By Jess Johnson
Amidst public backlash since March, Ellen Degeneres kicked off Season 18 of “The Ellen Degeneres Show” Sept. 19, issuing a live public apology to her fans and former employees who had experienced “racism, fear and intimidation” behind the scenes, and/or were fired by producers, after taking time off for medical leave or bereavement.
Degeneres apparently had no idea that producers were treating the crew so horribly.
“So, I’m a pretty good actress, but I don’t think that I’m that good that I could come out here every day for 17 years and fool you,” she said. “This is me. And my intention is to always be the best person I can be. And if I’ve ever let someone down, if I’ve ever hurt their feelings, I am so sorry for that.”
On July 16, Buzzfeed News released a hard-hitting report, containing 10 former employees and one current employee revealing how they experienced constant bullying, racism and favoritism. A former Black employee claimed she was the victim of racist comments from staff members, including a senior-level producer who told her and another Black employee.
“Oh, wow, you both have box braids — I hope we don’t get you confused,” according to Cosmopolitan.
Another former employee was also fired, after taking a one-month medical leave following a suicide attempt, according to Cosmopolitan. For Degeneres, a woman also known as “the kind lady,” that’s a pretty harsh consequence, coming from someone under Degeneres who should show compassion and morality for mental illness instead of wickedness and atrocity.
“I do believe that she didn’t really know what was going on behind the scenes cause, if you would’ve asked me what was going on in the control room while I was on air,” Senior tv/video production major and “Plattsburgh State Television” executive producer Alexandra Perez said. “I would’ve been like, ‘I have no idea.’”
Even though Degeneres couldn’t have been monitoring everything backstage throughout the day, it had to have been reported to her somehow if the conditions were this severe, and either she ignored it or didn’t pay much attention to it — the running of her show is clearly more important than the workers themselves.
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” began an internal investigation July 27, reported by Variety. Degeneres finally defended her actions, in a letter released July 30:
“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,” Degeneres said. “Alongside Warner Bros., we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues. As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change, and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
Continuing to take some hard hits, Buzzfeed released another report the same night, outlining disturbing, alleged sexual misconduct and harassment from other producers. Kevin Leman, executive producer, was accused of soliciting oral sex from a member of staff in 2013 at a work party.
For future generations coming into the television industry, this can be daunting to hear.
“It makes me feel like now, I have to be extra careful,” Perez said. “It does scare me a little, because I don’t wanna like — not do it, and then I lose my job and my reputation gets tarnished, because I didn’t have sex with a producer. That makes me kind of uncomfortable, so I’m hoping that that won’t happen; but I also wouldn’t know what I would do if it does happen.”
Many of us wouldn’t know what to do, feeling trapped when a career is on the line.
It took this long for Degeneres to care? Was she just made aware of this, or have instances like this continually been brushed under the table amid the busy Hollywood industry?
From her multiple apologies and explanations, Degeneres clearly seems to feel bad and is pushing for a change.
So, that brings the question: is the recent apology sincere?
It may be, but that doesn’t make college students any less uncomfortable to get into the television and film industry after graduation.
“I’m disappointed, because even if she did know, and that was all fake, you promote positivity and being good to each other and then you let these horrible things happen to people,” Perez said. “You’re taking advantage of people and that’s horrible, because it makes younger generations scared to get into this industry because of those stigmas around TV and film.”
Due to the uncomfortableness of the crew and the allegations, in August, three high-level producers involved were let go: Ed Glavin, an executive producer, Jonathan Norman, a co-executive producer, and Kevin Leman, the head writer. Good riddance too — they deserve even more consequences, after how they treated the staff and how it will impact workers’ mental and physical well-being for years to come.
However, Ellen recognizes her wrongs, and wants to take accountability of not only her employees, but her possible mis-management of them as well.
“The truth is, I am that person that you see on TV,” she said during her Season 18, Ep. 1 monologue. “I am also a lot of other things. Sometimes I get sad. I get mad. I get anxious. I get frustrated. I get impatient. And I am working on all of that. I am a work in progress.”
However, some may feel that going forward, progressive actions speak louder than her words.
“I think things are going to change, but I don’t think it’s gonna be as drastic as people want it to change,” Perez said. “For me personally, I like to see actions, more than hear words. I wanna see that you are actually taking the steps to better the surroundings that you’re in.”