Amy Powell, former president of Paramount Television, finally spoke about the conditions that led to her firing after 9 months of silence. Last July, Powell was fired over “racially insensitive” remarks that she allegedly made in discussion of Paramount TV’s First Wives Club, a comedy series based on the 1996 film by the same name, only with women of color instead. The comments were allegedly made during a conference call concerning the characters and storylines in the series. At the time, Powell vehemently denied these allegations but was ultimately let go after reaching a settlement with Paramount.
After a long reflection, Powell finally released an admission to her mishandling of the conversation in a Forbes article which was entitled From Pain To Purpose: Why We Need To Have Difficult Conversations.
“The situation that led me to lose my job is both simple and complex. On one hand, it was the result of a single, short phone call about characters in a TV series. On the other hand, it was deeply rooted in my failure to manage and lead the team through some difficult conversations surrounding race and identity. A lot of people assumed that I used a racial epithet on the call. That was not the case. No one on the call used any such language. The problem was much larger than that: It was rooted in the more complicated, systemic issue of how we talk about race in the creative process and how that conversation is often uncomfortable.”
The First Wives Club series has since moved from Paramount Network to BET and was written mostly by women of color, although all of the creative executives were white, raising many eyebrows.
“The team supporting the TV series never should have been white executives—and not just because of the optics Empowering writers to lead the creative process and speak to their own culture is what creates successful, authentic content. As executives, we need to trust and listen to these voices,” Powell added in her statement to Forbes. “Of course it was uncomfortable for the only (assistant) of color on that call to have to listen to a team of white executives, led by me, give notes about black characters. As a white woman, it wasn’t my place to give those notes, which were insensitive. Instead, I should have called our writers to listen, learn and engage in conversation.”
Powell recalled the incident during which the assistant had been made uncomfortable. It was when Powell had allegedly suggested that a lead character, who was a woman of color, seemed too angry in the storyline. Looking back on the incident, Powell was able to empathize with the assistant.
“As a woman, I know you often have to fight to be seen and heard,” said Powell. “I should have been more conscious of that issue on this particular project. I will never make that mistake again. Instead, I will set up the creative team to protect, support and empower the writers’ voices.”
This story was first reported by Deadline.