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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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Celebrities Support ‘Silence Breakers’ After Weinstein’s Conviction

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  • Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and a criminal sexual act by New York jury Monday but was acquitted on more serious charges.
  • Since the ruling, many praised the women who testified in court and applauded the decision.
  • Those who spoke out include journalist Ronan Farrow; previous Weinstein accusers Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, and Ashley Judd; and President Donald Trump.
  • Weinstein maintains his innocence and was briefly hospitalized for heart palpitations following the verdict. He faces more charges in Los Angeles.

Responses to Weinstein’s Conviction

After disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted on charges of rape and a criminal sexual act, many praised his the ‘silence breakers’ who told their stories for speaking out and starting a movement.

On Monday, Weinstein was found guilty on those two charges but was acquitted on a second rape charge, as well as more serious charges of predatory sexual assault. Over 80 women have accused him of sexual assault or harassment and several took to the stands during the trial.

Journalist Ronan Farrow, who broke the story that led to the dozens of accusations in 2018, said this verdict was “the result of the decisions of multiple women to come forward to journalists and to prosecutors at great personal cost and risk.”

Other prominent figures in the MeToo movement who previously accused Weinstein of misconduct also praised the women who testified. Rose McGowan said she was “proud of the brave women” and that she “can finally exhale.

Ashley Judd said the women who testified “walked through traumatic hell” but did a public service in doing so.

Rosanna Arquette echoed that praise and also thanked the jury. She then called for a change in the legal process of reporting these kinds of crimes. 

Others also expressed their support for the outcome. Hollywood figures like Judd Apatow, Rosie Perez, Julianne Moore, and Tatum O’Neal all took to Twitter to celebrate the verdict. President Donald Trump also spoke at a press conference saying that the convictions are “a great victory and sends a very strong message.”

“So I was never a fan of Harvey Weinstein as you know,” Trump added before speaking about the producer’s Democratic leanings. “In fact, he said he was going to work hard to defeat me. How did that work out by the way? I’m trying to figure out.” 

Weinstein Maintains Innocence

While many applauded the jury’s decision, Weinstein, who faces more charges in Los Angeles, maintained his innocence.

“I’m innocent, I’m innocent, I’m innocent,” he said, according to a statement his lawyer gave to Variety. “How could this happen in America?”

Shortly after the ruling, while Weinstein was set to be transported to jail, he was taken to a nearby hospital. According to his lawyers, he was experiencing chest pains, heart palpitations, and high blood pressure. He reportedly stayed the night and is in good condition now.

Testimonies from Accusers

His ruling comes after a trial that lasted several weeks. Over the course of the trial, several women told their stories in graphic and disturbing testimonies.

Weinstein’s conviction for a criminal sexual act comes from the case of Miriam Haley, a former production assistant. In her testimony, she described what went through her mind the moment she realized she was being sexually assaulted.

“I started weighing up my options in my head, and I thought, okay, I’m not able to get away from him physically,” she said. “So I thought, I thought if I escalate this, if I scream rape, will someone hear me. If I start kicking even harder, will I have a chance to get away from him.”

“And if I do get all the way downstairs, is the driver in on it, will he be there standing guard ready to scoop me up if I get that far?” Haley added. “And I couldn’t even get away from him at all, let alone get out of the apartment. So ultimately after a while, I just checked out and decided to endure it, that was the safest thing for me to do at that point.”

Another testimony came from Jessica Mann, who testified that Weinstein raped her throughout the course of an abusive relationship, which was where the rape conviction stems from. Mann explained what the immediate aftermath of that rape felt like.

“I was scared to look at myself, but I did, and I saw that I had been crying long enough that my eyes were red and swollen at that point,” she said. “But I don’t know when I started to cry.”

She said that shortly after, Weinstein summoned her to speak to her again.

“I’m so sorry about earlier,” Weinstein said, according to Mann. “I just find you so attractive, I couldn’t resist.”

Annabella Sciorra gave testimony as a witness in the trial. While none of the charges against Weinstein pertained to her specifically, she alleges that Weinstein raped her. She said she tried to resist, but after it kept going she said. “I didn’t have very much fight left inside of me at that point.”

“It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake in a way that was very unusual,” she added. “I didn’t really know what was happening, it was like a seizure or something.”

After the verdict came in, Sciorra gave a statement to Variety about the relief that this provides for her.

“My testimony was painful but necessary,” Sciorra said. “We can never regret breaking the silence. For in speaking truth to power we pave the way for a more just culture, free of the scourge of violence against women.”

