitating the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty hashtag that populated in 2016 after Kardashian leaked snippets of the call. After several days of online reactions, both Swift and Kardashian finally spoke out about it.
Swift posted to her Instagram story Monday night, acknowledging the leaked footage and how the controversy has negatively impacted her over the years. However, Swift quickly pointed attention to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that seems to be mentioned in nearly every other headline.
“Instead of answering those who are asking how I feel about video footage that was leaked, proving that I was telling the truth the whole time about *that call* (you know, the one that was illegally recorded, that somebody edited and manipulated in order to frame me and put me, my family, and fans through hell for 4 years),” Swift wrote. “Swipe up to see what really matters.“
Upon swiping up, viewers could access a donation page for Feeding America, a non-profit organization devoted to providing food to those in need. Swift also pushed her followers to donate to the World Health Organization.
“If you have the ability to, please join me in donating during this crisis,” Swift wrote.
Several hours later, Kardashian West posted her take on the matter with a much longer message. She wrote across her Instagram stories and Twitter page, also referencing the coronavirus outbreak.
“Taylor Swift has chosen to reignite an old exchange – that at this point in time feels very self-serving given the suffering millions of real victims are facing right now,” Kardashian West wrote.
Kim went on to continue her defense of herself and her husband.
“To be clear, the only issue I ever had around the situation was that Taylor lied through her publicist who stated that “Kanye never called to ask for permission…” They clearly spoke so I let you all see that. Nobody ever denied the word ‘bitch’ was used without her permission,” Kardashian West wrote.
Kim also addressed accusations made against her of altering the story by only releasing bits of the footage in 2016.
“I never edited the footage (another lie) – I only posted a few clips on Snapchat to make my point and the full video that recently leaked doesn’t change the narrative,” Kardashian West wrote.
Internet Users React
Many took to social media to praise Swift for the way she handled the most recent development in the feud by trying to point it away from herself and onto the more serious matter of the coronavirus.
Some Twitter users argued that while Kardashian West tried to do the same, she missed the mark.
Others also compared Taylor’s urging of donations with no monetary gain for herself, while criticizing Kim for only donating 20% of her SKIMS profits to a COVID-19 emergency response program.
Stfu Kim. Taylor’s our here donating to the coronavirus victims and you will only donate 20% if people buy skims. That says enough.— Liz Kelly (@LizKelly16) March 24, 2020
You are trying to turn a profit on CoronaVirus? Jesus Wept.— 💧Tarynne (@Tarynned) March 24, 2020
And some criticized Kim for equating Swift’s documentary, “Miss Americana,” and the questionably-legal phone call that Kanye recorded as documentations of musical journey and process.
Ultimately though, even though some good may come of it as people are urged by famous voices to contribute to a good cause, it appeared some users were just plain tired of hearing about the rehashed drama in general.
“In 2020, we can’t escape the coronavirus and we also can’t escape Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s tiring feud,” one user wrote.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NBC) (Variety)
TV Medical Dramas Are Donating Supplies to Hospitals Fighting COVID-19
- In an effort to help medical professionals facing equipment shortages, TV shows like “Greys Anatomy,” “Station 19,” and others are donating their stock of supplies.
- This comes as companies like Apple, Facebook, Tesla, L’Oreal, and others redirect efforts to produce or donate essential goods like hand sanitizers, masks, and ventilators.
- The White House has not ordered companies to produce emergency equipment under the Defense Production Act, despite calls from politicians and medical associations.
- But the lack of supplies has become dire, with NYC’s mayor saying, “If we don’t get ventilators this week, we are going to start losing lives we could have saved.”
Medical Shows Donate
Hospitals around the globe have been working tirelessly to treat the growing cases of coronavirus, all while dealing with shortages of masks, gloves, and other essential medical supplies. Now, several TV shows are stepping in to do what they can to support those on the frontlines of this pandemic.
ABC representative said several of its shows were donating their stock of highly-needed goods. “At ‘Station 19,’ we were lucky enough to have about 300 of the coveted N95 masks which we donated to our local fire station. They were tremendously grateful,” the representative said.
Those masks were given a station in Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood, as well as the Ontario, California Fire Department where firefighters were having to reuse masks because of the shortage.
