After his breakout performance as Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton and his role as a World War II veteran in the critically acclaimed Mudbound, Jason Mitchell’s career was flourishing. Lena Waithe, describing Mitchell as the “black Tom Hanks,” cast the 32-year-old rising star in her Showtime series The Chi as Brandon, an aspiring chef who resists being drawn into violence. Then, in late April, Mitchell was fired from the upcoming Netflix movie Desperados just before shooting began. In rapid succession, he was terminated by his agent, his manager and his lawyer, and he was dropped from The Chi.
While Mitchell’s termination from Desperados was the impetus for all that followed, sources claim his conduct had been a problem for at least two actresses on The Chi. More than one person on the show — including Tiffany Boone, who played Mitchell’s character’s girlfriend, Jerrika, and second-season showrunner Ayanna Floyd Davis — filed a complaint. Despite HR training, these sources say, the alleged conduct persisted and Boone asked to be released from the series. But Mitchell was to remain for a planned season three, sources say, despite Waithe’s activism on the subject of on-set safety. “I’ve been very involved in Time’s Up and that movement, and for season two, we’re making sure that women feel safe,” Waithe told The Hollywood Reporter in June 2018. “[I]f you want to play that game and be disrespectful or misbehave on set with an actress or anyone, I’ll happily call Showtime and say, ‘This person has to go,’ and you will get shot up and it’ll be a wonderful finale.”
So why didn’t Mitchell’s character go down in a volley of onscreen bullets? While Waithe has not been the showrunner handling day-to-day duties, she has credits as creator, producer and sometime writer. A source close to Waithe says she was made aware of Mitchell’s alleged harassment only after the first season wrapped. The Chi’s season one showrunner, Elwood Reid, declined to comment, but a source close to him says he was unaware of conduct issues. (Boone did not make a complaint until after work had wrapped.) Concern for on-set conduct, the source continues, was among the reasons Waithe pushed for a woman of color (Floyd Davis) as showrunner for the second season. Still, this person initially stated that Waithe did not know the alleged conduct had continued.
In a statement to THR, Floyd Davis directly challenges Waithe. “When I took the helm in season two, it was Lena who informed me of the issues between Jason Mitchell and Tiffany Boone from season one, and that Tiffany was thinking of leaving the show because of it,” says Floyd Davis. “As a result of this information, I discussed Tiffany’s claims with the studio’s HR department and set up HR presentations for the writers, cast and crew. Ultimately, everyone was well aware of Jason’s behavior and his multiple HR cases, including Lena, the creator and an executive producer of the show, who is very involved at the studio and network level.”
Adds Floyd Davis, “As showrunner, I did everything I could to deal with his behavior, by speaking with the studio’s HR department multiple times and instructing one actress to call HR herself, before I became a target of his rage and inappropriateness, and had to report him to HR, as well.”
In her own statement, Waithe focuses only on Boone, saying: “I think Tiffany is a wonderful actress and an extremely brave woman. I wish her nothing but success in the future. I look forward to getting back to work on season three.” Told of Floyd Davis’ statement, the source close to Waithe said the showrunner did inform Waithe of the ongoing conduct but said she would handle it. (Though Mitchell was the best-known actor on the show, plans for another season are in place and writers are figuring out how to handle the disappearance of his character. Floyd Davis is not returning.)
As for Showtime, a source close to the situation maintains that issues on the show are the domain of production entity Fox 21, and that executives learned only after Mitchell was terminated that at least one other actress besides Boone had allegedly experienced issues with him. This person says Mitchell was allowed to remain, following an HR complaint, because the belief was that he was entitled to a second chance. How that squares with the initial decision to keep him for the third season despite the apparent lack of improvement in his conduct is not clear. Showtime declined to comment, as did Fox 21, which handled not only the HR complaint but the negotiation involving Boone’s departure. Mitchell could not be reached for comment.
Mitchell’s ouster from The Chi followed the decision to fire him on Desperados. Sources say the actor began making actresses uncomfortable almost as soon as he arrived in Mexico, where the film is now shooting. Desperados, a comedy about a group of young women who make a frantic dash to Mexico hoping to delete an embarrassing email that one had sent to her new boyfriend, is being produced by the Lionsgate label Good Universe. Anna Camp and Nasim Pedrad star.
Multiple sources say Mitchell made what one described as highly inappropriate remarks to two actresses in the film while lingering close to their quarters. “There were two incidents in four days,” says an insider. Netflix did a “quick but thorough” investigation by phone and the producers were given the green light to do what they thought necessary. Another insider says despite anxiety about possibly upsetting Netflix, Mitchell was terminated and replaced by Lamorne Morris.
Mitchell seems to have had some troublesome encounters in the past. While shooting Kong: Skull Island in Honolulu, a source says he was involved in a bar fight severe enough that he required medical attention. A chipped tooth was repaired and he had broken blood vessels in one of his eyes in the latter part of the film. The actor was assigned a minder and warned to stay out of bars. Though Mitchell did not heed that warning, he still performed professionally, this person says, adding, “He comes from a very tough background.. .. I found him to be incredibly sweet, gifted and talented, and I found it to be super sad, what has happened.”
A version of this story appears in the May 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.