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Author Walter Mosley Quits 'Star Trek: Discovery' After Using N-Word in Writers Room

The Hollywood Reporter logo The Hollywood Reporter 9/7/2019 Lesley Goldberg

Author Walter Mosley penned an op-ed for The New York Times, published on Friday, in which he revealed that he quit his job as a writer on a television series after he was "chastised" by human resources for using the N-word on the job.

Although Mosley, who is black, did not reveal which show he departed, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that it was CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery. That series, renewed in February for its third season with its third showrunner, has experienced serious issues of abusive language in its writers room in the past.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that season three showrunners Alex Kurtzman — who sources say personally recruited Mosley to the Discovery room — and Michelle Paradise were informed of the complaint via human resources but were not present for the incident in which Mosley allegedly used the N-word multiple times. Sources note that HR called Mosley to inform the acclaimed writer and novelist that typical use of that word was a fireable offense but there was to be no course of action taken against him. Instead, HR informed Mosley that a writer in the room was uncomfortable with it and effectively wanted to ensure he was aware of the studio's policy. 

"Earlier this year, I had just finished with the Snowfall writers’ room for the season when I took a similar job on a different show at a different network. I’d been in the new room for a few weeks when I got the call from human resources. A pleasant-sounding young man said, 'Mr. Mosley, it has been reported that you used the n-word in the writers’ room,'" Mosley wrote in the Times. "I replied, 'I am the N-word in the writers’ room.'"

Mosley went on to explain that the individual in HR said that while he was free to use that word in a script, he "could not say it." Mosley then clarified, "I hadn’t called anyone it. I just told a story about a cop who explained to me, on the streets of Los Angeles, that he stopped all n---ers in paddy neighborhoods and all paddies in n---er neighborhoods, because they were usually up to no good. I was telling a true story as I remembered it."

Mosley wrote that he is unaware who complained about his use of the word. "There I was, a black man in America who shares with millions of others the history of racism. And more often than not, treated as subhuman," he continued. "If addressed at all that history had to be rendered in words my employers regarded as acceptable."

"There I was being chastised for criticizing the word that oppressed me and mine for centuries. As far as I know the word is in the dictionary," said Mosley. "As far as I know the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence assure me of both the freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness."

CBS TV Studios responded to Mosley's op-ed on Friday in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter: "We have the greatest admiration for Mr. Mosley’s writing talents and were excited to have him join Star Trek: Discovery. While we cannot comment on the specifics of confidential employee matters, we are committed to supporting a workplace where employees feel free to express concerns and where they feel comfortable performing their best work. We wish Mr. Mosley much continued success."

While Mosley did not say he was immediately threatened with termination, he ultimately decided to leave the show. "My answer to HR was to resign and move on. I was in a writers’ room trying to be creative while at the same time being surveilled by unknown critics who would snitch on me to a disembodied voice over the phone," he wrote. "My every word would be scrutinized. Sooner or later I’d be fired or worse — silenced."

Sources say Mosley — who had been on staff for three weeks — suddenly stopped coming in to the Santa Monica-based Secret Hideout offices that serve as the writers rooms for Discovery, Picard and multiple other Star Trek shows. Paradise and Kurtzman, who previously dismissed two Discovery showrunners after claims of abusive language and behavior, later learned that Mosley had quit the series without so much as a call to explain what happened. (It's worth noting that Discovery has a particularly inclusive writers room that includes three African American scribes, two Asian American writers, a Native American and Latinx woman, among others.)

Mosley ended his op-ed by saying, "The worst thing you can do to citizens of a democratic nation is to silence them." He elaborated, "And the easiest way to silence a woman or a man is to threaten his or her livelihood. Let’s not accept the McCarthyism of secret condemnation. Instead let’s delve a little deeper, limiting the power that can be exerted over our citizens, their attempts to express their hearts and horrors, and their desire to speak their truths. Only this can open the dialogue of change."

Star Trek: Discovery showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg were fired ahead of season two in June 2018. At the time, sources told THR that the duo — who replaced original showrunner Bryan Fuller — had leadership and operational issues that led to their dismissal. Insiders stressed that Berg and Harberts became increasingly abusive to the Discovery writing staff, with Harberts said to have leaned across the writers room table while shouting an expletive at a member of the show's staff. Multiple writers are said to have been uncomfortable working on the series and had threatened to file a complaint with HR or quit the series altogether before informing franchise captain and season two co-showrunner Kurtzman of the issues surrounding Berg and Harberts. After hearing rumors of HR complaints, Harberts is said to have made imposing remarks to the staff to keep concerns with the production an internal matter. Harberts and Berg declined comment at the time. 

Use of the N-word in Hollywood has been a recurring subject as other executives, including former Paramount TV president Amy Powell and Netflix PR chief Jonathan Friedland, have been dismissed over use of the term in the workplace.

Read Mosley's entire piece for the Times here.

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