Unpacking Everything Going On with the Ellen DeGeneres Controversies

Ellen controversy recapped

Twenty-three years ago Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian to over 42 million people. It was that one moment of bravery that helped create this site. We wouldn’t be here without her. Today, she’s become the queen of afternoon talk shows and one of the richest comedians in the world. But in recent years, her friendly onscreen persona has started to tarnish as she’s become marred by controversy. From allegations that she’s incredibly mean, to a toxic work place, there’s a lot to sift through. But as lesbians, it’s our duty to unpack and process everything going on with the Ellen DeGeneres controversies.

The Twitter Thread

In March, writer and comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted this:

https://twitter.com/KevinTPorter/status/1241049881688412160?s=20

If that comment caught you off guard, you’re not alone. Ellen almost always ends every show by reminding the audience to “be kind.” So, to hear that she’s notoriously mean is like a slap to the face. Surely, this couldn’t true… right? But the tweet received thousands of replies. The stories ranged from a waitress saying Ellen complained about her chipped nail polish, to the host allegedly policing what her staff eats. TV writer Benjamin Siemon even alleged that “every day she picks someone to really hate.” And while it is impossible to verify every single anecdote, the amount of stories is definitely concerning. To top it all off, entertainment publicist Danny Deraney mentioned that he’s been hearing stories about her behavior for years. Could the woman who tells million of audiences to “be kind” really be this mean?

The Quarantine Joke

Since the start of the pandemic, many talk show hosts have been filming from their homes. So it wasn’t that unusual to see Ellen doing her monologue from the comfort of her living room. But things went sour fast when Ellen compared quarantining to being incarcerated. “This is like being in jail is what it is… Mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay.” That joke definitely missed the mark. For one, she lives in a multimillion dollar mansion. People like grocery store workers, cleaners, and nurses don’t have the luxury of working at home. Millions of people have been unable to pay their rent and face homelessness once the eviction moratorium ends. Let’s not forget that gay people are more likely to face homelessness, addiction, and  be abused once incarcerated. And to add to it, employees were outraged at the pay reduction, lack of communication by the producers, and overall poor treatment. 

The Invitation and the “Friend”

Last November, Ellen welcomed actress Dakota Johnson to her show. They started talking about Johnson’s birthday party, that she held in Malibu the previous month. Ellen mentions she wasn’t invited, but Johnson is quick to correct her. The exchange almost makes you cringe with secondhand embarrassment, just look for yourself.

Towards the end, Ellen mentions that she “had that thing” and that she was out of town. When you realize that party was the same weekend Ellen was seen with former president George W. Bush, you wish she had just gone to the party. We’ve all seen the photos of them laughing together and all the outrage it caused. Ellen defended herself by saying he was her friend and that just because she doesn’t agree with someone on everything, didn’t mean they couldn’t be friends. Here she is defending herself on her show. 

Her argument might make sense when one person hates ketchup and the other loves it. But when it comes to things like human rights and war crimes, the argument doesn’t work that well. Some people saw it a sign of hope, that maybe people can set aside their differences to be friends. Others saw it as a betrayal and a show of class privilege. Either way, it divided fans.

The Workplace Controversy

The most recent, and perhaps biggest issue that’s plagued Ellen are the allegations that her show has a toxic work environment and sexual harassment accusations against one of her producers. It’s important to remember none of these allegations were directed at Ellen herself.

Last month, reports of mistreatment surfaced, even prompting a BuzzFeed News investigation. The investigation found reports of racism, intimidation, and misconduct. Then, earlier this week, Variety reported that WarnerMedia would investigate staff accounts of workplace misconduct. The company’s employee relations group and a third-party firm would interview former and current staff about the allegations.

“Though not all of the allegations were corroborated, we are disappointed that the primary findings of the investigation indicated some deficiencies related to the show’s day-to-day management,” a rep for WB said. Former employees including the onscreen DJ and a former producer mentioned toxic environments on set, even going so far as to call Ellen a toxic host.

To make matters worse, several former employees spoke out about incidents of sexual harassment concerning one of the show’s top executives, Kevin Leman. These anonymous ex-staffers said Leman would make sexually explicit comments towards younger, lower-level employees. In a statement addressing the allegations, Leman said, “While my job as a head writer is to come up with jokes—and, during that process, we can occasionally push the envelope—I’m horrified that some of my attempts at humor may have caused offense. I have always aimed to treat everyone on the staff with kindness, inclusivity, and respect. In my whole time on the show, to my knowledge, I’ve never had a single H.R. or interpersonal complaint made about me, and I am devastated beyond belief that this kind of malicious and misleading article could be published.” The statement itself holds little weight considering the power imbalance between the harasser and the victims. In fact, he doesn’t even apologize, stating instead that he is “horrified” that he may have caused offense.