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Vanity Fair) (Deadline)

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Lovers & Friends Festival Line-Up Generates Confusion and Doubt After Artists Deny Involvement

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  • The newly announced Lovers & Friends music festival has caused online confusion and controversy because some of the artists included in the lineup said they were not participating. 
  • Lil Kim called the festival fake in a now-deleted Instagram story and Mase asked for his name to be removed from the list.
  • Both T-Pain and Megan Thee Stallion were also listed on the lineup, but already have other performances booked on that day.
  • Usher and Lauryn Hill, who are both headlining acts, shared the festival on their social media pages.
  • Snoop Dogg, a promoter for the festival, made a video reaching out to Lil Kim, asking to resolve the confusion while also saying every other act was confirmed. 

Controversy Around Festival

An upcoming music festival in Los Angeles has caused confusion among fans after artists like Lil Kim, who were announced in the lineup, said they would not be attending. 

Lauryn Hill, Usher, Ludacris, Lil Jon, and TLC are set to headline the Lovers & Friends Festival on May 9. The event is being organized by Goldenvoice, the company behind festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach. The festival’s lineup also includes Nelly, Sean Paul, T-Pain, Megan Thee Stallion, Ja Rule, Lil Kim, Trina, Mase, Twista, and others.

When the festival was announced on Tuesday, many fans were excited to see this mix of nostalgic ’90s and early aughts performers along with some of today’s chart-toppers. Some of the artists, however, indicated that they were no involved with Lovers & Friends.

“This is SO FAKE! I am not a part of this,” Lil Kim wrote on her Instagram story, with the text covering a screenshot of the lineup. She has since deleted it from her page. 

A representative for Trina’s management team also tweeted that she was never contacted by a booking agent for the festival. She has since reached out via a contact email. 

Other artists have commented on posts about the Lovers & Friends fest.

“Best wishes on this show but pls take my name off this flyer,” Mase wrote in a now-removed comment on Lovers & Friends’ post.

Screenshot via Twitter: @DJHeatDC

“AIN’T NO DEPOSIT HIT MY ACCOUNT FOR THIS SHOW,” Twista wrote on the same post. In a later comment, it seemed his issue had been resolved as he said he was now “locked and loaded” to play his hits.

Screenshot via Twitter: @DJHeatDC
Screenshot via Twitter: @DJHeatDC

Others also pointed out potential conflicts for the timing of this festival. Megan Thee Stallion is already booked for Broccoli City, a festival in Washington DC that same day. T-Pain is in a similar situation, performing at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami on May 9. Broccoli City tweeted that Megan Thee Stallion would be playing both, but later deleted that post, so it is still unclear if that is actually her plan. 

Others also noted that the venue’s website has yet to list Lovers & Friends as an upcoming event. 

Confusion Spreads

The announcement was at first met with enthusiasm, and many thought the lineup was fire. But because these comments caused so much confusion, some thought it looked more like fyre.

Many called it fake, and others compared it to the infamous Fyre Festival, which gained notoriety for touting big names and a glamorous setting, only to prove to be a scam and disaster. 

Responses to Confusion

There were some responses to the various confusions surrounding this. Snoop Dogg, a promoter for the event, posted an Instagram video addressing the situation. In it, he defended the validity of the festival and specifically called out Lil Kim. 

“Lil Kim, get at me on a DM so we can get at you about this money,” he said to the camera. “We was talking to some of your peoples, or we thought we were talking to some of your peoples. Get at me on a DM so we can try to get you this money, see if you with this thing or not.” 

“But as far as everyone else on this show, 100% confirmed,” he added. 

The founder of music collective Soulection, which is also participating in Lovers & Friend,s tweeted a thread confirming their involvement. 

“Everything we get behind is always official and locked in,” they wrote. 

The presale for the event is set to start Thursday. Ticket prices start at $145, with the highest VIP package going up to $450. On the Lovers & Friends website, it says the “lineup and set times are subject to change without notice.”

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Billboard) (Complex)

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Caroline Flack’s Death Sparks “Be Kind” Campaign and Media Conversation

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  • Former “Love Island” host Caroline Flack died by suicide in her London apartment on Saturday. 
  • Flack was awaiting trial for alleged assault charges, a legal process that was unfolding in the public eye.
  • The world has responded with tributes and mourning, as well as condemnation for media outlets and social media trolls who aggravated Flack prior to her death. 
  • The message to “be kinder” has gained traction in the wake of the tragedy.

