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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Orlando Jones discusses the "race problems" behind the scenes at American Gods, hints at a potential lawsuit

Illustration for article titled Orlando Jones discusses the race problems behind the scenes at iAmerican Gods/i, hints at a potential lawsuit
Screenshot: Starz

Last week, Orlando Jones dropped another bomb on the ever-combusting series that is Starz’s American Gods. After cycling through a series of showrunners and cast members and dealing with a myriad of vague script issues, Jones, who co-starred as the trickster god Anansi (a.k.a. Mr. Nancy), revealed he’d been fired in a message that implied the show’s current showrunner, Charles “Chic” Eglee, let him go because the character’s “angry” person was the “wrong message for Black America.” In subsequent tweets, Jones blasted Fremantle, the production company behind the show, as a “nightmare” that treated employees like “2nd class [citizens].” Fremantle released its own statement in the aftermath, saying that “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 3.”

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Now, Jones, who also worked as a writer and a producer on the series, is calling bullshit on that statement in a new interview with Deadline. It’s a long, winding chat, but Jones is essentially saying that he was led to believe he’d be returning as an actor, producer, and writer on the third season, and that any talk of them not renewing his option is “horseshit,” adding that “that’s all them just trying to cover their own bases.”

“I know the difference between an option not being picked up and being fired,” he asserts.

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“If that is true then why didn’t you tell me that in April, May, June, July, or August when we were reaching out to you to get an understanding for what was going to happen with season three and then summarily call me on September 10 to say that, one,” he says. “Two, why do I not have in my hand a release letter because when your option isn’t renewed with the studio that’s what they send you to let you know that so that you can go get other work. Where is that letter that is in my contract that you have to give me? You can’t just notify me by phone call. No contract works that way because other people want to make sure that they’re not infringing on Starz’s rights by looking to employ me as a series regular if I’m contracted elsewhere and they’re holding exclusivity.”

He continues, “It’s clear that they have a personal bone to pick with me. I don’t know why they do. I don’t know what their reasoning is and I find it bizarre that if I said something that wasn’t true, they haven’t denied anything I’ve said about Chic. There’s been no denial about those statements because they know it’s true...The truth of the matter is they can’t produce a release letter and everybody knows September 10 is literally way too late to release me. There’s no gray area about what transpired here.”

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Jones also confirmed that he’s considering a lawsuit against Fremantle, though he refuses to elaborate. He does, however, later say that the courts are “the only place to go.”

Jones, by his telling, takes particular umbrage with Eglee’s alleged remarks about Mr. Nancy’s “angry” persona because he claims he was specifically asked by the producers to write for the show’s “disenfranchised characters.”

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“Who was I writing? I was writing Shadow Moon. I was writing Ibis. I was writing Bilquis. I was writing Laura Moon. I was writing Salim and The Jinn and Sam Blackcrow, New Media If you’ve seen the show, you know there aren’t a lot of characters left,” he says. “I was writing all of the disenfranchised characters because they didn’t care or wish to write any of them. If you cared about these people or these things, then why didn’t you write for them? Why was I thrust into a scenario where suddenly I had to write my own character? That’s crazy.”

Jones also touches on race issues behind the scenes earlier in the interview. “They only see people of color as victims so they write you as victims,” he says. “So, Mr. Nancy not operating as a victim because he’s a god and not a human suddenly became problematic. All of these are the mindsets of individuals who think a certain way about certain people. That’s what we’re dealing with here.”

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According to Jones, the “problem stems from” Fremantle, which is also at the center of Gabrielle Union’s allegations of “discriminatory behavior” at America’s Got Talent. Over the weekend, Union responded to Jones’ tweet by inviting him to chat.

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Jones tells Deadline he did end up talking with Union. “Our conversation, for me, first and foremost was about supporting the fact that I understood what she was saying because I had the same experience. At the end of the day, Gabrielle showed up to sit in a chair and judge contestants. She didn’t think that she would find herself in the position of having to stand up for people who didn’t feel like they had the power to stand up in the face of being treated badly. I found myself in the same scenario with the same company where [American Gods cast members] Mousa [Kraish] and Omid [Abtahi] and Laura and Yetide [Badaki] and all these people didn’t feel they had the power to stand up to fight to get their words right to protect their character.”

A Fremantle spokesperson released another statement to Deadline addressing Jones’ comments. “We stand by our original statement around the ever evolving storylines and characters that weave in and out of American Gods,” they said. “While we greatly appreciate Mr. Jones’ contributions to Seasons 1 and 2, we are disappointed he feels the need to make inaccurate accusations regarding the non-renewal of his contract. Our efforts are focused on Season 3 and working with our amazing cast, crew, and creators.”

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Read the full interview here.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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