- 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.
Billie Eilish Advocates for Climate Action Ahead of U.N. COP26 Summit
The singer was joined by “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson and other big-name celebrities and activists in a pitch for world leaders to make substantial progress at the conference.
Billie Eilish Calls for Climate Action
Singer Billie Eilish partnered Tuesday with the environmental group Arctic Basecamp at the University of Exeter to call for meaningful climate action ahead of the U.N. COP26 climate conference.
“This year our leaders are deciding the global actions required on the environment climate emergency in a critical decade for our planet,” Eilish said in a video. “We must stand together and speak up to save our planet, not just for us, but for our future generations. And we need urgent, urgent action now.”
Eilish is no stranger to advocating for solutions to climate change. In September, the “Happier Than Ever” singer urged Congress to pass climate legislation as part of the #CodeRedClimate campaign. For her latest pitch with Arctic Basecamp, she was joined by other big names, including “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson, explorer Levison Wood, climate activist Daze Aghaji, and wildlife advocate Robert Irwin, who is the son of the late Steve Irwin.
“Courage. That’s what our world’s leaders need more than anything,” Wilson said in the video message. “The decisions that they make about the climate crisis in the next decade are the most important decisions in our planet’s history.”
What is COP26?
Arctic Basecamp works with scientists and other high-profile organizations all over the world to call attention to climate issues and encourage effective solutions. It was founded by Gail Whiteman, a professor at the University of Exeter, who released a statement thanking the slew of stars and activists for their involvement in the COP26 initiative.
“It is amazing to be working with such brave people that not only are using their voice but are using their voice for good,” she said. “This is a crisis and the Arctic is sounding the alarm. It is time that world leaders come together to create real change that ensures a safe future for humanity.”
COP26 will kick off in Glasgow on Oct. 31 and run through Nov. 12. Global leaders will discuss several actions regarding the environment, including pacts like the Paris Agreement and U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. They will also focus on a series of goals, including achieving global net-zero emissions by mid-century and protecting ecosystems, along with other infrastructure threatened by climate change.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pitched the event as a key moment for the world to come together and tackle climate change. This week, he described it as “our best chance to make the changes we need to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren.”
See what others are saying: (Billboard) (CNN) (The Independent)
Dave Chappelle Says He’s Willing To Meet With Trans Community Under Certain Conditions
After being criticized for transphobic comments, the comedian said he would give an audience to the transgender community even though he is “confused” about what they would be discussing.
Dave Chappelle Addresses Netflix Employees
Comedian Dave Chappelle responded on Monday to the recent backlash he has faced for making transphobic remarks in his new Netflix stand-up special “The Closer.”
Over the past several weeks, many employees at Netflix have protested against Chappelle’s program and numerous LGBTQ+ rights groups have condemned his comments. Netflix employees staged a walkout last week to call out “The Closer” and advocate for more trans and nonbinary employees to be included at the company.
Some reports have alleged that Chappelle denied the opportunity to speak with the trans community and allies at Netflix. In a new video addressing the controversy, Chappelle refuted that allegation.
“It’s been said in the press that I was invited to speak to the transgender employees of Netflix and I refused. That is not true,” he said “If they had invited me, I would have accepted it, although I am confused about what we would be speaking about.“
“I said what I said, and boy, I heard what you said. My God, how could I not?” he continued. “You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. It seems like I’m the only one who can’t go to the office.”
Chappelle Says He Will Meet With Trans Community
Chappelle added that he would be willing to meet with the trans community but is not “bending to anybody’s demands.”
“I have some conditions. First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end,” Chappelle explained. “You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing, and thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.”
Gadsby is a comedian best known for her Netflix special “Nanette.” While defending Chappelle, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos name-dropped Gadsby and “Nanette” as examples of the service’s offerings that give voice to marginalized communities. Gadsby shot back at the executive, saying she did not want him to “drag [her] name into [his] mess.”
“Now I have to deal with even more of the hate and anger that Dave Chappelle’s fans like to unleash on me every time Dave gets 20 million dollars to process his emotionally stunted partial world view,” Gadsby wrote on Instagram. “Fuck you and your amoral algorithm cult.”
