Nadria Tucker was excited to be one of the first writers hired on “Superman & Lois,” a new CW show building on the DC Comics franchise. She and her co-workers convened to talk about big, ambitious ideas for the show and its characters.
But things got a lot less rosy as their work on the first season progressed. Tucker says she and other writers had concerns about several racist and sexist plotlines and tropes, such as jokes about the Me Too movement, scenes featuring female characters that didn’t pass the Bechdel Test and the main Black character being a villain.
Tucker says she found out in November that her contract on the show would not be renewed, after months of speaking out about these problems.
When “Superman & Lois” premiered last week on The CW, Tucker shared her story again in hopes of exposing some of the ways toxic behavior persists in Hollywood — and how it’s unclear what accountability really looks like in an industry that has long grappled with how to become truly inclusive.
“In the grand scheme of things that have happened to people in the course of working in Hollywood, I have not experienced a fraction of the worst stuff that happened. But the level of microaggressions and toxicity is just so pervasive that it’s almost unavoidable,” she told HuffPost last week. “What’s crazy is that it never felt completely toxic at the time. As a writer, you pitch things and you expect to get your pitches rejected. And then, cumulatively, you realize that all of your pitches that are getting rejected are a certain type of pitch.”
Tucker became a TV writer after working in journalism in Birmingham, Alabama.
“I thought I was going to be the Black Anna Wintour,” she said.
But the magazine where she worked was owned by the local newspaper, which was cratering because of the internet and a decline in advertising revenue. As she saw colleagues get laid off, she began to look for other ways to practice her craft, like working in advertising and writing novels and screenplays. She eventually landed an internship with producer Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, which began as an annual list of the best unproduced screenplays and has since grown into a resource and community for screenwriters.
Tucker started to envision a future in entertainment, and she moved to Los Angeles in 2013. She got a job at an agency, which allowed her to build connections and become a writer for shows such as WGN America’s “Underground” and SyFy’s “Krypton.” Then she landed the opportunity to work on “Superman & Lois” with showrunner Todd Helbing.
Tucker wasn’t the only woman or person of color on the writing staff, and she says she felt supported by her fellow writers. They questioned the show’s main Black character being depicted as a villain from the beginning.
“I said, ‘You know, this is not a good look. You want to have representation so that people of color are not only depicted as the villains,’” Tucker recalled. “And Todd responded with, ‘We’ll see what we can do. We may have to ship them in because there are not a lot of Black people in Canada [where the show was filmed].’”
“So that was the kind of response I would get, which, you know, my response to that was, there are Black people in Canada. You can find them,” Tucker added. “I don’t know if that’s the response he wanted to get. I don’t know if he wanted me to laugh, if that was a joke. But it was not funny.”
The casting department did eventually cast other actors of color, Tucker said.
She said studio executives also independently raised concerns about some scenes not passing the Bechdel Test — a measure of how often female characters talk to each other about topics not related to romance — and that Me Too jokes ended up being cut from the show.
“There are a lot of people who share those views who are still in power, and work in other places. Or they just shift from place to place, and the culture enables itself.””
When Tucker was dropped from “Superman & Lois,” she said Helbing told her that “my outline and draft were not where he needed them to be for a writer at my level.”
“It was just bizarre, after having previously heard from him, you know, ‘This looks great. This is great. Good work. Nice work,’” she said. “It was like a wild turn out of nowhere.”
Within days, Tucker tweeted that her contract hadn’t been extended. Representatives from the network’s human resources department then reached out to her for an exit interview, during which she says she went into detail about her experience and provided supporting documents. She says the department never followed up with her on any of her claims.
A spokesperson for The CW forwarded HuffPost’s request for comment to Warner Bros. TV, which produces the show. A spokesperson for Warner Bros. TV declined to comment on the record.
Ahead of its second episode Tuesday, The CW announced it had renewed “Superman & Lois” for another season.
Many TV writers have spoken out about the ways the industry makes it difficult for writers of color and other underrepresented writers to succeed. This can include experiencing retaliation and career consequences after pushing back on offensive comments and content — and shouldering the burden of having to be the person to push back in the first place. A lot of this stems from the hierarchical structure and insular culture of many TV writers rooms and the fact that most showrunners and other people in positions of power continue to be white men.
Tucker’s story illustrates some of the complexities around these issues and how there isn’t an adequate system of accountability. Even punitive measures, like fining or firing toxic individuals, don’t really get at the larger problems with the system that surrounds and enables them.
“There are a lot of people who share those views who are still in power, and work in other places,” she said. “Or they just shift from place to place, and the culture enables itself.”