top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureAriel Maccarone

DEAR ALLY,

RACISM AND TRANSPHOBIA ON THE SET OF "AMERICAN HORROR STORY"

If you haven’t seen actor Angelica Ross’s recent Instagram reel describing her experience on the set of producer Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” I screen-grabbed the video and transcribed it for you. I think her words are that important.

Ross's experience on Ryan Murphy's set does not surprise me. It is not new information that the entertainment industry systemically incorporates racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia. I still hoped for better. I hoped for more from a production company and professionals that claim to be allies.

In one scene, Ross refused to continue filming when a crew member (specifically the crew member positioned directly in front of her for the scene) repeatedly wore racist t-shirts to set. In another instance, Ross's co-star, Emma Roberts, muttered a transphobic statement under her breath and no one did anything.

In the video Ross states:
"Now, to give some credit, some of the White people were uncomfortable too; to give some credit. So there were a lot of White people who were on set who were like, [covers her mouth as if whispering], "Oh my god, did you see that?' and [maybe] they just didn’t know what to say?"

I am hesitant to judge incidents I was not present for or those with whom I do not have a personal relationship. However, there exist certain things that are not only aye-okay to prejudge, but which one has a moral responsibility to judge and act according to the values one preaches.

I'll let Ross explain the rest, but the video really embodies ____.






***

The first day it was a t-shirt that said “Build That Wall.” The second day it was a t-shirt that had praying hands in front of a flag, an American flag, that said “I Don't Kneel.” The next day it was like “America First.”


It was like all these t-shirts, but what made it worse was the scene where Emma Roberts and I are driving in the car away from the killer. What's really happening is they have a crew outside my car that is operating my car, like doing certain things before they say “action” or whatever the case is. So it's the man outside my window operating my car wearing the racist t-shirts. So someone [on set] ... was wearing these racist t-shirts and everybody recognized it; and everybody was uncomfortable. So, mind you, mind you what I'm telling you is all these people recognized what was happening. …


So, I go to the car where the AC is because it's hot as hell. We’re somewhere in the desert. It's really, really hot, so I go to the car, and I'm like, “I'm not leaving this vehicle until that man either turns his shirt inside out, he turns it inside out and we can all get back to work, or he changes or something. I can't focus. They're saying “action” and I'm reading this guy's t-shirt, and I'm mad that he gets to do all this bullshit. ...


So, I go to the van. I’m sitting in the van. The set shuts down; because it’s the scene we need to film. So, I’m like, “I’m not filming. I’m not coming out of the trailer.”


When I tell you that I felt like I had White privilege in that moment, for a second, because I was literally like, “I’m not coming out of my trailer!” It’s almost like I had watched Emma [Roberts] during the scene and was like, “Okay, let me try. Let me try a little somethin’.” So I was like, I was like, “Okay, I’m not coming out of my trailer.” So, they’re trying to figure out what to do.


The director, John, comes into the van, [and says] “Angelica, um … I mean, I totally hear you, and I understand that, you know, that this is a difficult situation, but, um, I just, you just to, I need you to understand that we are in a difficult situation. And, um, you know, I just, we really need to get this scene shot and, um, you know, I don’t think there’s anything we can do. It’s a freedom of speech issue,” is what they told me; a freedom of speech issue.


So they were trying to get me to go back to work and I was like, “I’m not coming out of this trailer until you change something.” So time was going by. Time. Hours passed. Hours were passing by on set and you know [point to wrist as if it was a wrist watch and someone was noting the time], that’s money. … So they’re telling me, you know, “Can you come out?” I said, “I’m not coming out.”


So then, finally, I text message. You want to know who I text messaged? I text message Alex Martin Woodal, the president of Ryan Murphy Productions. I text her and tell her what’s going on. She says, “Give me a few minutes,” and she literally, she was like, “Oh, that’s not right,” you know, “That’s not cool. …"


So, you know, she’s like, “Give me some time.” So she’s apparently [uses air-quotes hand gesure] “handling it.” I’m still sitting in the van. So as time is passing by and they’re still trying to get to come out of the trailer. … I then go tweet. And my tweet said something like this, something to to tune of, “... It’s a shame that I have to do all of this work fighting racism out in the world and have to come to work and still have to deal with the same, you know, fight racism,” or something along those lines.