During “The Closer,” Chappelle called himself “team TERF” while discussing author J.K. Rowling being “canceled” after making a series of transphobic comments herself. He said he agreed with Rowling and added that “gender is a fact.” He later made a slew of other comments, including a joke about Caitlyn Jenner and remarks comparing the genitalia of transgender women to Beyond and Impossible meat.
As outrage poured in, Sarandos released a series of statements in support of Chappelle and his artistic freedom. During his video, Chappelle thanked Sarandos, claiming that he has lost a series of opportunities amid the controversy. Chappelle recently completed a documentary that he says was going to screen at film festivals, but he is allegedly no longer welcome at those events.
“When this controversy came out about ‘The Closer,’ they began disinviting me from these film festivals, and now, today, not a film company, not a movie studio, not a film festival, nobody will touch this film,” Chapelled claimed. “Thank God for Ted Sarandos and Netflix, he’s the only one that didn’t cancel me yet.”
Chappelle later announced that he will be taking his documentary on tour to cities like San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, and Toronto.
See what others are saying: (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter) (NPR)
Affidavit Outlines Alleged Events That Lead Up to Fatal Shooting on “Rust” Set
Before the tragic incident that resulted in the death of the film’s cinematographer, actor Alec Baldwin was allegedly assured that the gun he was handed on set was not loaded.
Details of Events Leading Up to Shooting
An affidavit alleges that actor Alec Baldwin was rehearsing a scene that involved him pointing a gun at the camera when he misfired the weapon last week, killing the production’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, and injuring director Joel Souza.
Multiple outlets obtained the affidavit from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday. The document details the alleged events that resulted in Thursday’s tragedy on the set of “Rust.” Souza told investigators that during a firearms safety announcement, he heard the prop weapon referred to as a “cold gun,” a term that means the gun is not loaded.
According to Souza, the guns on set were usually checked by two people: armorer Hannah Guttierrez-Reed and assistant director Dave Halls. Halls was in charge of giving the guns to actors, though sources said both Guttierrez-Reed and Halls did so at various times.
The affidavit said that Halls handed the gun to Baldwin while announcing it as a “cold gun.” Investigators say investigators that Halls got the revolver from a tray set up by Gutierrez-Reed.
Souza said the crew had spent part of the day preparing for a scene in a church and later left to take a lunch break at another location. He said he was unsure if the firearm had been checked again after returning from lunch.
When the accident happened. Souza said he heard what “sounded like a whip and then loud pop.” He first noticed Hutchins grabbing her midsection and stumbling back before realizing he had been hit in the shoulder.
The incident came after six camera crew workers reportedly walked off the set in protest of unfair and unsafe working conditions. According to the affidavit, a replacement crew had quickly been hired, but production on the day of the accident was off to a late start because of related issues. Regarding general on-set behavior, Souza claimed that “everyone was getting along” and that there had been “no altercations” to his knowledge.
The affidavit’s walkout claim backed up previous reporting from The Los Angeles Times. Sources from the set of “Rust” told the outlet on Friday that half a dozen workers left the set because they were frustrated by safety issues, long hours, long commutes, and a long wait for their paychecks.
Safety Issues on Set of “Rust”
According to the report, standard industry safety protocols “were not strictly followed,” and at least one worker complained specifically about gun safety. Some sources told The Times that there had already been at least two accidental discharges of a prop gun. Around a week before the fatal accident, Baldwin’s stunt double allegedly fired two rounds after being told a gun was cold.
“There should have been an investigation into what happened,” one source told the outlet. “There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush.”
Another source told The Times that “corners were being cut” on set.
The report also claimed that Hutchins was among those advocating for her team to have safer work conditions.
Rust Movie Productions released a statement saying safety “is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company.”
“Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down,” the statement continued.
Baldwin, for his part, sent his condolences to Hutchins’ family on Friday. At the time, he said he was cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
Vigils have been held in New Mexico and Hollywood to honor Hutchins. The American Film Institute also made a memorial scholarship in her name.