ABC’s “Greys Anatomy,” one of several shows forced to halt productions amid the pandemic, also donated its backstock of gowns and gloves from its costume department to local L.A. hospitals. Meanwhile, “The Good Doctor,” donated surgical masks, surgical gowns, face shields, soap, disposable booties, disposable isolation suits, latex gloves, and medical caps to Vancouver Coastal Health.
“We are all overwhelmed with gratitude for our healthcare workers during this incredibly difficult time, and in addition to these donations, we are doing our part to help them by staying home,” ABC added in its statement.
But donations didn’t stop there, NBC’s “New Amsterdam,” which films in New York hospitals, donated masks, gloves, and gowns to the New York State Department of Health. This news came after actor Daniel Dae Kim, who just scored a recurring role on the show, announced he was diagnosed with COVID-19 himself.
FOX’s medical drama “The Resident” made a donation of gowns, glows, scrubs, shoe covers, lab coats, masks, and other items to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, where the show is filmed. Showrunner Amy Holden Jones told The Hollywood Reporter, “It’s pretty appalling to think that our doctors and nurses at hospitals don’t have the proper protection — they’re facing these patients who are highly contagious without being protected.”
Other Shows Follow Suit
Even non-medical shows are stepping in help. FX’s “Pose” donated supplies it had from some of its episodes. In an Instagram post the show’s creator Ryan Murphy wrote, “One of our regular sets and locations is a hospital where in Season 3 Blanca works as an AIDS/HIV counselor. Today, we donated all our prop supplies to Mount Sinai hospital to help nurses and doctors battling the Covid outbreak. Let’s all keep giving when and where and how we can.”
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On my FX series POSE, one of our regular sets and locations is a hospital where in season 3 (spoiler) Blanca works as an AIDS/hiv counselor. Today we donated all our prop supplies to Mount Sinai hospital to help nurses and doctors battling the Covid outbreak. Let’s all keep giving when and where and how we can. More to come…
“Filthy Rich,” a satirical dramedy that airs on Fox, said it was planning to make a donation of cleaning supplies and food pallets.
Businesses Help as Situation Becomes Dire
Several other shows have been turning over what they can while businesses think of ways to redirect their efforts toward helping healthcare workers. For example, brands like L’Oréal Group,
Coty Inc, and perfume makers like Givenchy and Dior, are using their facilities to produce hand sanitizers to give to French and European health authorities for free.
At a press conference on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence said Apple would donate two million respirator mask to help in the fight against COVID-19. CEO Tim Cook later confirmed that claim on Twitter.
And even the clothing company Hanes is retrofitting factories to make masks. Facebook also said it would give its emergency reserve of 720,000 masks to health workers. The company had initially bought them in case the wildfires in California continued. Zuckerberg said the company is also “working on sourcing millions of more to donate.”
Meanwhile. Tesla has been donating supplies to medical centers in need and its CEO Elon Musk said his company is making ventilators. He expects to have over 1,200 to distribute this week.
These are just some of the companies volunteering their efforts. The White House has not demanded that companies produce emergency gear, which the president can do under the Defense Production Act. Despite calls from politicians and medical associations for the president to use the DPA, the administration has only encouraged companies to donate what they can.
When President Trump signed the DPA last week, he said he will only use it as a “worst-case scenario.”
Over the weekend he said he hasn’t needed to use the DPA because of all the help from companies stepping up so far.
Vice President Mike Pence said the federal government had placed orders for “hundreds of millions” of the N95 face masks, though it is unclear when that supplies will arrive and if it will be available before facilities start getting completely overwhelmed by patients.
As each day passes, it’s becoming more and more apparent how dire the shortages are in some areas. Earlier this week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio estimated that the city had enough supplies to make it into April, but now he says there is only enough to get through this week.
In an interview with CNN Monday, he said called on anyone with equipment to donate, saying, “If we don’t get ventilators this week, we are going to start losing lives we could have saved. I can’t be blunter than that.”
On top of that, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams warned Monday that the coronavirus outbreak will worsen this week, as he encouraged Americans to stay home. “I want America to understand this week, it’s going to get bad,” Adams said in an interview on the “TODAY” show.
“Everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now. So, test or no test, we need you to understand you could be spreading it to someone else. Or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay at home.”