After the runaway success of Glee, it seemed like Lea Michele was on top of the world. That all changed in recent years, and public sentiment seems to have turned against Michele. The multi-talented singer and actress has been accused of nasty behavior behind the scenes of the hit musical show, including allegations of racism, which has greatly affected her reputation.
Why Did Lea Michele Become So Controversial?
Lea Michele rose to fame thanks to her musical talents, but it was her behind-the-scenes behavior that led to her essentially becoming a pariah for a brief period of time. Though she’s making a comeback now, thanks to the recently released HBO documentary Spring Awakening: Those You Know. The hit Broadway musical helped launch Michele’s career and introduced her to her close friend and on-stage love interest Jonathan Groff.
With the renewed interest in Michele comes a rehashing of her most public scandals, however. Although it was the reason she became a household name, Michele’s time on Glee was also the reason behind her fall from grace. In 2020, while Michele was pregnant with her son Ever Reich, former Glee star Samantha Ware accused her of racist behavior while the two worked together on the show.
Inside Those Racism Accusations
Ware, who is black, claimed Michele threatened to “sh*t in my wig” among many other “traumatic microaggressions.” Ware was apparently triggered to come forward with her allegations after Michele tweeted out support for the Black Lives Matter movement amid the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd.
Ware said Michele made her brief time on the show a “living hell” and several former Glee co-stars expressed outright or indirect support for Ware on social media. This wasn’t the first, or last, time that stars of the show have accused Michele of less than stellar behavior on the set.
Other Glee Cast Members Who Spoke Up
The late Naya Rivera wrote about her relationship with the Rachel Berry actress in her 2016 memoir Sorry Not Sorry. Rivera claimed Michele displayed diva behavior, and the two were friendly at first, but “as the show progressed, though, that friendship started to break down, especially as Santana moved from a background character to one with bigger plot lines and more screen time. I think Rachel—erm, I mean Lea—didn’t like sharing the spotlight…”
Rivera continued, “If I’d complained about anyone or anything, she’d assumed I was bitching about her. Soon, she started to ignore me, and eventually it got to the point where she didn’t say a word to me for all of Season 6.” In a 2019 appearance on Watch What Happens Live, Rivera denied having a feud with Michele, however, telling host Andy Cohen, “I don’t think there was, like, any beef.”
Cast Was Too “Scared” To Report Bullying
Rivera wasn’t the only one to dish on Michele’s behavior behind the scenes. Heather Morris, who played Rivera’s on-screen love interest, talked a bit about what it was like working with Michele on Danny Pellegrino’s Everything Iconic podcast in 2021. “We absolutely could have stepped up and gone to the Fox execs and said how we felt about the situation, and nobody really did,” Morris admitted.
She added that as the culture has changed over the years and now people are encouraged to come forward rather than sit in silence. “I think many people were very scared,” she said. “I know, genuinely, I didn’t feel like it was my place. And I don’t know why, because I was a cast member just like everybody else, and we all deserve to feel comfortable on a set.”
Morris had also been one of the castmates who spoke up in solidarity in 2020, saying that Michele was “unpleasant to work with.” At the time, she caught flack from some for not going into specifics, but explained, “People were like, ‘This is so f—ing cryptic,’ like, ‘Why don’t you just go and say it?’” she told Pellegrino. “I’m like, ‘Guys, she’s pregnant, and all this stuff is going around, and… it’s true’ — and I don’t know if maybe we were victims of bullying and that’s a typical victim thing to do is to blame yourself…”
Lost Opportunities Follow Allegations
As a result of the allegations of racism, and cemented by subsequent allegations of bullying, Michele lost some career opportunities, including a sponsorship with Hello Fresh. The timing was also unfortunate in the fact that Michele was pregnant during the bulk of the backlash against her. To her credit, Michele issued an apology soon after the allegations began piling in.
Michele posted the following statement to her Instagram page that read, in part: “While I don’t remember ever making this specific statement and I have never judged others by their background or color of their skin, that’s not really the point. What matters is that I clearly acted in ways which hurt other people.”
Although the allegations made against Michele are well documented and seem to be backed up by a wide array of former co-stars, it’s important to note that there’s clearly been an effort from Michele to grow past her past behavior. While that past behavior was utterly unacceptable, there’s no reason to believe that Michele isn’t capable of changing for the better.