Tragic Death

When news of TV personality Caroline Flack’s death broke over the weekend, reactions ranged from tributes and mourning to anger and speculation over what might have led to her suicide.

Flack, who formerly hosted the popular reality TV show “Love Island,” died by suicide in her London apartment on Saturday. She was 40 years old. 

Flack had been in the midst of a public legal ordeal, as she was awaiting trial for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend, Lewis Burton. She was arrested in December when police were called to their apartment for a domestic incident, but she was released on bail awaiting her trial scheduled for March.  

Within a week of her assault charges, Flack stepped down from her position on “Love Island” so as “not [to] detract attention” from the show. 

“There have been a significant number of media reports and allegations in regard to my personal life,” she wrote in a statement on Instagram. “While matters were not as have been reported, I am committed to cooperating with the appropriate authorities and I can’t comment further on these matters until the legal process is over.”  

Following her Dec. 23 court appearance, Flack posted a message alluding to mental health struggles stemming from the publicity of her legal ongoings.

“This kind of scrutiny and speculation is a lot to take on for one person to take on their own,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’m a human being at the end of the day.”

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Push for Change

The news of Flack’s death has yet again drawn closer attention to the way that public figures are harassed by both the press and people across social media. Some are implying that it was this unfair treatment that pushed Flack to take her own life.

There has been public outcry against infamous British tabloids that extensively covered Flack’s legal charges, with The Sun even previously posting a headline calling her “Caroline Whack.” An online petition calling for “new and stricter laws around safeguarding celebrities and people in the public eye” gained over 549,000 signatures by Tuesday morning. 

Another petition was created to urge social media platforms to make online abuse illegal and has gained over 142,000 signatures. The hashtag #CarolinesLaw was trending over the weekend urging these sentiments. 

Even politicians have weighed in. On Monday, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson told BBC, “The industry must continue their efforts to go further. We expect them to have robust processes in place for removing content breaching their acceptable use policies.”

Russell Brand also blamed the public scrutiny of Flack for her untimely death, comparing it to that of Amy Winehouse.  

“I am angry and sad that Caroline Flack found herself in that place,” he wrote in a post on his website

“I am angry because I have watched this play out before with vulnerable people in the public eye and I would like to slay with some righteous sword the salacious, foaming, incessant poking, trolling judgment that chased her to the grave,” he added.

At the end of his post, Brand wrote that he hoped for a better future.

“Our best hope is to build relationships and communities based on kindness, forgiveness and compassion, not easy values to maintain given the complexity within us and without us but Caroline’s death shows us that the alternative is just too sad to bear,” he wrote.

“Be Kinder”

Aligned with Brand’s words, the message that has been repeated over and over following Flack’s death is to “be kinder” to each other.

Iain Stirling, the Scottish commentator on “Love Island,” gave an emotional tribute to Flack during Monday night’s episode with this message.

“We are all absolutely devastated by the tragic news that Caroline, a much-loved member of our Love Island family, has passed away,” he said. “Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this dreadful time.”

“My only hope is that we can all try and be kinder, always show love, and listen to one another,” Stirling added.   

Global fashion brand In The Style created t-shirts branded with the same message that Flack shared in one of her final Instagram posts in December: “In a world where you can be anything… be kind.” All the proceeds from the shirts are being donated to Samaritans, a charity that supports people with mental health struggles and suicidal thoughts. More than £100,000 has already been raised, according to the brand.

“In light of recent tragic events and recognizing ongoing mental health challenges faced by so many, we feel it’s so important as a brand to use our platform to raise further awareness to mental health and the impact surrounding this,” In The Style said.

View this post on Instagram

In light of recent tragic events and the ongoing mental health battles faced by so many we feel it’s so important as a brand to use our platform to raise further awareness to mental health and the impacts surrounding this. You honestly NEVER know what goes on behind closed doors and being kind costs nothing. We have created a ‘Be Kind’ tee and will be donating 100% of ALL profits to @samaritanscharity – They are a charity on hand 24/7 to support people who are suffering with mental health and suicidal thoughts. We want to be very clear that as a business In The Style will make no money whatsoever, we have also waved all delivery charges for purchases on the tee as this is solely to raise money and awareness for a very worthy charity and hopefully in light of such devastating news, we can all learn a very valuable lesson that in a world where we can be anything… be kind. ❤️

A post shared by In The Style (@inthestyle) on Feb 17, 2020 at 10:34am PST

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

Fans have echoed the message across social media.

See what others are saying:(The New York Times) (BBC) (CNN)

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