If you’ve been on Twitter at all in the last 72 hours, you know things aren’t looking good for Ellen. If you haven’t been on Twitter — first of all, teach me your ways; and second of all, the world’s most famous lesbian and former daytime TV sweetheart has been trending nonstop over allegations that the facade of niceness on her show masks a toxic workplace.
Ellen has been in hot water since last October when cameras spotted her laughing alongside — and then refusing to apologize for her “friendship” with — former president George W. Bush at an NFL game. A disastrous interview with Dakota Johnson followed in November. But dissent from behind-the-scenes of her show didn’t become public until the COVID-19 lockdown in California. Since then, it’s been an avalanche.
It started when over 30 employees spoke to Variety about the lack of communication on the “status of their working hours, pay, or inquiries about their mental and physical health from producers for over a month” after the lockdown started and Ellen’s show moved to filming at her home. Remote filming was set up by a non-union, outside tech company, and when Ellen’s staff was finally contacted about their jobs, they were told to expect a 60% pay cut. A few weeks ago, BuzzFeed followed up on that unrest with a deeply reported piece in which current and former employees say they experienced “racism, fear, and intimidation” while working on the show.
One Black employee said when she was hired, “a senior-level producer told her and another Black employee, ‘Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.’ And at a work party, she said, one of the main writers told her, ‘I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.'”
BuzzFeed chased that story last week with one in which dozens of employees say Ellen’s executive producers engaged in “rampant sexual misconduct and harassment.” BuzzFeed reports that EP Ed Glavin “had a reputation for being handsy with women” and that EP Kevin Leman solicited oral sex at a company party and was also seen grabbing an assistant’s penis.
WarnerMedia has engaged their employee relations group and a third party firm to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations.
Ellen issued an apology last week in a letter to her staff, which The Hollywood Reporter obtained: “On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness — no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect,” she wrote. “Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case… I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention. I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow.”
One repeated message in the reporting about Ellen’s show is that “That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show.” After last week’s news broke, former Everybody Loves Raymond actor Brad Garrett tweeted “Sorry but it comes from the top. @TheEllenShow. Know more than one who were treated horribly by her. Common knowledge.” Lea Thompson responded to People magazine’s tweet about Garrett’s comment, saying, “True story, it is.” Similarly, writer and comedian Kevin T. Porter went viral in March asking for “the most insane stories” people had about Ellen.
Ellen’s refrain, starting from the Bush pal-ing around through these allegations of sexual misconduct and racism, has been that she’s a good and nice person who just wants other people to be happy. But what her statements and apologies (and non-apologies) consistently lack is an understanding that simply “being kind” isn’t an antidote to systemic racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the effects of ubiquitous and compounded abuses by men in power — from U.S. presidents to the producers of her show.
With #ReplaceEllen trending on Twitter this morning, it seems that speculation about Ellen’s future isn’t going anywhere any time soon.