Why You Should Know Channing Dungey, the Woman Who Fired Roseanne Barr

Channing Dungey Lead
Photo: Todd Williamson/Getty Images

Unless you've been living in an Ambien-induced daze for the past 24 hours, chances are you've heard that Roseanne Barr's racist tweet resulted in the cancellation of her eponymous (and wildly successful) ABC sitcom.

On Wednesday, Barr issued another apology, blamed her nasty message on "Ambien tweeting," (side note: Ambien does not cause racism!) and she’s expected clear the air this Friday on an episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast.

But what you may have missed? The back story of Channing Dungey, the woman who officially pulled the plug on the Roseanne reboot. The ABC Entertainment president—who was appointed to the position in 2016, making history as the first black American president of a major broadcast network—stood up to Barr’s comments, sending a clear message to the world: racism is intolerable.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancer her show,” Dungey said in her statement, leaving nothing to the imagination.

The fact that Barr (unlike other public figures with a passion for Tweeting … ) was stripped from her job at ABC is powerful stuff, however, it’s important to assess who made the decision. Dungey is an African-American woman, which is an obvious trait to point out considering Barr’s termination involves hateful, race-driven commentary.

VIDEO: Ambien Responds to Roseanne Barr's "Ambien Tweeting" Excuse

Dungey has a history as a champion of diversity. She has previously worked with mega-successful ABC figures, including writer and producer Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Grey’s Anatomy), also a black woman, and she's supported shows like Quantico, which features Indian actress Priyanka Chopra as its star.

She’s reported to have spearheaded the decision to cast the network’s first black Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay, and at one point, apparently fired her own sister, Merrin Dungey, from her role in Grey’s Anatomy. Simply put, Dungey is gutsy, and she’s used her position of power to drive change.

That said, the decision to cancel Roseanne hasn't come without a bit of speculation from critics who wonder why this tweet—out of all of Barr's racist, conspiracy theory-peddling tweets—was the instance that broke the camel back. “I try to just worry about the things that I can control,” Dungey told The Hollywood Reporter last August with regards to Barr's inflammatory feed, which had already raised more than a few eyebrows in the entertainment world.

But the point, at the end of the day, is that no matter how long it took, Dungey has now drawn a line in the sand, setting a clear precedent from here on out that racism is not tolerated by those who are on the network's payroll. No one is untouchable—no matter how good the ratings.

By giving Barr the chop, she’s also not-so-quietly showing the world what happens when powerful black women step into an executive roles: they don’t tolerate “abhorrent” and “repugnant” conversation. As Willa Paskin at Slate wrote, "We can never know for sure what would have happened if a white person were in charge of ABC at this moment, but it strikes me that that person would have been much more likely to administer [a] wrist slap, continuing to put up with the polarizing circus act that is Barr."

That the actress was punished for her racist message is powerful, but that a black woman was behind that decision is a win for change.

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