'Umbrella Academy' showrunner denies allegations of retaliation, toxic work environment

Former employees have accused “The Umbrella Academy” showrunner Steve Blackman of fostering a toxic work environment, exacting retaliation, taking credit for other people’s work and making offensive remarks, including a comment about Elliot Page, according to an investigation by Rolling Stone.

Blackman has denied the accusations.

“These allegations from a handful of disgruntled employees are completely false and outrageous, and in no way reflect the collaborative, respectful, and successful working environment Mr. Blackman has cultivated,” a spokesperson for Blackman said in a statement Monday to The Times.

Rolling Stone interviewed 12 writers and support staffers — most of whom were given anonymity because they feared “professional retaliation” — and reviewed a January 2023 human resources complaint against Blackman. The article did not specify who filed the complaint.

An investigation into the complaint, which was filed to Universal Content Productions, wrapped up in May 2023 and cleared Blackman of most allegations, including that he had a “long history of toxic, bullying, manipulative, and retaliatory behavior,” according to Rolling Stone.

However, the investigation did find that Blackman had sent inappropriate texts.

“The lone substantiated allegation consisted of inappropriate texts between Mr. Blackman and a senior colleague he considered a close friend for years,” the showrunner’s spokesperson said. “The colleague, Jesse McKeown, responded in kind. Following the conclusion of the investigation into the lone complaint against Mr. Blackman that merely substantiated inappropriate texts with a colleague he considered a friend, he was reminded not to treat staffers as friends given his position as showrunner.”

McKeown’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

In one of the texts submitted in the HR complaint Blackman wrote about Page’s transition and how it would be handled onscreen, Rolling Stone reported.

“Elliot wants to come out as trans on the show,” the text allegedly said. “As Ivan. Oh my f— God. Kill me now.”

Ultimately, “The Umbrella Academy” made Elliot’s character trans and renamed him Viktor instead of Vanya. Blackman‘s spokesperson said the showrunner was “immensely proud” of the storyline and that the text was meant to reflect his stress at that time, given that the season had “already been written and the writers room disbanded.”

“Faced with a tremendous undertaking — a complete rewrite under a wildly compressed timeline and the responsibility to handle this with sensitivity and care — Mr. Blackman commented on his stress level related to this and other responsibilities of managing a show and a team,” the spokesperson said. “Elliot never asked for the storyline on the show — that was Mr. Blackman’s decision, he consulted with experts, and he stands by all of it.”

Page’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. In previous interviews, the “Inception” star praised Blackman — who signed an approximately $50-million deal with Netflix in 2020 — for his support throughout the transition journey.

Last year, The Times’ Amy Kaufman wrote that Blackman had said he would “get the wheels moving” on incorporating Viktor’s storyline while Page recovered from top surgery, a process that began three months before the third season of “The Umbrella Academy” was to start filming.

Blackman hired Thomas Page McBee, a trans man who had worked with Page on 2019’s “Tales of the City,” to rewrite scripts and work with the actor to create an authentic storyline.

In the complaint, Blackman was accused of retaliatory behavior against staffers. McKeown told Rolling Stone that he had experienced — and witnessed — retaliation after he defended a writer over a pay dispute.

The complaint said Blackman did not extend a female writing duo’s contract after one of the women went on maternity leave one month into the “Umbrella” gig.

“No writer has ever been fired from the show,” the spokesperson said. “The decision not to renew these writers’ contracts was solely based on performance and budget, and allegations to the contrary are completely false. To ensure everything was handled fairly, appropriately, and in full compliance with all policies and regulations, Mr. Blackman worked with HR on all employment matters — from hiring to contract renewals to leaves.”

“Umbrella” staffers and writers told Rolling Stone that Blackman used their work without credit — despite promises he made to them. Blackman’s spokesperson said that those are “wild mischaracterizations” and that the showrunner wanted to support “up and coming writers.”

“At times, he would re-write or ask senior writers to re-write scripts that needed additional polish, as is standard,” the spokesperson said. “In fact, Mr. Blackman went above and beyond to support his hardworking team during the show and beyond to help them grow and give them opportunities. Not only was every writer given at least one episode of the show, he also took the extra step of giving writing assignments to support staff to help them advance in their careers and join the WGA [Writers Guild of America].”

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