This award-winning black actress feels like she starred on a show that should’ve be called “The Young & the Racists.”
Victoria Rowell socked CBS, co-producers Sony Pictures and Bell-Phillip Television Production Inc. and other parties with a lawsuit Wednesday alleging she’s been repeatedly snubbed trying to reprise her once-popular role on The Young & the Restless – because she’s been a longtime advocate for more black characters on daytime soap operas.
The 55-year-old actress in the Manhattan federal court suit accuses her ex-producers and other execs of retaliating against her by not welcoming her back –despite numerous requests since 2010 – because of critical comments she’s made both on and off camera about lack of diversity in the soap industry.
Rowell — who was nominated for three Daytime Emmy Awards and earned 11 NAACP Image Awards while starring as feisty ballerina-turned-model Drucilla Winters from 1990 to 2007 — even alleges on-set racism went on for years with any repercussions.
She claims that even though “black characters” such as herself “became important” in helping keep The Young & The Restless remain the top-ranked soap over the past 25 years, the actors and actresses playing them were treated as “second-class citizens.”
For instance, white actress and soap star icon Melody Thomas Scott, who plays Nikki Newman, once ran onto the set “dancing wildly and wearing an oversized Afro wig to mock” Rowell’s “Afro-styled hair that day,” the suit alleges.
Another white actress, Michelle Strafford, once allegedly “collaborated” with a white producer and a white director before spitting on Rowell, calling her a “freak” and saying “no one likes you.”
The suit also paints Rowell an an “advocate for Y&R’s black actors and actresses” whose “attempts to effect change were often rejected or ignored,” including pleas for them to be more prominently featured in press photos for the show.
It claims she successfully fought hard for a on-set hairstylist specifically for black actors and actresses – only to learn later the hairstylist was “banned from the Y&R hair and makeup room.”
The suit says:
‘“Ms. Rowell had to lobby and win the stylist’s admission to that room. But then white actors and actresses taunted Ms. Rowell and the stylist with impunity, and told Ms. Rowell that her hair ‘smelled.’”’
The suit also claims that Rowell has even been blacklisted from reprising her same role on the sister CBS soap “The Bold and the Beautiful” and can’t get another job on daytime TV because of her outspokenness.
The suit even takes issue with Y&R failing to notify her before developing a storyline where Rowell’s character went insane in 2007 and was “placed in a straight jacket and dragged to an asylum.”
Her character was written off the show later that year at her request when she fell off a cliff and apparently died. But loyal fans have long wondered if she was really dead — and have lobbied for “Drucilla’s” return.
Show execs have previously claimed Rowell wasn’t brought back due to creative reasons that had nothing to with race.
CBS issued a statement saying it’s “disappointed to learn that, after leaving the” soap “on her own initiative, Ms. Rowell has attempted to rewrite that history through lawyers’ letters and a lawsuit that has no merit.”
“We harbor no ill will toward Ms. Rowell, but we will vigorously defend this case.”
Sony declined comment and Bell-Phillip did not immediately return messages.