Lea Michele has not been having a good week.
On Tuesday, after the Glee alum tweeted in support of Black Lives Matter, her former Glee castmate Samantha Ware called her out for hypocrisy—dropping the unforgettable nugget, “I believe you told everyone that if you had the opportunity you would ‘shit in my wig!’” Several performers, most of them black, backed Ware’s comment—both with their own stories and some pointed GIFs. Michele eventually issued an apology—well, pseudo-apology, if we’re being honest—and denied being racist. But nonetheless, the sordid tales keep coming.
Michele’s relationship with the public has long been fraught. During Glee’s heyday in the 2010s, the most popular persona for a young female performer was a candid, rough-around-the-edges type; the Jennifer Lawrences and Anna Kendricks of the world were thriving, while the Lea Micheles and Anne Hathaways were labeled obnoxious try-hards. It didn’t help that Michele’s distant celebrity persona seemed in line with her neurotic, competitive character, Rachel Berry. Even when Michele’s boyfriend, co-star Cory Monteith, died suddenly due to a drug overdose, public sympathy was muted at best. And for years Michele batted away rumors of a feud with her co-star Naya Rivera. In her 2016 memoir Sorry Not Sorry, Rivera said the rumors were overblown—but confirmed that their friendship had soured during the last seasons of the show as her character became more prominent. “I think Rachel—erm, I mean Lea—didn’t like sharing the spotlight,” she wrote.
Years later, with one tweet, Ware has opened the floodgates. Performers who have worked with Michele across her Broadway and TV career on Ragtime, Glee, and The Mayor are all speaking out. (Rivera has not been one of them, but plenty of Twitter users have run with the meme that she was right all along about her former co-star.) Many of the early responses to Ware’s post came from black performers—but eventually, others joined in as well.
On a comment under Michele’s apology, George Canonico, who was an understudy on Broadway’s Spring Awakening in 2006, wrote, “You were nothing but a nightmare to me and fellow understudy cast members. You made us feel like we didn’t belong there. I tried for years to be nice to you to no avail. Maybe actually apologize instead of placing the blame on how others ‘perceive’ you. You’ll probably just delete this though.”
And apparently, Michele’s alleged bad behavior reaches all the way back to her tween theater days. Self-care coach Elizabeth Aldrich recalled Michele as a pint-sized tyrant on the set of the Broadway musical Ragtime in the late ’90s.
“She was absolutely awful to me and ensemble,” Aldrich wrote on Twitter, noting that she was Michele’s understudy. “She demeaned the crew and threatened to have people fired if she was in anyway displeased. I used to cry every night from the mean and manipulative things she would do. She was 12. She was terrifying.”
Another performer, who claimed on Twitter that they used to sub on Ragtime, backed up Aldrich’s account. Even at that young age, they wrote, Michele “was the meanest person I ever encountered on Broadway. And that includes Tony Randall and Roseanne [Barr] who I also worked with (both AWFUL people). She’s a cancer on humanity.”
Perhaps the most troubling memory comes from trans model Plastic Martyr, who recalled Michele shouting at her for being in the women’s bathroom during an Emmys ceremony years ago. “I was still in the process of my transition and wasn’t 100% as ‘passable’ then,” Martyr wrote in an Instagram comment. “I was in the bathroom and started washing my hands and said excuse me to her when trying to reach the soap and she goes ‘Excuse me?! EXCUSE ME???? EXCUSE you....you realize you’re in the WOMEN’s bathroom.’”
“I remember going from feeling so beautiful that day to walking out of that bathroom feeling so self conscious and embarrassed,” Martyr wrote. She expanded on her experience in a separate post.
“This isn’t to start hate or cancel someone’s career,” Martyr wrote. “It’s to hopefully open people’s eyes up to the horrible transphobia that exists but no one really talks about.”
Even colleagues who have defended Michele—her former Glee co-star Heather Morris, who played Brittany Pierce, and Marti Noxon, who served as consulting producer on the series for one season—have done so after confirming, or at least implying that yes, in general, she was not great to work with.
Morris acknowledged that her time with Michele was also not great: “was she unpleasant to work with?” she wrote in a statement. “Very much so; for Lea to treat others with the disrespect that she did for as long as she did, I believe she SHOULD be called out.”
Ware’s original post said that the “traumatic microaggressions” Michele subjected her to made her question a career in Hollywood. But as she addressed the ire surrounding Michele, Morris pushed back against the idea that Michele is racist: “although I cannot comment on her beliefs,“ she wrote, “I think we’re assuming, and you know what happens when we all assume...”
Marti Noxon, who said she worked as a part-time consulting producer on Glee for one season, never directly defended Michele, but instead asked why anyone was talking about Michele, rather than any of the other “bad actors” on set who “were NOT women. People in the industry know who I’m talking about,” she wrote on Twitter, although when asked, she declined to name names.
“I’m going to leave that to my male allies,” Noxon wrote. “It’s their turn.”
“It seems to me that women are the first to go under the bus,” Noxon wrote. “But a lot of males get away with being the bullies-in-chief. How come we let them get away with it? Maybe it’s because as long as they earn someone money, they get a pass.”
Later on, things got more confusing as Noxon deleted her initial tweets and wrote, “When I said ‘bad actors’ in reference to my work on Glee - I was using the word actor as in ‘people who took bad actions.’ I wasn’t referring to anybody on set specifically.”
Noxon praised the Glee cast and crew, whom she said were “wonderful.” “But when bullies are allowed to act that way - there is a culture that permits it.”
On Wednesday, Glee’s Amber Riley, who played Mercedes Jones, provided the most at-length and important response to the entire dust-up.
“I’m not going to say that she’s racist,” Riley said, adding, “That was the assumption because of what’s going on right now in the world and it happened toward a Black person.”
On an Instagram Live interview, Riley told journalist Danielle Young, “I don’t give a shit about this Lea Michele thing. I really don’t give a fuck. I don’t. I don’t want to be asked about it... People are out here dying. Being murdered by police. Trans women are being murdered at the hands of men.”
“I wish Lea Michele well,” Riley added. “I hope that she has an amazing pregnancy. I hope that she has grown.”
Riley said that Michele had reached out and she’d responded. “That’s where it ends for me,” she said. “I have no hatred or ill-will on that end and I want to make that very clear—that my life and what I talk about is not going to be about that. This is the first and last time I’m gonna say something.”
Representatives for Lea Michele declined to comment.