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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Actress won’t back off soap racism claim
 
Published Thursday, October 21, 2010 10:00 am
by Stephanie Guerilus, The Philadelphia Tribune

Victoria Rowell is both beloved and controversial. There is very little middle ground with her, but that just may be the genius of why she has remained the center of so much enduring attention.

Rowell rose to prominence as the headstrong Drucilla Winters on the CBS daytime drama “The Young and the Restless.”  Her star has not diminished since she first appeared on the soap in 1990, creating a long-lasting relationship with viewers, who still miss the character.

The Dru character was killed in 2007, but that hasn’t stopped fans from anticipating the ritual back-from-the-dead scenario. They have even created a petition to resurrect Dru from her watery grave at www.petitiononline.com/VRowell/petition.html.

“The truth had been distorted, and what I mean by that is that ‘The Young and the Restless’ was publicizing that I didn’t want to come back, that I didn’t have that desire.  I never said any such thing, and so the fans felt that I was thumbing my nose at this incredible character that I built,” Rowell said.

“They use the character name and they use my likeness in their soap opera magazines as though I am returning to the program. I think it’s very cruel to the audience and it’s only a tactic to keep the audience tuning in.”

Despite not being a daily presence in the lives of millions of viewers, Rowell has never been one to rest on her laurels or let idle hands allow her to be content with the status quo.

Since 1990, she has been one of the leading voices for foster care and established the Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan. This is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide the means for foster children to fulfill their potential through involvement in fine arts, sports, financial literacy, employment, and educational opportunities. She also traveled to Haiti recently to visit some orphanages on the earthquake-ravaged island.

“Being a role model is a very big responsibility. So, I don’t necessarily call myself a role model, but I will say that I’m an example in every direction of what foster care can be and what it cannot, because it all affected me as a child and as an adult,” she said.

Another accomplishment the award-winning actress added to her resume is that of New York Times best-selling author. She published her memoirs, “The Women Who Raised Me,” in 2007 and “Secrets of A Soap Opera Diva” hit store bookshelves this past spring.

The latter was an Essence’s pick and Rowell herself was honored with the Walter Mosley Author of Distinction Award at the National Book Club Conference last July.
“You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, OK, because in the interior of the book, it’s about disparity. It’s about perseverance,” Rowell said. “It’s about falling down but being triumphant, and so that has taken a lot of people by surprise that this message is in a book that they thought was going to be about soap operas.”
The outspoken Rowell drew from her 17 years of experience on the leading daytime serial.  She has alleged an atmosphere of racism on the No. 1 soap, declaring on many occasions that former co-star Michelle Stafford, who plays Phyllis, spat on her during a scene without prior notice.

“She considered it artistic choice and she was supported by the director and the producer that day,” Rowell said.

“She was supported until Sony Music Pictures Television had to come down to the set and elicit an apology out of her.”

Inquiries made to Y&R, Sony Pictures, and the actors involved were unsuccessful, but Stafford addressed the incident in an interview with Nelson Branco, who writes a column for TV Guide Canada.

For her part, Stafford maintained, “Before we taped the scene, I told everyone that I thought Phyllis should do a spit take at the moment where Drucilla said something shocking.  Everyone agreed.  Unfortunately, some of the spit got on her. Technically, I guess I did spit on her, but it’s not true that I did it on purpose.”

Rowell has disputed that version, taking her Twitter account from mere social networking to a Pandora’s box. She has opened the tweetgates with one revelation after another about the show, former co-stars, and the disparity she feels exists with the underrepresentation of minorities behind the scenes.

“Twitter just came about it.  I’ve been talking about this for most of the duration. I’ve been met with tremendous pushback on the set of ‘Young and the Restless’ for years,” Rowell said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that when you bring about change, when you’re securing six other jobs for people of color, when you are closing the disparity in wardrobe, in storyline, you’re creating storylines so that African Americans do have storylines, that’s where there’s going to be a rub.”

Rowell’s allegations have divided the soap community. Message boards have lit up with comments that run down the spectrum in support of and against her.
“If you go online, Victoria definitely has a huge amount of supporters on our site, but she also has her detractors, but what I like to bring up is not focusing so much on whether you think she’s outrageous or whether or not she’s bitter or these things that people accuse her of being,” said Jamey Giddens, editorial director of Daytime Confidential.com.

“There’s truth in the fact that there are only two working African American writers in daytime, when this is an industry, according to most studies, that is watched by a large percentage of African Americans.”

Kristoff St. John, Rowell’s former on-screen spouse, created another wrinkle to the unfolding drama.  He gave an interview to Buzzworthy Radio last year in which he spoke about his dissatisfaction with the show.  He was subsequently denied a storyline for a period of months.

“Jeanne Cooper, who plays Katherine Chancellor, Eric Braeden, who plays Victor Newman, and Peter Bergman, who plays Jack Abbott, have all spoken out in the press vehemently in recent months and years about ‘The Young and the Restless’,” Giddens said. “Why is an Emmy Award-winning black actor being denied storyline because he spoke out? That’s purely racism.”

A few weeks ago, St. John and co-star Darius McCrary were guests on the FoxxHole radio show. Rowell called in and began engaging the two about the issues in question and revealed that St. John was paid less than some of his white co-workers who have less tenure.
“His business is my business. His business is the business of every actor or person that cares about equality in this country and around the world. Kristoff St. John is not the only one that is paid less than less tenured White actors. So, it’s not his business,” Rowell said.
Rowell also took McCrary to task for his comments during the program, which many perceived as flippant. He repeatedly referred to the show’s executive producer as his “N—-,” a man who has been accused of unfairly firing African Americans.
“Darius is a reflection of people who have a job and don’t want to rock the boat,” she said. “Darius McCrary is on the other side of courage.  We’re trying to talk about the disparity and the deficit, but then you have people on the other side on that level of courage who don’t want to talk about it at all and want to minimize and marginalize it.”

While Rowell was unapologetic for her stances, others were unnerved by the interview.

Na’Vell J. Lee, host of the Buzzworthy Radio and a fan of Rowell’s, suggested that her means of bringing about the conversation of racism in daytime TV was turning some people off.

“I love her to death, but there just comes a time when you know when you go over that mark, they’re probably not going to want you back there,” Lee said. “I really do think she’s tarnishing her reputation in the industry. She is one of those versatile actresses that can do absolutely anything given to her, and I think by just what is going on Twitter and as well as outside of Twitter, inserting herself in to the situation, I think it’s tarnishing her a bit because a lot of people are looking at her in a very different way.”

A recurring question of why Rowell would want to return to the show, given her comments, has been asked.  She answers: “That is a poor, poor question for anyone to ask me online, in print, in a T.V. interview, because if you’re a person of color, if you’re not the safest choice, you’re going to be met with pushback,” she said. “If that were the case, I wouldn’t have returned after my second day on the show.

“A particular actor didn’t want to run lines with me. So, this is not new on that show. I think ‘The Young and the Restless’ is a reflection of what’s going on in America.”

Rowell, recently the mistress of ceremony for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner, said she would continue to speak her mind for better or worse.  She would not be silent, regardless of any stigmas that would follow her name.

“In terms of being in a position of leadership, you always run that risk, but I’m not led by fear. I’m led by faith,” Rowell said.

“You can’t stop what comes out a person’s mouth, but you can certainly represent what is, and I think given my body of work - and I’m not just talking about acting  - but my body of work speaks for itself.”

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