The format of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” is amusingly predictable. She brings someone onto the stage — preferably a child prodigy or a teacher in need of new classroom desks — and gifts them an impressive sum of money or a flat-screen TV. The crowd erupts, the recipient embraces Ellen in a tight hug and Ellen, yet again, is deified for her generosity.
For years, the talk show host has cautiously curated a public persona that revolves around kindness. One meme format in 2019 poked fun at her perpetual gift-giving: Ellen would give you whatever you wanted (and then some) because she was just that nice.
Over time, scandals emerged and contradictions to her supposed “be kind to everyone” mentality arose. Still, in everyone’s eyes, Ellen DeGeneres was, well, Ellen DeGeneres, the charitable woman with a cream-toned JC Penney collection that birthed the virality of Sophia Grace and Rosie — until now.
In a Buzzfeed News article published in early July, former employees detailed a toxic workplace culture of intimidation, harassment and racism by executive producers and senior managers at the NBC daytime production. One former employee detailed a lengthy battle with supervisors for being absent from the job for medical leave and attending family members’ funerals. Another former employee, a Black woman, commented on microaggressions she often experienced while working there and being confused for another Black employee with box braids. “That ‘be kind’ bulls—t only happens when the cameras are on,” a former employee told Buzzfeed. “It’s all for show.”
Another Buzzfeed News article released in late July highlighted allegations of sexual misconduct by executive producers on the show. Among several allegations, executive producer Ed Glavin was reported to have “had a reputation for being handsy with women,” and would remotely shut his office door with a button as an “intimidation tactic.” It’s undeniable that DeGeneres is complicit in these behaviors: She ignored these grievances as the representative of the show and did not make any formal process to file complaints to HR.
In a letter to her staff, DeGeneres responded: “I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention," she wrote. "I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow.”
Three executive producers have been terminated, but there has been no decisive action to oust DeGeneres from her position. But why isn’t Ellen, the person in charge of such a chaotic workplace culture, being held to the same standard? Those in positions of power — especially in the entertainment industry — benefit from a power imbalance that allows them to set the tone for human decency and accountability for sexual misconduct. If DeGeneres is not held responsible for her complicity, the same power dynamics that permitted a toxic workplace will continue to function under the facade of personal growth.