“I’ve seen and attended a ton of awards shows in my time, and no one has ever put his soul and his ass on the line so fully and so truthfully as Jesse Williams did at the BET Awards last week,” Lear told IndieWire in a statement. “Wither thou goest, Mr. Williams, I will follow.”
Lear is an executive producer on the upcoming Epix documentary series “America Divided,” which takes a look at inequality in the United States. Williams, a former teacher, is featured in a segment as he looks at the battle to address this in education.
“Grey’s Anatomy” executive producer Shonda Rhimes is also an executive producer on “America Divided.” Earlier Tuesday, Rhimes expressed her support for Williams via Twitter: “Um, people? Boo don’t need a petition. #shondalandrules.”
Williams made headlines for his impassioned speech about racial inequality while receiving the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards.
The speech received a standing ovation in the room, and plenty of praise on social media. But later, a Change.com petition launched by user Erin Smith called it “racist” and demanded that the actor be fired from “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Smith, infuriated by Rhimes’ Tweet, decided to escalate her demands: “Unfortunately, a necessary escalation is warranted. Please sign the petition to fire Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy AND boycott the entire ABC Network. Don’t forget to unlike all ABC programs/shows on Facebook pages, unfollow all on Twitter and separate from all social media that has anything to do with ABC, their shows, news, etc.”
As of 7pm PT on Tuesday, more than 14,000 people had signed Smith’s petition.
But meanwhile, a counter petition, “Don’t let the racists win! ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ don’t fire Jesse Williams,” had garnered more than 24,000 signatures at the same time.
User Dawn Murphy wrote: “Jesse Williams is a bright man, passionate spokesman and a committed advocate of black people and #BlackLivesMatter who took a public stand on BET Awards show, risking his job and career for his beliefs. Now is the time for us to stand for Jesse and petition Shonda Rhimes and the other decision makers at ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ABC to support this brave leader, not just by not firing him or in any way diminishing his role or pushing out, but by openly standing with him and speaking against hate in any form. Don’t just tell the racists, ‘No.’ Show them!”
Rhimes, Lear and Common are executive producers on “America Divided,” which premieres this fall, timed to the Presidential election. Solly Granatstein, Lucian Read, and Richard Rowley created the series. Besides Williams, Common and Lear are also featured in segments, along with America Ferrera, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler and Peter Sarsgaard.