Warner Brothers declined to comment on these specific allegations. Meanwhile, executive producer Ed Galvin is expected to leave his role after accusations of racism and intimidation surfaced. Galvin is one of three senior producers closest to Ellen, the other two being Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner, who will remain on the the show as none of the complaints were about them. Connelly and Lassner wrote a joint statement stating that, “it’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us. For the record, the day-to-day responsibility of the Ellen Show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”

While Ellen has not publicly commented on the allegations and complaints, she did pen this note to the staff.

Hey everybody – it’s Ellen. On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness – no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show.

I could not have the success I’ve had without all of your contributions. My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that. Alongside Warner Bros, we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues. As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.

I’m also learning that people who work with me and for me are speaking on my behalf and misrepresenting who I am and that has to stop. As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am, I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded. To think that any one of you felt that way is awful to me.

It’s been way too long, but we’re finally having conversations about fairness and justice. We all have to be more mindful about the way our words and actions affect others, and I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention. I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow. It’s important to me and to Warner Bros. that everyone who has something to say can speak up and feels safe doing so.

I am so proud of the work we do and the fun and joy we all help put out in the world. I want everyone at home to love our show and I want everyone who makes it to love working on it. Again, I’m so sorry to anyone who didn’t have that experience. If not for COVID, I’d have done this in person, and I can’t wait to be back on our stage and see you all then.

Stay safe and healthy.

Love,

Ellen

The Allies

Despite all this, Ellen still has some support in her corner. Singer Katy Perry recently tweeted her support.

Meanwhile, comedian Kevin Hart posted his support on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

It’s crazy to see my friend go thru what she’s going thru publicly. I have known Ellen for years and I can honestly say that she’s one of the dopest people on the fucking planet. She has treated my family and my team with love and respect from day 1. The internet has become a crazy world of negativity….we are falling in love with peoples down fall. It’s honestly sad…When did we get here? I stand by the ones that I know and that I love. Looking forward to the future where we get back to loving one another….this hate shit has to stop. Hopefully it goes out of style soon….This post is not meant to disregard the feelings of others and their experiences….It’s simply to show what my experiences have been with my friend. Love you for life Ellen…

A post shared by Kevin Hart (@kevinhart4real) on

It’s worth noting that Hart lost his job hosting the Oscars due to homophobic tweets. Immediately after that incident, Ellen had him on the show to defend himself. He has since apologized for said tweets. And of course, Portia stood by her wife on Instagram with the hashtag #StopBotAttacks. Now, there is no evidence to suggest the Twitter thread was flooded by bots. Unless Portia knows something we don’t and there is a conspiracy of bot agitators is afoot? Or, it could simply be an attempt to deflect by reminding people that there is no way to verify all the stories shared.

Producer Mary Connelly stated that, “none of what’s being said speaks to the Ellen I know.” While former writer Steven Mozan says, “I never saw her as vindictive. I think people want to believe the Ellen you see on TV is the whole Ellen or the real Ellen. But nobody is that uncomplicated.” Another former employee states that “she just lives in an incredibly privileged bubble and is out of touch with the real world.” Scores of fans have also showed their support.

The Bottom Line

Was Ellen just a target of cancel culture? It’s entirely possible. Yes, the stories were concerning and there were entirely too many replies, but it’s impossible to verify every story on that Twitter thread. And we all know that cancel culture has no problem targeting women, especially lesbians, for not being “pure,” while allowing literal abusers and rapists to go untouched.

Ellen will never be a shining beacon of purity, because she’s only human like the rest of us. The trend of putting celebrities on pedestals to be worshipped needs to end. Is she out of touch with the rest of the world? Certainly (hello, this was the entire topic of her Grammy-nominated special). But 99 percent of celebrities are.

Money has a funny way of allowing one to completely detach from the real world. Could that the cause of so many allegations of being almost villainously mean? Definitely. As for the investigation into the toxic workplace culture on her show, she must take more responsibility. It seems almost impossible that Ellen wouldn’t be aware of the actions of high ranking employees.

It’s not good enough to just hand it over to others and assume it’ll be okay. Her name is on that show. She needs to be more involved in day to day operations. Not just for the sake of every employee, but for her own sake as well. Needless to say, all these controversies are disappointing. But it doesn’t negate what she did for lesbian representation over the last two+ decades. No matter what your feelings may be about her, she is part of lesbian history. Her show is set to continue and she has no plans of leaving. Let’s hope she can make all this right.