Thursday morning, The Chi creator Lena Waithe spoke at-length with Charlamagne tha God on The Breakfast Club for over 40 minutes over the phone about the recent fallout over former The Chi star Jason Mitchell’s misconduct allegations on set, and the criticism she’s received, as the creator and the executive producer of the show, for the handling of the situation, which led to actress Tiffany Boone leaving the show.
News first broke last week about misconduct allegations surrounding Mitchell by actresses on The Chi (including Boone, who portrayed his character’s girlfriend on the show) and on a Netflix film Desperados. After he was dropped from Desperados, Mitchell was subsequently dropped by his representatives and The Chi.
This in-depth conversation on The Breakfast Club comes after a new report in The Hollywood Reporter had an account from Ayanna Floyd Davis, the season 2 showrunner of The Chi, who said she was also a target of Mitchell’s behavior and that everyone, including Waithe, was aware of what was going on.
Waithe said, in part, “Season 1 of The Chi, that was shot maybe three years ago, before people really knew who I was. I was one of those powerless women of color in this industry…I didn’t have a whole ton of power or a lot of say. And now, I have a really strong relationship with the studio and the network, but it was just kind of how things go. For your first thing, you are almost an employee on your own thing. I wasn’t made aware of anything going on with Tiffany until after the season had wrapped. When Tiffany and I had a conversation…I remember looking at her and I was like, ‘Yo, this is not cool, I feel awful that you had an experience on my set that was not pleasant.’ And by that point, after the season wrapped, I had a little bit more power and clout and said here’s what I’m going to do to change that. I’m going to hire a woman of color as the showrunner. The first season it was a white male, the second season was a Black woman. That was in direct reaction to what I heard about what was going on, on the show. I can already say the idea of me hearing about something and not doing anything is simply not true, because Ayanna’s hiring was a direct reflection of me trying to change the attitude and environment on that set.”
When Charlamagne directly asked Waithe whether or not she knew about Mitchell’s alleged behavior after Season 1, she said in part, “So what happened was, that was handled. There were conversations that were had, you know, HR was made aware and all the parties involved were like, this thing has been resolved enough so that both parties were willing to return to work. So I was like OK, if you wanna come back I wanna make sure that the environment is different. I made sure that when she came back to set, there was damn near a whole different crew. And also too, there were precautions that we took. The writers had extensive sexual harassment training. There was extensive sexual harassment training on the set. And also I said I was going to put women in positions of power on the show. I think that if that’s the case, it’ll be less likely that we have issues like that again. Not to say that women are exempt from doing things, but I was like I think it’ll make it a safer environment. That was my assumption. And when we get into Season 2, things are moving smoothly. I’m hearing the set is completely different…and then I get a call from Ayanna saying things are persisting in that area. She said to me, you can’t reach out to anybody, you have to sit tight and HR has to handle it. My biggest regret is I wish I would have not trusted anyone to do my job and just reached out to Tiffany on my own and ask what I can do to fix it. I trusted someone else to do my job and the truth is, can’t nobody do my job like me. I’m very blunt, I’m a chick from Chicago and I don’t play. I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus, but I wish that I could have handled the situation differently and I wish I would have done more. That’s my issue when things come out, people don’t own their s–t. I’m going to own my part in it. I know what that’s like to feel powerless. For anyone to assume that I would stand by while a woman is being mistreated…it’s just not true and not who I am. I would not let something bad happen to somebody, knowingly. I was trying to put people in positions of power to change that. But ultimately, that wasn’t the answer. I’m always the answer. Lena is the answer. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in all of this.”
Waithe also said during the interview that Mitchell’s role on the show will not be recast.
Listen to the full interview below, including more on her prior conversations with Mitchell about his behavior and recent talks with Tiffany Boone:
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