Lena Waithe on Jason Mitchell Allegations: ‘I Wish I Would’ve Handled It Differently’

Lena Waithe Jason Mitchell "The Chi"
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The Chi” creator Lena Waithe explained her response to the Jason Mitchell misconduct allegations in an interview on the radio show “The Breakfast Club” on Thursday.

Mitchell was fired from “The Chi” after harassment allegations from showrunner Ayanna Floyd Davis and co-star Tiffany Boone. The actor was also fired from the Netflix film “Desperados,” in addition to being dropped by all of his representation.

Waithe said in the interview that she knew of the allegations after filming had wrapped on season one of “The Chi” and took preemptive and corrective measures to handle the situation. She said there was extensive sexual harassment training on set and that she confronted the actor about the allegations. “There was definitely a conversation where I called him and got really real,” she said. “‘You need to be respectful of any woman on set. You need to be respectful of everybody,’ she said she told Mitchell. “‘Don’t treat any woman differently the way you would treat me.'” Waithe also claimed that Mitchell had never acted inappropriately towards her. 

To remedy the situation, Waithe brought on a black woman (Floyd Davis) as the season two showrunner. She assumed that this would lead to a “safer environment” on set. “I don’t regret making a black woman a showrunner. I do regret trusting her to handle it all by herself,” she said. Going forward, she wants to have a more hands on role in “The Chi.” She said, “Just cause you look like me, don’t mean you act like me.”

When pressed on the radio show why she didn’t intervene and fire the actor, Waithe claimed she didn’t possess that authority. “I don’t have the power to fire anyone. I don’t. I wish I did,” she said. “I don’t own “The Chi.” I created it. I sold it. I could be fired off “The Chi.” That’s real. People don’t understand that.”

According to Waithe, the involved parties resolved their issues with the HR department and agreed to return for season two, but the misconduct issues continued during the filming of the show’s sophomore season. “I get a call from Ayanna saying things are persisting but not a lot has changed in that area. She told me, ‘You can’t reach out to anybody. You’ve got to sit tight. HR has to handle this.'”

Waithe said her biggest regret was stepping back as HR handled the situation. “I wish I had reached out to Tiffany on my own,” she said. “As a black woman we got to reach out to each other and get rid of the middle man.”

She responded to criticisms of her handling of the situation. “For anyone to say I would stand by while a woman is being mistreated or harassed and not doing anything is just not true, it’s not who I am,” she said. “I was trying to put people in power to change, but ultimately that wasn’t the answer, I’m always the answer and that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in all of this.”

And she owned up to shortcomings in how she dealt with the situation. “What I want to do is own that I wish I would’ve handled the situation differently, and I wish I would’ve done more. What I want to do is own my part in it,” she said.

The Chicago based ensemble show will continue without Mitchell and Boone for a third season. “Chicago is bigger than one person, bigger than two people,” said Waithe. “[Boone] has an open door to come to set, Jason does not.”

Listen to the entire interview here.