Steve Blackman at a screening of The Umbrella Academy
(Charley Gallay / Getty)

‘The Umbrella Academy’ Showrunner Accused of Sexism and Fostering a Toxic Workplace

Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy showrunner Steve Blackman has been accused of fostering a toxic workplace environment and displaying sexist and retaliatory behavior.

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Prior to The Umbrella Academy, Blackman had worked on shows like Bones, Legion, and Fargo. However, the Netflix show marked his first stint as the sole showrunner of a TV series, and it earned him universal recognition. The series is gearing up for its fourth and final season and remains one of the streamer’s top shows. Despite the show’s success, this isn’t the first time it has stirred controversy. The Umbrella Academy has been accused of utilizing antisemitic stereotypes due to its decision to make The Handler (Kate Walsh), the leader of an evil, secret organization, repeatedly speak Yiddish, a language almost exclusive to Ashkenazi Jewish people. Blackman denied the claims, though, and the controversy has largely been forgotten.

Now, ahead of season 4’s release, The Umbrella Academy showrunner has been hit with some concerning allegations from his former staff members.

Steve Blackman’s former employees come forward with disturbing allegations

Recently, 12 former staffers on The Umbrella Academy, many of whom were writers, spoke to Rolling Stone about Blackman’s concerning behavior on set. One of the allegations was that he discriminated against a pregnant woman. Ahead of season 2, Blackman hired two women who worked as a writing team, meaning they split one workload and salary. One of the women was pregnant during her interview, but the showrunner wasn’t aware of her pregnancy until she notified him of her maternity leave. During her leave, her writing partner continued working on the show.

However, Blackman was allegedly angered by the woman’s pregnancy, with four sources reporting they heard him making remarks about how he felt “ripped off” due to the pregnancy. Eventually, all of the show’s writers’ contracts were extended for another ten weeks, except for the female writing team. While Blackman claimed the termination was because of poor performance and budgeting, a writer claimed the showrunner told him he fired them over the woman’s pregnancy. The alleged wrongful termination was just one of numerous allegations leveled against Blackman. In addition to speaking with the former employees, Rolling Stone shared information from a January 2023 complaint filed against Blackman.

Although the showrunner also allegedly received two complaints during filming on season 2, it was the 2023 complaint that sparked an investigation. Among the allegations in the complaint were that Blackman frequently displayed retaliatory behavior, stole writers’ work, and made sexist, transphobic, and homophobic comments. The retaliation allegedly occurred anytime he perceived anyone as questioning his authority. Some writers claimed something as simple as defending a story point could spark retaliation. Usually, they said, his retaliation would take the form of belittling one’s work, diminishing their duties, or even firing them. His season 4 co-showrunner, Jesse McKeon, also said she was a victim of Blackman’s retaliation, claiming his role was reduced after he backed a writer in a pay dispute.

Former employees stated that Blackman would often disguise terminations by claiming it was for budgeting reasons or contracts ending. One employee shared a text message they received from Blackman in which he discussed firing a female writer and wrote, “We have the perfect opportunity to jettison her via studio cover and replace.” The accusations say that he especially mistreated and retaliated against female workers, as well as made lewd remarks about them. A former employee shared another text message, allegedly from Blackman, in which he commented on a female writer’s “rack.” On top of that, he was allegedly resistant to Elliot Page’s character transitioning on the show, writing in a text message, “Elliot wants to come out as trans on the show. As Ivan. Oh my f*****g God. Kill me now.”

Numerous former employees also accused Blackman of stealing their work. In 2021, the WGA actually intervened after Blackman tried to give himself the sole “teleplay by” credit for the show’s finale. The labor union eventually sided with the writers, who provided notes and documents showing that many ideas and concepts were formulated in the writer’s room. The issue was rectified as four writers received credits in addition to Blackman, but the incident adds weight to the other claims of stolen work.

Ultimately, the investigation into Blackman cleared him of most allegations, although it did confirm that he made inappropriate and derogatory comments about his employees. However, the employees behind the complaint have accused the UPC of a poor investigation, stating that the company never even contacted the vast majority of them to ask about their experiences. Additionally, it didn’t seem to do much about the findings of inappropriate comments, stating it was simply “addressing” the issue with Blackman. Since Netflix recently offered Blackman a $50 million deal and tapped him to oversee an adaptation of Horizon Zero Dawn, the investigation almost feels performative, as many of the employees predicted it wouldn’t result in any major action.

Blackman has adamantly denied the allegations against him. However, the allegations raise many concerns about the level of power showrunners hold and how their authority could be abused. It also demonstrates a troubling trend of toxic workplace environments in Hollywood, riddled with sexism and abuse. The abuse alleged in Rolling Stone’s report is similar to that attributed to Dan Schneider’s Nickelodeon sets in the Quiet on Set documentary. The fact that nothing has changed from the early 2000s to the present day is disappointing. It demonstrates that more significant action must be taken as, sadly, investigations and complaints often seem to have little effect.

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.