I get a call about two minutes later. You remember when I posted that? So I get a call, like maye two minutes later, and it’s one of the producers from Ryan Murphy Productions, Tenase [Popa]. …


Let me run it back: So, what I’m telling you is not only was a man on set wearing racist t-shirts, he was wearing them multiple days; multiple times; and we had to be out in this place where we were like driving cars for the scenes.


Now, to give some credit: Some of the White people were uncomfortable too; to give some credit. So there were a lot of White people who were on set who were like, [covers her mouth as if whispering or talking under her breath] “Oh my god, did you see that?” and [maybe] they just didn’t know what to say? Like I said, Emma was one of those people who recognized that this guy was wearing a racist t-shirt, and she asked me, “What did I think about it?”


So, mind you, many many people who have a lot, who have way more power than I have on that set did and said nothing to make the situation better. Number one. So it had to take the Black one [points to herself]; it had to take the Black trans one to speak up and say, “This is not cool.”


… So I go to the van where the air conditioner is and I’m like, “I’m not coming out of this van until either he turns his shirt inside out or he changes or something.” They tried to get him to turn his shirt inside out. He basically told them to go fuck themselves. He said he would not … he said it was a freedom of speech issue and he was like, “You call whoever you need to call. I’m not changing my shirt.” So they couldn’t get him to change that shirt and they couldn’t get me to come out of my trailer.


So, like I said, I messaged Alexis Martin Woodall. She’s like, “I got it. I’m gonna handle it.” But there I was, still sitting in a trailer waiting around like [motions looking around the room as if she’s waiting for something to happen] …” So then I tweet, “It’s a shame that I gotta do all this work against racism out in the world and I sill gotta come to a set and do the same thing.”


[Gestures as if she’s holding a telephone that is ringing]


“Rrrrring!”


“Hello?”


“Um, Angelica Ross, this is Tenase Pope. Um, yeah, Ryan feels like, um, you know that tweet you just did, um that it just … You know, we’re family. You know, we see this as a family and, you know, he feels like, you know, whatever’s happening on set, you know, it’s, it’s being handled







*****

One of my favorite concepts is that of being a good ancestor.

Dear White women, we have a lot of ancestors to atone for. I find this fact especially poignant with the recent death of Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White women who in 1955 accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of “wolf-whistling” at her in her family’s grocery store. The Black teen was subsequently kidnpapped, tortured, and lynched by the woman's husband and brother-in-law.


in Mississippi by ______________. The brutality of his murder and the acquittal of the killers by an all-White jury drew national attention and became an icon of the civil rights movement.

White women, our voices are powerful. The fact that this power rests on institutional oppression does not lessen its power. To not own the reality of our power, and to not use it to deconstruct the injustice that produced it, is immoral.

If there is anything sacred in the world, what happened to that boy deviled them to an unrecognizable state. I hoped

***

Generally, I try to be slow to judge that and whom I do not have personal experience with. I try to leave room for the possibility that I’m not seeing everything. But there are some things in life that it’s not only aye-okay to prejudge, but you have a moral responsibility to do so.

Ethics in artificial intelligence researcher Eliezar Yudkowsky summed it up best: “You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.”

Watch the video here or read the transcript below. You can decide for yourself,

I feel Racist-t-shirt Person could have and should have been immediately booted from set. The industry has covered up institutional abuse. It can cope with a bigotted crew member’s twitter rant about freedom of speech.

When Emma Roberts said what she said, the director or producer (or someone of equal influence) should have said, “What the fuck did you just say?" And then they should have made Emma say it aloud again.

Said person-in-power should have concluded with, “If you ever fucking say some shit like that again, you will not work on my set. I do not care what you think you did or did not mean. You are either lying, in denial, or are sadly ignorant. None of those options are good. If you do not yet understand why it is not okay to misgender another person -- ever, under any circumstances – then you have a lot more to think about than whether you will be working on this set again." That this did not occur is evidence of the work We need to do.

9 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page