My view on Washington v. Knight

Isaiah Washington (l) and T.R. Knight (r)There has been an awful lot of press lately about the Grey’s Anatomy controversy. And everyone seems to be chiming in with their own opinions about the issue. I’ve kept quiet on it here at the Launching Pad; but as a fan of the show, I felt that I needed to address it from my perspective.

In case you have been living on Mars lately, a few months ago, a confrontation broke out on the Grey’s Anatomy set between stars Isaiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey. While the specifics of their argument have never been all that clear, it has been reported and confirmed by many sources that the fracas erupted into a fistfight when Washington said “I’m not your little faggot like T.R. Knight!”

At first the name of the said “faggot” was deleted to protect his privacy. But a week or so later, T.R. Knight came out publicly as gay, and referred to the argument in his statement to People Magazine.

Apologies were made, forgiveness was assumed, and all seemed right with the world.

At least until a couple weeks ago at the Golden Globes.

Grey’s Anatomy had just won the award for Best Drama Series, and the cast went to the stage to accept the award. Afterwards, as is tradition with awards shows, they went backstage to meet with the press. After a few questions about the award, someone in the press corps asked about the Dempsey/Washington/Knight incident. At which Isaiah Washington pulled the microphone away from Creator/Exec. Producer Shonda Rhimes and said “No, I did not call T.R. [Knight] a faggot. Never happened. Never happened,” leaving the rest of the cast and crew shell shocked that he would use such a moment to not only bring the subject up, but say the word AGAIN.

This set off a firestorm of denouncements from fellow cast members (including T.R. Knight himself) and the press, as well as fans of the show. Many called for the firing of Isaiah Washington, and others asked for feedback from Shonda Rhimes.

Today, Rhimes published a statement that said:

“I speak for all the executive producers here at ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ when I say that Isaiah Washington’s use of such a disturbing word was a shocking and dismaying event that insulted not only gays and lesbians everywhere but anyone who has ever struggled for respect in a world that is not always accepting of difference.

“We’ve been working within the ‘Grey’s‘ family as well as with ABC and Touchstone Television to address the issue in a way that underscores the gravity of the situation while giving us all a foundation for healing. We applaud and encourage Isaiah’s realization that he needs help and his subsequent choice to seek immediate treatment for his behavioral issues.

“We appreciate the support the fans have always given our show, particularly during this stressful time. Creatively, we continue to strive to make the best television we can with the hope that our show reflects the talent, hard work and professionalism of our cast and crew.”

What kind of precedent is Grey’s Anatomy and ABC setting by letting this snowball into a massive avalanche? Yes, the word that Washington was insulting, especially in its context. And his repeated use of the word– denying that he used it in the first place– was doubly insulting. According to Knight, who guested on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show a day or two after the Golden Globes incident, “He called me a faggot. Everyone heard it.”

So where does Washington get off saying that he never said those things? Was he trying to be funny? Was he attempting to make light of the situation and brush it off? If he was, he failed. I have to agree with castmate Katherine Heigl when she said “He needs to just not speak in public. Period.” Hopefully, Washington will heed that advice, or his future on the show is surely in jeopardy.

The problem I have with this situation is twofold.

  • One: It seems like the producers and ABC are dragging their feet when dealing with this situation.  Had the tables been turned, and T.R. Knight (or any other cast member for that matter) used a racial slur against the African-American actor Isaiah Washington, would they be dragging their feet to find a resolution?  I’m not so sure.
  • Two: A conspiracy theorist might suspect that all of this is just a publicity stunt, created to draw more attention to the show. But the show has been at or near the #1 spot in the ratings nearly all season long. It’s probably the most successful series that ABC has produced in decades. It doesn’t need this kind of publicity to keep it relevant in the eyes of the viewers.

If there is any good to come out of all of this, it is that T.R. Knight’s star is shining brighter than ever because of it. His work on the show has been nothing short of stellar. His popularity has grown immensely, and the support of the fans and the general public has been tremendous.

Deep down, I am hoping that all parties are able to work through this and come to a resolution that is acceptable to everyone.  Ignorance is learned, and can be reversed if the person is willing to to understand why it needs to happen.  I am hoping that Washington can allow himself to realize this.  I love the show, and I don’t want anything to change.  But that is me speaking from the selfish standpoint of a fan of a televised drama.

If things can’t be fixed, however, then certain sacrifices need to be made.  And it’s pretty obvious to me where that sacrifice would have to come from.  I just hope that the powers that be see this just as clearly.