Lena Waithe is finally speaking out about the controversy surrounding Jason Mitchell, the star of her hit SHOWTIME series, The Chi.
After news broke that Mitchell’s inappropriate behavior got him axed from the successful series as well as a Netflix film, Desperados and fired by his agent and management team, all eyes turned to Waithe, who has been a huge supporter of the #MeToo movement.
Lena Waithe has been relatively quiet on the scandal until she opened up during an interview with Charlamagne on The Breakfast Club Thursday morning.
According to reports, Mitchell’s on-screen girlfriend, Tiffany Boone is one of several actresses who made complaints about the actor. Some sources say Waithe didn’t do enough to protect her cast, but she insists she yielded all the power she could to rectify the situation.
“I knew what I was dealing with on the show, but I wasn’t made aware of anything going on with Tiffany until after the season had wrapped and when Tiffany and I had a conversation – and out of respect for her privacy, ’cause the conversation we had was private – we did discuss stuff that was just inappropriate. And I remember looking at her – ’cause we were facetiming – and I was like, ‘Yo! This is not cool! I feel awful that you had this experience on my set that’s not pleasant…By the time the season had wrapped, I had a little bit more power. I had a little bit more clout, and I was like, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do to change that. I’mma hire a woman of color as the showrunner….’ – so I can already say that the idea of me hearing something and not doing anything just isn’t true,” she said.
“There were conversations that were had, HR was made aware, and all the parties involved were like, ‘This thing has been resolved enough that all artists are willing to return to the show.’ So I was like, ‘Ok, if you wanna come back, I wanna make sure that the environment was equipped. When she came back to set, I made sure that there was damn near a whole different crew. And also, there were whole precautions that we took. The writers had extensive sexual harassment training. There was extensive sexual harassment training on set, and I do recall Tiffany – when we were texting – saying, ‘Let’s get some sexual harassment training.’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’”
Waithe also explained her decision to release Boone from the series, at the actress’ request.
“I was told she wanted to go. One, because I think she was just at a place of there’s no repairing it. And I think she wanted to explore other opportunities, and I didn’t wanna hold her back from that. I’m never gonna say, ‘Hey! You stay here. I don’t care what you want.’ I really want to respect her wishes. Another thing, again, I’m not really in control over who stays or goes on the show. I can make a pitch! I can say, ‘Yo, let’s get rid of this person.’ But, ultimately it’s not my decision. As a matter of fact, I can be on some, ‘Oh, it’s me or Jason’ – and they could pick Jason,” she explained.
“What I wanna do is make things right with Tiffany on a personal level, ’cause she don’t deserve to be dragged. She’s the one who we need to actually be protecting. She’s someone I stand next to. And I think, to me, she’s representative of a lot of women of color who are ignored, and are silenced, and are pushed away…I think her and him [Tiffany’s fiance, Marque Richardson] should be left alone to live their lives. I think they’re both extremely talented actors with bright futures.”
While plenty of people assume that Lena Waithe made the decision to keep Jason Mitchell on the series after she learned of the allegations against him, she begs to differ and insists she doesn’t have as much power over the show as people think.
“I don’t have the power to fire anybody. I don’t! I wish I did! I don’t own ‘The Chi.’ I created it, I sold it – so it’s like, I could be fired off “The Chi.” Season one of ‘The Chi’ was just, like, a couple- maybe three years ago. And that was before people really knew who I was. So I was one of those powerless women of color in this industry. Even though they say, ‘Oh you wrote a pilot! You created a show and sold it’ – that’s true, but I didn’t have a whole ton of power on that show, or a lot of say. You’re almost an employee on your own set.”
Lena Waithe also revealed that she has no intentions of working with Jason Mitchell ever again, and was clearly regretful about the position Tiffany Boone is in.
“What I believe is he has to do is really go work on himself, and really look internally because this is a bigger issue. This is bigger than just my show. This is some other things going on- which I know nothing about. I don’t know nothin’ about this Netflix thing. I don’t know nothin’ about why his agency dropped him. That stuff is very very much outside of me, but all I know is that he – just on a human level – has to get right…that’s on him. That’s his responsibility. I can’t fix Jason Mitchell. All I can fix is my behavior and how I move forward,” she said.
“There’s only so much I can do with a person. If other people wanna work with him, that’s their prerogative. For me, I just don’t think it’s right ’cause I can’t stand by these women and continue to work with him and put money in his pocket.”
Check out the interview: