MANHATTAN (CN) - "The Young and the Restless" blackballed longtime star Victoria Rowell for speaking out about racial disparity on set, she claims in Federal Court.
After 14 years on the series, Rowell's popular character, Drucilla Barber Winters, was last seen on the show in 2007, being hauled off to an asylum in a straight-jacket.
The twice-nominated Daytime Emmy actress and author says she's been fighting to get back on the show since 2010 - or at least land a cross-over gig on "The Bold and the Beautiful."
Studio heads nevertheless refuse to bring her back, the biracial actress who "identifies as black" says, even though doing so "would be in their economic interest," given that 40 percent of the soap-watching audience are black women.
"Although black characters became important to the show's success over the years, defendants treated them, including Ms. Rowell, as second-class citizens," the complaint Rowell filed Tuesday states.
"Racial discrimination behind the camera is blatant at Y&R," Rowell said, adding that not one of the show's estimated 100 writers has been black for the show's 37-year run.
Studio execs didn't like that she championed to have black actors featured more prominently at press junkets, and she says she was once scolded for inviting black journalists on set.
She claims a white actress once spat at her, another showed up on set dancing wildly and wearing an Afro-styled wig to taunt her, and one more called her a freak and told her, "no one here likes you."
Rowell says she had to employ her own hair stylist for nearly a year, with no one CBS hired "capable" of styling the hair of the show's black actors. When CBS finally hired a stylist for the black actors, it tried to ban that professional from the hair and makeup room, according to the complaint. The other white actors allegedly "taunted Ms. Rowell and the stylist with impunity, and told Ms. Rowell that her hair 'smelled.'"
Rowell says she also jockied to become a writer and director on the show but was rebuffed, "even though she had rewritten thousands of lines of dialogue ... uncredited and unpaid."
While off the show from 2007 to 2009, Rowell says she continued to speak out about the alleged discrimination on her book tours and on Twitter.
"Her outspoken advocacy over the years generated a backlash from the defendants, who have denied her any and all employment and re-employment opportunities with them," the 31-page complaint states.
This, despite "the clamor for the return of Ms. Rowell from the audience" that "has continued unabated for the past seven years," she says.
She said she enlisted the help of Samuel L. Jackson, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California and the Urban Justice League, but they too were unsuccessful.
She also says she chatted with CBS honcho Les Moonvies herself, but he told her he doesn't make those decisions and turned on his heel.
"Through 2009, none of her efforts bore any fruit," and defendants didn't hire any black writers, directors or producers, she says.
Things looked promising in 2010 when talks surfaced about reprising Rowell's character as a spin-off for "The Bold and the Beautiful," but the idea was scrapped "despite her Herculean efforts," according to the complaint.
Without the show's income, Rowell says she has had to sell many of her assets to cover the cost of living. If not for a loan refinance, she would've lost her home, she says, noting that she has been forced to tap into her employee benefits to make ends meet.
Rowell first auditioned for "Restless" in 1990, and a three-year contract led to 2,000 episodes lasting through 2007, according to the complaint.
The show allegedly first wrote Winters as an "illiterate thief and prostitute," but Rowell says the writers saw to it at her urging that her character could read.
She also says she helped shepherd in at least a dozen black characters to play her extended family and that those characters held jobs like doctors and industry creatives.
Rowell wants her job back, back pay and unspecified damages.
Named as defendants are Sony Pictures Television; Sony Pictures Entertainment; Bell Dramatic Serial Co.; Bell-Phillip Television Production Inc.; Corday Productions; CBS Corp.
She is represented by Robert J. Valli with Valli Kane & Vagnini in Garden City, N.Y.
CBS said in a statement that Rowell's action "has no merit."
"We were disappointed to learn that, after leaving the cast of 'The Young and the Restless' on her own initiative, Ms. Rowell has attempted to rewrite that history," the network said. "We harbor no ill will toward Ms. Rowell, but we will vigorously defend this case."
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