Powell was let go last July over what was reported at the time as “racially insensitive” comments allegedly made by her during a conference call discussing characters and storylines in Paramount TV’s First Wives Club comedy series, a reimagining of the 1996 movie with black leads. Powell adamantly denied the accusations and, weeks later, she reached a confidential financial settlement with Paramount.
Powell, who had kept a low profile while prepping the next chapter in her career, recently reflected on the events that led to her dismissal, giving a frank assessment of her actions and taking responsibility for them. She made the comments in a Forbes article titled From Pain To Purpose: Why We Need To Have Difficult Conversations, about the importance of difficult conversations for building a more inclusive work environment.
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“The situation that led me to lose my job is both simple and complex,” Powell told the publication. “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, originally for Paramount Network and recently relocating to BET, has a writing staff consisted primarily of women of color, led by creator/executive producer Tracy Oliver. Meanwhile, the creative executives overseeing the show were all white.
“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 said. “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.”
The notes in question reportedly suggested that one of the lead female character was coming across as too angry in a proposed storyline. When Powell found out that an assistant on the call had been made uncomfortable by the comment, I hear she immediately arranged for the woman to speak with HR.
“As a woman, I know you often have to fight to be seen and heard,” Powell told Forbes. “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.”
Paramount TV was launched in 2013 with Powell at the helm. The company quickly established itself as a major supplier to cable and streaming networks with a slew of series, many of them in partnership with Anonymous Content. The Paramount TV series developed and sold under Powell include Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon), 13 Reasons Why and Maniac (Netflix), Shooter (USA), Berlin Station (EPIX), The Alienist (TNT), The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix), Catch-22 (Hulu), First Wives Club (BET), and School of Rock (Nickelodeon).
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