Paramount Television President Amy Powell has been fired after making inappropriate comments, the movie and TV studio’s Chief Executive Jim Gianopulos told staff Thursday.
In a memo obtained by The Times, Gianopulos said multiple people raised concerns about Powell’s unspecified comments last week, sparking an internal investigation by the company. It was not immediately clear what Powell said that led to her ouster, but a person familiar with the matter said she made racially charged remarks during a conference call about an upcoming Paramount TV show.
“Having spent the past several days conducting a thorough investigation into this matter and speaking to those who were present, our Human Resources and Legal teams came to the same conclusion, and we have made the decision to terminate Amy's employment, effective immediately,” Gianopulos said.
Powell has denied making the insensitive comments. She is exploring legal action against Paramount, a person close to her said.
“There is no truth to the allegation that I made insensitive comments in a professional setting — or in any setting,” Powell said in a statement. “The facts will come out and I will be vindicated."
The alleged incident occurred during a call to discuss “The First Wives Club,” a series adaptation of the 1996 Paramount film of the same name. The project’s showrunner is Tracy Oliver, who wrote the Universal Pictures hit “Girls Trip,” about a group of black friends reconnecting at Essence Fest in New Orleans. Her version of “The First Wives Club” is expected to feature a predominantly black cast.
During the call, Powell made offensive remarks stereotyping black people in a lengthy rant, the person familiar with the matter said. Powell's alleged comments included remarks about black women being angry and African American children being raised by single parents.
An assistant at the studio who heard the remarks reported the incident to an executive, who then went to human resources. At least four people heard the comments, the person familiar with the matter said.
When confronted with the allegations, Powell denied them, the person familiar with the incident said.
The firing comes a month after Netflix ousted its chief communications officer for using a racial slur on at least two occasions in the workplace. Company CEO Reed Hastings said in a memo to employees he dismissed Jonathan Friedland after deciding that what he said wasn’t “in line with our values as a company.”
This month, Papa John’s International Inc. Chairman John Schnatter resigned from the pizza chain he founded after facing sharp criticism for making racist comments.
Powell was named president of the Viacom Inc.-owned Paramount Television in 2013, picked by then-CEO Brad Grey to ramp up the storied Los Angeles studio’s efforts for the small screen. Reviving the television division is seen as an important part of the studio’s plan to make a much-needed comeback after years of financial struggles.
Powell, who began her career at CNN, joined Paramount in 2004 after working in interactive marketing at Sony Pictures.
Under her tenure, the studio’s TV division produced recent shows such as “13 Reasons Why” for Netflix and “The Alienist” on TNT, which have created considerable buzz. Its upcoming shows include “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” on Amazon and an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s satirical novel “Catch-22” for Hulu.
“While it is incredibly difficult to part ways with a valued member of our community, it is imperative that we uphold our values and ensure that all employees feel safe and included in the workplace,” Gianopulos wrote to staff.
“Importantly, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the type of company and culture we’re committed to building at Paramount,” Gianopulos added. “It’s one of inclusion, honesty and accountability — where diversity is critical to ensuring that all ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are embraced and respected.”