Actors' Union Expands AGT Fremantle Investigation After Orlando Jones' American Gods Ouster
Gabrielle Union and Orlando Jones were both recently ousted from shows produced by Fremantle Media
The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is expanding its investigation of Fremantle Media, the production company behind America’s Got Talentand American Gods, amid the controversial ousters of Gabrielle Union and Orlando Jones.
“After initial meetings with Gabrielle Union and her representatives about her experiences on America’s Got Talent, and after learning more about Orlando Jones’s experience on American Gods, SAG-AFTRA is expanding its investigation of Fremantle Media,” SAG-AFTRA said Friday in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
“Our enforcement actions are handled confidentially to protect the members involved, and we typically do not publicize these matters unless the affected members request that we do so,” the labor union shared, adding they “have nothing further to report at this time.”
The investigation is being expanded as Union, 47, and Jones, 51, both admitted to having negative experiences on their respective Fremantle Media shows.
On Saturday morning, Jones posted a video message on Twitter sharply criticizing the new American Gods showrunner, Charles Eglee, for his decision to axe Jones’ character Mr. Nancy, according to Entertainment Weekly.
The actor, who also offered writing and producing contributions to the Starz series, said he was fired on Sep. 10.
“There will be no more Mr. Nancy. Don’t let these motherf—ers tell you they love Mr. Nancy. They don’t,” Jones said in the video. “I’m not going to name names but the new season three showrunner is Connecticut-born and Yale-educated, so he’s very smart and he thinks that Mr. Nancy’s angry, get s— done is the wrong message for black America.”
“That’s right,” Jones added. “This white man sits in that decision-making chair and I’m sure he has many black BFFs who are his advisors and made it clear to him that if he did not get rid of that angry god Mr. Nancy he’d start a Denmark Vesey uprising in this country. I mean, what else could it be?”
Starz did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment. A rep for Eglee told PEOPLE in a statement: “Mr. Eglee was not born in Connecticut.”
Fremantle released a response to EW, stating that Jones’ character was not “picked up” due to race. “The storylines of American Gods have continually shifted and evolved to reflect the complex mythology of the source material. Mr. Jones’ option was not picked up because Mr. Nancy, among other characters, is not featured in the portion of the book we are focusing on within season three,” the statement read. “Several new characters, many of which have already been announced, will be introduced into Shadow Moon’s world that will further contribute to the show’s legacy as one of the most diverse series on television.”
In a follow-up tweet, Jones wrote that Fremantle “is a nightmare.”
“They treated you like a 2nd class citizen for doing your job [too] well,” he wrote, tagging Union — who was recently fired from AGT and reportedly said there was racial insensitivity on set — and former AGT judges and hosts Nick Cannon, Mel B and Heidi Klum.
“They were exceptionally nasty and evil the way they did it,” Jones added in a third tweet.
Union responded to Jones’ tweet, writing, “Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Let’s chat my friend. #StrongerTogether.”
According to Variety‘s sources, Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough were subject to “excessive notes” on their physical appearance, with the Bring It On actress being told her hairstyles were “too black” for the show’s audience. Union has not yet released an official statement about the allegations. Hough denied having a negative experience on the show.
Union revealed on Dec. 4 that she sat down with NBC and America’s Got Talent production company Fremantle and Syco Entertainment, show creator Simon Cowell‘s company.
“We had a lengthy 5-hour, and what I thought to be, productive meeting yesterday,” Union wrote on Twitter. “I was able to again, express my unfiltered truth. I led with transparency and my desire and hope for real change.”
Following the meeting, NBC announced that they would also further investigate America’s Got Talent.
“The initial conversation was candid and productive,” an NBC spokesperson said in a previous statement to PEOPLE about their sit-down with Union. “While there will be a further investigation to get a deeper understanding of the facts, we are working with Gabrielle to come to a positive resolution.”
On Monday, Union opened up about the challenges facing black women in the industry. She encouraged them to not only speak their truth but to also stand up for what they believe in — even if it means losing their jobs.
“Keep the door open … don’t be the happy negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid. Don’t allow them to call you angry. When somebody else is saying the same thing, it’s called passion,” she said during a panel event for her New York & Company holiday collection in New York City.
“It is scary. It is terrifying and there is a chance you might lose your job — perhaps I speak from experience, but you have do what you can when you are in those rooms — all skin folk ain’t kinfolk,” Union continued. “Do your best, because corporations want global dollars, and if those corporations don’t reflect the global audience, you are going to make so many mistakes trying to reach that global audience. So do your best to try to hold the door open, hold people responsible.”