CULTURE

Deborah Dugan Launches New Allegations at the Grammys Board

There's something insidious and strange about the ongoing legal battles between Deborah Dugan and the Recording Academy.

Deborah Dugan was removed from her position as president and CEO of the Recording Academy just days prior to the Grammy Awards, but she hasn't gone quietly.

Since her removal, she's slammed the Academy with a multitude of accusations, and they've kept coming. In a new supplemental discrimination charge, her attorneys accused executive producer Ken Ehrlich of influencing the nominations process.

"Specifically, Mr. Ehrlich attempted to press the Academy into nominating a song by a particular superstar in order to increase his ability to convince the superstar to perform at the Grammys," reads the filing.

It also claimed that the Recording Academy was attempting to suppress Dugan's accusations against them. The new document also states that "the Academy has subjected her to repeated, ongoing and egregious retaliation," such as a lawsuit "asserting outrageous, false and frivolous allegations." Dugan's attorneys argued that instead of hiring a private investigator to handle her case as requested, the Academy "handpicked" Proskauer Rose, a legal firm that has worked closely with the Grammys board—and received millions in funding from it—to deal with the accusations. "Proskauer selected the investigator who is supposed to be investigating, in part, Prokauser," reads the complaint. "A greater conflict of interest can hardly be imagined."

Ken Ehrlich
Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Dugan also argues that the Academy fabricated reasons to fire her and launched a smear campaign in the process. "The Academy terminated Ms. Dugan's employment without cause, and immediately leaked that information to the press, along with defamatory and retaliatory quotes," the new document read.

According to Dugan and her attorneys, this sent "a message to women and minorities of all walks of life that the Academy is more interested in protecting itself than remedying sexual harassment, discrimination and voting irregularities, and that anyone who dares to stand against the Academy's unlawful conduct will be harshly punished.

"The real reason that Ms. Dugan has been terminated is clear: she was willing to stand up and fight against the Academy's ...sexual harassment, gender and race discrimination, self-dealing, conflicts of interest and award nomination voting irregularities, among other misogynistic misconduct," the suit adds.

An Ongoing Reckoning

In January, Dugan first accused the board of "egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members… and a 'boys' club' mentality." She also brought up inconsistencies in the Grammys' voting procedure and "exorbitant" legal fees paid to external law firms, and she accused the organization's general counsel Joel Katz of sexual harassment.

"The EEOC complaint includes several bombshell accusations, including that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, raped a female artist in New York; that she was pressed to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 by the Academy's then-board chair, John Poppo; and that the Academy's general counsel and former board chair, Joel Katz, sexually harassed Dugan in May 2019, as she was being courted for the top Academy job," reported NPR.

The Recording Academy, for its part, stated that Dugan has launched an "unwarranted and damaging media campaign" intended to "derail the Grammy Awards show" and argued that "consistent management deficiencies and failures"—not Dugan's desire to change their ways—led to her eventual release.

It's unclear whether or not the Grammys board will face consequences for how it has treated Dugan, but there's something strange and insidious about all this, something that indicates corruption on many different levels. Will the Grammys ever be free of their reputation for racism and sexism? Though Dugan's initial appointment may have been a performative attempt to correct these ideals, it seems that that there's a deep flaw somewhere in the system, and it isn't going away.

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The Oscars are bullsh*t, and it's hard to understand why anybody watches them anymore.

I say this as someone who absolutely adores movies. Heck, I majored in film and I write about entertainment every single day. But for the life of me, I just don't get why anybody who isn't a Hollywood celebrity would care about such a masturbatory award show.

Theoretically, an Academy Award should be the highest honor in film––an award given to the year's absolute best movie, as chosen by the people who best understand the medium. In practice though, the Academy is overwhelmingly white (84%) and male (69%), chock full of racist opinions, and heavily influenced by whichever movie's marketing team runs the most expensive Oscar campaign.

Want to hear a Hollywood secret? A large chunk of voters don't even watch every movie, especially for less high-profile categories like "Best Short Film (Live Action)." The truth is that, like many other things in America, the Oscars boil down to who has the most money and the most power.

Green Book winning "Best Picture" last year––the same year that Boots Riley's incredible Sorry to Bother You wasn't even nominated––should have absolutely crushed whatever faith anyone still held in the Academy's taste. Then again, Sorry to Bother You was a confrontational fable about racism and classism written from a black POV, and Green Book was a white guy's reassurance to other white guys that "I have a black friend" is a valid defense. It's no wonder the Academy loved it.

Thankfully, in 2020, some media outlets have finally had enough.

Oscars Academy Awards

In a statement released by Bitch Media titled "#ByeOscars," the Bitch Media team explained why they are officially boycotting the Oscars. "Once again, the Academy Awards is white as ever, even as the ceremony is touted as the pinnacle of a production or an actor's success...Having a single year (or two) where the nomination pool is more diverse doesn't account for a long history of nominating white, straight people at the expense of people from oppressed communities, so why should we cover a ceremony that shuts out the communities we serve over and over again?"

The Mary Sue followed suit with a post titled "We're Joining Bitch Media in Boycotting the 2020 Oscars." Rallying behind #ByeOscars, The Mary Sue stated, "While we'll discuss any emerging issues surrounding the awards and are ardent in our support of Parasite and Jojo Rabbit, the Academy's failure to nominate more than one person of color (Cynthia Erivo for Harriet) in its sprawling acting categories, or any women for its top directing award, shows how out-of-touch the Oscars remain."

Plenty of other female media professionals agree.

Well, for what it's worth, this white male Internet writer agrees, too. To be clear, Parasite absolutely deserves "Best Picture" this year, by a longshot. I doubt that the Academy's voting body will allow an international film made by a non-white director to win the top award in their "Western Media Supremacy" circlej*rk, but I'd like to be wrong. Bong Joon-ho deserves all the accolades he can get. But even if I am wrong, even if Parasite really is the first ever international film to win "Best Picture," the larger point stands.

In many ways, boycotting the Oscars is an act of solidarity with underrepresented people who the Academy continues to ignore. By refusing to watch, acknowledge, or report on the winners, we can show the Academy that if they insist on upholding a majority-white hegemony, then they risk losing whatever influence we give them in the larger social sphere. Everything in Hollywood runs on money, and a large chunk of that money is based on perceived clout. If we take that clout away by refusing to engage, viewership numbers decrease, and profits do too.

The Academy Awards are no longer relevant, and despite the fact that movies are one of my biggest passions in life, I won't be tuning in.

#ByeOscars