I’m beginning to think that Angelenos should burn the Hollywood studio system down—metaphorically, of course. It has consistently shown itself to be fundamentally incapable of addressing its own deep-rooted racism, which is core to a citywide infrastructure that entrenches white mega-millionaires in power by abusing and exploiting black workers. New allegations against NBC and FremantleMedia, thanks to Gabrielle Union’s advocacy and whistleblowing bout her time on America’s Got Talent, are a testament to this.
In a harassment complaint filed Thursday, Gabrielle Union raised new allegations against NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy, claiming he threatened her for speaking out. FremantleMedia, NBCUniversal, and Simon Cowell’s Syco are also named in the complaint, which Variety reports Union and attorney Bryan Freedman filed with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
In the complaint, Freedman appears to reference NBC’s recent statement about Black Lives Matter:
“When Gabrielle Union informed NBC of racially offensive conduct during the taping of ‘America’s Got Talent,’ NBC did not ‘stand’ with her in ‘outrage at acts of racism. Instead, NBC did not care enough to either promptly investigate Ms. Union’s complaints or even ask HR to get involved. Rather, NBC stood against her and directed its “outrage” at Ms. Union for whistleblowing about the racially offensive conduct she experienced while working for NBC on ‘America’s Got Talent’.”
Variety also reports that DFEH complaints often serve as a pipeline for eventual workplace discrimination lawsuits; this speculation is further served by the mounting allegations against America’s Got Talent and its producers, which also alleges that Jay Leno made racist comments and that Simon Cowell fostered a workplace culture of silence and discrimination.
Union’s complaint brings AGT’s current line-up into sharp focus. Heidi Klum famously defended the show against allegations of racial bias and harassment, returning to its judging panel amidst the investigation into Union’s claims. At the time, she told reporters: “I’ve only had an amazing experience. I can’t speak for her. I didn’t experience the same thing. To me, everyone treats you with the utmost respect. I’ve never seen anything that was weird or hurtful.” She eventually walked back her statement, slightly, claiming she “didn’t mean to negate” Union’s experience.
Sofia Vergara, like Klum, also filled the vacancy created by Union’s abrupt firing from the NBC ratings powerhouse. So far, she has remained silent on the accusations. Terry Crews, for his part, amended his previous apology to Union this morning:
With unprecedented demonstrations against police brutality and white supremacy happening across the country, I’ve been thinking quite a bit how the demands of protesters might carry over into our workplaces, the media, and more. The studio system, by the sheer number of revelations these past few years, has been reluctant to adapt. Union is not the first black woman to allege on-set harassment; this week other black actresses like Samantha Marie Ware and Vanessa Morgan, have spoken up about similar experiences. Morgan claimed that, as the only black lead on Riverdale, she is paid less than her coworkers, while Ware alleged a culture on the Glee set, fostered by Lea Michele, of open hostility that she says nearly drove her out of Hollywood completely.
Actors have a union, SAG-AFTRA, that is designed to protect them, and which launched an investigation into Union’s claims. But as the scale of allegations against the entire Hollywood system increases, it exposes deep disparities in precisely who is exploited, and who is insulated.