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Not Making Racist Comments at Work Seems Like a Low Bar to Clear, Yet Here We Are

Amy Powell, the woman who’s headed the Paramount Television banner for five years, has been terminated from her position after the company received multiple complaints about her making comments “inconsistent” with Viacom’s values. As the head of Paramount Television, Powell delivered shows like 13 Reasons Why and The Alienist. Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos announced her firing with an internal memo on Thursday.

Sources have reported that this was a reference to “racially charged language” (the go-to euphemism these days for “racist”), and the comments were made during a studio notes call for the First Wives Club reboot.  The exact nature of these comments are unclear, but firing someone like Powell is no small move (all we know is that it wasn’t the N-word).

The Hollywood Reporter suggests Powell was the reason for Tracy Y. Oliver’s (Girls Trip) frustrated tweet not too long ago. Powell is said to have made “generalizations about black women that struck some on the call as offensive.”

Afterwards, complaints were filed and investigated. THR writes that a source says that Paramount considered disciplinary actions, but “decided to to fire Powell after she denied the allegations.” Powell released a message not long after Gianopulos’ memo, saying, “There is no truth to the allegation that I made insensitive comments in a professional setting — or in any setting…The facts will come out and I will be vindicated.”

Gianopulos’ full memo reads:

“Last week, multiple individuals came to us to raise concerns around comments made by Amy Powell in a professional setting, which they believed were inconsistent with our company’s values.  Having spent the past several days conducting a thorough investigation into this matter and speaking to those who were present, our Human Resources and Legal teams came to the same conclusion, and we have made the decision to terminate Amy’s employment, effective immediately.

Amy has made lasting contributions to Paramount in her 14 years with the company, including building a world-class team at Paramount TV.  While it is incredibly difficult to part ways with a valued member of our community, it is imperative that we uphold our values and ensure that all employees feel safe and included in the workplace.

We will begin immediately looking for Amy’s replacement. In the interim, Andrew Gumpert, Paramount’s Chief Operating Officer, will provide operational support and Mireille Soria, Brian Robbins and Wyck Godfrey — Presidents of Paramount Animation, Paramount Players and Paramount Motion Picture Group, respectively — will provide creative input, where needed, to the incredibly talented Paramount TV team, which is very well-placed to continue the incredible growth of this division.

Importantly, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the type of company and culture we’re committed to building at Paramount. It’s one of inclusion, honesty and accountability – where diversity is critical to ensuring that all ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are embraced and respected.

We will continue this conversation in smaller groups and on a companywide scale in the coming months and, in the meantime, I want us to take stock of where we are and explore what more we can do to foster a safe, supportive and inclusive workplace. Through direct engagement and an open dialogue, my hope is that we can undertake this progress together, in an environment where each and every one of our employees feels heard and valued.

Thank you for your continued hard work and ongoing contributions to this effort.



Many have drawn a connection between Powell’s firing and Neflix’s firing of Chief Communications officer Jonathan Friedland for his use of the N-word during a meeting with other staffers. Asking that people with authority not make offensive or racist comments doesn’t seem like too much to ask, yet here we are. Still, it’s nice to see that more companies are holding their employees accountable.

(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: Stuart Isett/Fortune on Flickr)

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