Ever since three employees of a Philadelphia Old Navy store came forward to allege they faced racial discrimination during an in-store taping for Netflix’s Queer Eye, more troubling details have continued to emerge from workers in interviews with Yahoo Lifestyle.
The first allegations came on Aug. 21 when Monae Alvarado — a Cambodian woman who has been working at her Old Navy location for over a year — posted to Facebook about about what she’d experienced during the filming of Queer Eye earlier that day. In her post, she explained that she and the other regularly scheduled employees spent all week cleaning the store for the show, only to be intentionally hidden once the cameras arrived.
Her post has garnered a lot of attention and now has more than 2,500 shares.
In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, Alvarado explains that once the cameras arrived, a manager called her over and allegedly said “they don’t want [you] over here, so go to the back,” without specifying the origin of the orders. She shared her experience with Philadelphia Magazine as well, saying that she was “told to go to the back of the store by [Old Navy managers] involved with the production,” adding that “about six of my fellow co-workers were there, and we were shooed away from the camera as they filmed with these outside employees.”
A second employee, Marjorie Williams, tells Yahoo Lifestyle she had a similar experience.
“I was surprised to see the new employees on the day of the filming that morning after working late nights and early mornings to clean the store,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Williams says the employees she was familiar with were in the basement when she came in that day and she, like many others during filming, was assigned unusual tasks like “wiping down a register” that hadn’t been used in a year, taking out the trash and being told to “dust something as if I were maintenance.” (Old Navy denied these claims).
Williams tells Yahoo Lifestyle that they were “shooed away” with literal hand gestures, and further alleges that she overheard managers discussing a regular member of the staff, who is a black, plus-sized woman with dreadlocks — saying that she was “too urban.”
Another employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, echoed Williams’ thoughts in an interview in Philadelphia Magazine. “Most of [the regular employees] worked additional overnights to make the store look top-notch… corporate brought in new clothes, signs, and repainted parts of the store,” the employee said. “I was super-excited up until the day of and a random group of white folks came in to replace us at our own store.”
In a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, Old Navy said they “celebrate the diversity” of their teams and customers and work to “foster an environment of inclusion and belonging.” The company said it was “proud to work with The Queer Eye show to film at our store in Philadelphia and to feature our local store manager on camera.”
The company confirmed that “additional employees” were brought in from other stores to “ensure the store ran seamlessly for customers,” but the spokesperson denied that all those employees were white. “These individuals are reflective of our diverse employee population,” Old Navy’s spokesperson wrote in a statement. “We would never select employees to participate — or not — based on race. That is completely inaccurate and against the values we stand for as a company.”
Williams refutes this. “I can guarantee that not one of [the new employees] was black.” Furthermore, while a source close to Old Navy tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the extra employees were brought in to clean for the entire week, both Williams and Alvarado say that’s untrue. “We were the ones cleaning up that store all week,” says Williams. “They brought in those other people the day of filming… they were gone only a couple hours after cameras left.”
As further evidence to the existing employees that the store did not want them on camera, they say the all-black staff was never given “consent waivers” to appear on camera, and that the new employees were. “[I] was never offered a waiver,” says Alvarado. Old Navy opted not to comment on this allegation, but did note that one of the employees from the store who did sign a waiver and appeared on camera — a manager — was a “person of color.”
Tan France, cast member of Queer Eye, commented on the situation in his Instagram story in the days after, writing, “I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, or overnight, but what I can tell you is that there [is] no way I would ever have allowed production to move POC [people of color] to the back.” He continued, “I should also mention that I had one person join me on camera, from Old Navy. She was African American. This is the last I will say on this matter.”
In the wake of the incident, the employees tell Yahoo Lifestyle that HR has been conducting investigations, but that Alvarado — who was the first to call attention to to it — wasn’t invited to meet with them until she requested it. She says she is “fearful” that she may face retaliation, so she wanted to address it in public to “save herself and save it from being buried.” But, she adds, she “had to speak out because we worked hard to make it happen only to get pushed away,” which made her feel “unappreciated.”
Williams was pulled in to speak with HR a few days after, and says she was explicitly told not to share her experiences of that day publicly, but to instead redirect all questions to “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Like Alvarado, Williams is also “worried about retaliation,” but says that this behavior isn’t new to Old Navy, as black shoppers are frequently surveilled, under management’s orders, in her store.
In response to the racial profiling allegation, Old Navy sent Yahoo Lifestyle this statement: “This is the first we are hearing of this allegation, and it is upsetting to hear, as it goes against our policies, practices and values. Moreover, it does not represent who we are as a brand. We will certainly look into this allegation and, if needed, take prompt appropriate action.”
There have, incidentally, been demonstrated incidents of racial discrimination in other locations. In June, a Canadian woman posted videos of an employee accusing her of stealing a T-shirt she already owned and asking to see the receipt. The woman, Lisa Calderon, says the employee physically grabbed her and demanded an explanation; the store later apologized. A similar story came out of Des Moines, Iowa, last February, when a black man walking into an Old Navy wearing a jacket from the store was asked by employees (eventually fired) if he was “going to pay for [it].”
Like her coworkers, Williams says that she was made to feel that black employees were “not good enough” to represent the store on television, which is why they were sent to “unusual places” to clean. Another employee agrees. “I felt the racism the moment I was being told by managers to go to sections of the store that I usually don’t work around,” the employee, who remained anonymous, told Philadelphia Magazine. “It became clear that we weren’t going to be filmed…they made it a point to keep us as far away from the cameras as possible.”
After the news broke, many took to Twitter to express their outrage, with one user saying, “what's most shocking to me about #OldNavy bringing in white people to replace its Black employees for #QueerEye is that they either thought no one would say anything or that they wouldn't face consequences. Fans need to make SURE there are consequences.”
#OldNavy forced POC workers from the floor and kept them out of sight for a #QueerEye taping. They spent all night preparing the store, only to be told to sit in the back during filming the next day. @QueerEye @OldNavy @netflix #racism #Discrimination #Hollywood #Netflix pic.twitter.com/xGcEBnJLF4— Black Privilege (@RaeSaidWhat) August 26, 2019
What's most shocking to me about #OldNavy bringing in white people to replace its Black employees for #QueerEye is that they either thought no one would say anything or that they wouldn't face consequences. Fans need to make SURE there are consequences.— Cheyenne (@Chweyoun6) August 26, 2019
@OldNavy Please explain what happened during the filming of “Queer eye” in Center City Philadelphia not wanting your black employees to be seen but had white employees from the suburbs fill in. #Notright— Ern Jordan Dwyer (@philly_jordan88) August 26, 2019
In response to the allegations, Netflix sent this statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “During the filming of Queer Eye: Season 5, the production team filmed in a Philadelphia-based Old Navy last Wednesday, August 21. Production featured one employee from the retail store, an African American woman, in the segment.”
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