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`Grey's' controversy widens

Isaiah Washington's apology for disparaging costar doesn't dampen calls for his ouster.

January 20, 2007|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

Despite a recent apology from "Grey's Anatomy" television star Isaiah Washington for homophobic slurs, pressure continues to build upon ABC and the top-rated show's creator, Shonda Rhimes, to oust the 43-year-old African American actor from the ensemble cast.

In wake of a lengthy mea culpa issued late Thursday afternoon by Washington's publicist, television critics and some gay media websites were calling upon the network to fire the actor for using the word "faggot" in reference to his costar T.R. Knight, most recently at this week's Golden Globe Awards.

"Thanks for the apology, Isaiah (still waiting for yours ABC and Ms. Rhimes), but it's too little, too late," wrote Michael Jensen for Afterelton.com, a gay media website. "As for ABC, what are these people thinking? Why haven't they fired this joker as of yesterday?"

Meanwhile, a television writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also criticized Rhimes for not taking a firmer hand with Washington.

"Perhaps most disappointing in all this is that 'Grey's' creator Shonda Rhimes, who is to be lauded for the diversity of the show's cast, has never really addressed the use of the epithet head-on," wrote Rob Owen on his newspaper television blog.

Although there were rumors Friday afternoon that ABC and "Grey's Anatomy" would issue a statement about Washington's fate, an ABC spokeswoman said that was untrue. ABC declined to comment further, as did Rhimes and Washington.

On Thursday, ABC issued a sternly worded statement declaring its "great dismay" over Washington's "inappropriate language" and adding that the actor's "actions are unacceptable and are being addressed."

Hours later, Washington released a rambling apology, one reminiscent of actor Mel Gibson's following his anti-Semitic tirade after being arrested for drunken driving in Malibu.

"I can neither defend nor explain my behavior," Washington said. "I can also no longer deny to myself that there are issues I obviously need to examine within my own soul, and I've asked for help.

"With one word, I've hurt everyone who has struggled for the respect so many of us take for granted," continued the statement, issued through Washington's publicist. "I welcome the chance to meet with leaders of the gay and lesbian community to apologize in person."

Those words were welcomed by Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), who had only days before demanded an apology from Washington for his remarks at the Golden Globes. Giuliano said he planned to meet face-to-face with Washington early next week.

"He's said that he's sorry and his statement reads sincere; we're going to take that on good faith," Giuliano said. "It's a turning point for him personally, and I'm looking at this as an opportunity to open up a dialogue about bigotry that still very much exists in this country."

The Golden Globes marked the second time Washington was slammed for using anti-gay slurs directed at costar Knight. In October, Washington allegedly used the homophobic slur during an on-set altercation with costar Patrick Dempsey. Washington had maintained until Thursday's apology that he never used the epithet.

But it was Washington's comments in the pressroom at the Globes ceremony, at which "Grey's Anatomy" had won for best dramatic series, that reignited the controversy. In response to a question about the October fight, Washington leaned into the microphone and said: "No, I did not call T.R. [Knight] a faggot. Never happened, never happened."

Moments later, Rhimes said: "Things were created in a very odd way by the press that were not necessarily completely reported as true

Washington's remarks angered fellow cast members who supported Knight. Costar Katherine Heigl blasted Washington, telling "Access Hollywood" that it was "hurtful" and adding, "I'm not OK with it."

Earlier this week, Knight, who is gay, appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and criticized Washington for the outbursts.

"I've never been called that to my face" before, Knight told DeGeneres. "When it happened, it became bigger than myself."

DeGeneres, whose sexuality also became a public issue when she starred on "Ellen" and who has since declared her homosexuality, later told Knight: "At this point in time, we shouldn't say hateful words to one another.... Just using that word is dangerous."

A veteran Hollywood television and film actor, the 43-year-old Washington played a gay character in Spike Lee's 1996 movie "Get on the Bus" who confronts vicious homophobia.

Washington's apology concluded: "T.R.'s courage throughout this entire episode speaks to his tremendous character. I hold his talent, and T.R. as a person, in high esteem. I know a mere apology will not end this, and I intend to let my future actions prove my sincerity."

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martin.miller@latimes.com

Times staff writers Maria Elena Fernandez and Greg Braxton contributed to this report.

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