The Grey’s Anatomy star has spoken out in solidarity with Union, who was reportedly fired from America’s Got Talent for raising concerns about racist and toxic behaviour. As Pompeo pointed out, this controversy lays bare how women are punished for raising their voice.
Ellen Pompeo has never shied away from speaking out.
The Grey’s Anatomy star has used her platform, either on social media or in interviews, to call out everything from Hollywood’s shocking gender pay gap to the rampant sexism in the industry. Now, Pompeo has spoken up in solidarity with her peer Gabrielle Union, who was reportedly fired from the reality series America’s Got Talent by television network NBC after complaining about a toxic culture on the set of the series.
Variety reported that the decision not to renew Union’s contract came after she raised concerns about a racially insensitive joke made by co-judge Jay Leno on the set of the series. The joke, which was eventually cut from the episode, saw Leno perpetuate stereotypes that a Korean restaurant might serve dog meat. According to Variety, Union also complained about a white contestant whose routine involved dressing up as Beyoncé. As well as these complaints, Variety notes that Union was subject to a deluge of “notes” from producers on the television show that her hair was “too black” for audiences.
Pompeo, who herself has battled against television executives to receive equal pay and rights as her male co-stars, shared a blistering Twitter thread in solidarity with Union.
“It’s unfortunate that NBC the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting with it… has not changed their practices or culture,” she wrote. “I support Gabrielle Union commitment to speaking to injustice. It takes courage”.
Pompeo is referring, here, to the scandals that have plagued NBC since it was revealed that Matt Lauer, the network’s celebrated co-host of the Today show, was being accused of sexual misconduct including the alleged rape of Brooke Nevils at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Ronan Farrow, in his book To Catch And Kill, argues that not only did NBC know about the accusations against Lauer but that they actively worked to cover them up. (NBC has denied this. “We have no secrets and nothing to hide,” NBC president Noah Oppenheim wrote in a letter obtained by Deadline.)
Pompeo went on to stress how it is the responsibility of every woman in the industry, particularly white women, to stand alongside Union. Without this solidarity, she stressed, toxic cultures would never change.
“This is a teaching moment… It’s important… white girls I’m talking to you.. whether you truly understand what racial injustice is or not… that you stand with your sisters on the front lines. Don’t cut side deals & don’t not get involved because it isn’t your issue… because it is,” she tweeted.
Pompeo continued: “Workplace cultures will continue to be toxic until there is unity and solidarity among all women. If you go for self in these moments you undermine the work we are out here trying to do. Obviously this network feels like they can operate like this and it’s OK.”
“Oh and Happy Thanksgiving. Thankful for all the women out there who refuse to put up with bullshit.”
Pompeo acknowledged that things aren’t perfect on the set of Grey’s Anatomy, either. She should know, the actor has spoken out on many occasions about the egregious pay gaps between her and male co-stars including Patrick Dempsey and about the “toxic” culture on the set of the series.
But Pompeo stressed that it was exactly because she spoke out that things changed for everyone on Grey’s Anatomy.
“I feel important to mention our problems on the Grey’s set and every set has them…some kind of issue …” Pompeo tweeted. “There’s lots of people in a workplace… point is… exec producers and the NETWORK [ABC] cared enough to help us make change. Support is crucial.”