Nearly a month before The Umbrella Academy’s fourth and final season premiere on Netflix (August 8), co-creator and showrunner Steve Blackman’s name has been shrouded in upsetting allegations of “toxic” and “bullying” behaviour.

The Umbrella Academy Season 4 arrives on Netflix on August 8, 2024.

According to a new Rolling Stone scoop, 12 former writers and support staffers on all four seasons of the hit Netflix series shed light on the alleged “long history of toxic, bullying, manipulative and retaliatory behaviour” during Blackman’s time in the pilot seat at the top of The Umbrella Academy pyramid. These inflammatory accusations were reportedly addressed in a January 2023 human resources complaint filed to the NBC-owned Universal Content Productions.

The science fantasy series dripping with enthralling action sequences rose as high as the ranks of other Netflix staples such as Stranger Things and The Witcher upon its premiere in February 2019. Its success and booming popularity are reflected in the subsequent greenlight for new seasons, leading up to the upcoming final chapter.

However, the latest bombshell report has cast a dark cloud of discomfort about how things possibly unfolded behind the scenes of the beloved show starring Elliot Page, Tom Hopper, David Castaneda, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, Aidan Gallagher and Justin H Min. Nearly all staff members who came forward with these claims are accustomed to the chaotic misfires of the television industry. Despite their vast experience in this world, they labelled their time on The Umbrella Academy as one of the most turbulent ones. “Somebody called me, whispering basically into the phone, all freaked out, like, ‘Don’t take this job,’” a writer said.

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Accusations against The Umbrella Academy showrunner Steve Blackman

The January 2023 HR complaint ultimately uncovered by Rolling Stone painted Blackman as a manipulative showrunner who allegedly harboured a toxic workplace and would pit staffers against each other. The employees also accused him of creating an untrustworthy environment rife with fear.

Complaints about alleged sexist, homophobic, transphobic remarks

The list goes on as the team members went as far as holding him accountable for taking credit for other people’s work and purportedly making inappropriate remarks, which sources described as sexist, homophobic and transphobic, which becomes an increasingly perturbing thought as the show’s leading poster actor, Elliot Page, is a transgender man.

Although Page spoke highly of Blackman, insisting he was supportive of showcasing his transition onscreen in Season 3, text messages shared with HR in January 2023 showed otherwise. “Elliot wants to come out as trans on the show. As Ivan. Oh my fucking God. Kill me now,” he allegedly wrote. (The show ultimately named Page’s character Viktor instead.)

“They’re saying, ‘Hey, write these scenes,’ and making all these big promises, and you pour everything you have into the job only to be discarded after. It’s just devastating.… If we have protections for being credited for the work we do or have somebody to go to, I think it can protect us from this type of toxic behaviour,” a support staffer added.

Sources claimed to the outlet that in addition to Blackman allegedly making homophobic and transphobic comments, he remarked about people’s sexualities and anatomies. However, he spun them around cleverly, “He could be very good at dropping something that starts to be transphobic or homophobic, like, ‘They’re a he/she,’” a second staffer says. “But then [he’ll say], ‘It’s all good, I support it. It’s awesome, live your best life.’ … He toes the line of seeing who will join in and laugh with him, and then if nobody does, really skillfully backpedals.”

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His disparaging and sexist comments about female staffer’s breast sizes and their sexual inclinations were also detailed in the complaint.

Alleged staff eliminations addressed

Multiple sources alleged that the path to success in a series with Blackman at the helm meant pledging allegiance and demonstrating unwavering loyalty to him. “I was told even prior to my first day of work, he’s all about loyalty,” one staffer explained. Meanwhile, a second added that it meant backing “whatever his bad ideas are.” They even seemed to affirm that standing up for other staffers was seen as an act of disloyalty towards him.

Along the way, some writers and employees reportedly deboarded The Umbrella Academy train. They reported that his alleged acts of retaliation or abuses weren’t always clear-cut, and would often make people feel like “it wasn’t a fit” while eliminating them. Additionally, these departures would be tied to studio decisions or budget cuts.

“You have to tread carefully with Steve because there have been times when people stand up to him and then their status is diminished or they are taken off the show,” alleged a writer.

Co-showrunner breaks silence

The 2023 HR complaint disseminates at least five instances in which Blackman allegedly counterattacked his staffers, including Season 4 co-showrunner Jesse McKeown, who seemingly advocated for a writer entangled in a payment dispute. He allegedly iced out some others and subsequently eliminated them for voicing their opinions.

McKeown also broke his silence and told the outlet, “I always sort of carried that around thinking, ‘OK, that was clear retaliation, [but] he would never do that to me.’ It happened to me eventually, and a whole bunch of other people in between.”

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How Steve Blackman responded to the allegations

A spring 2023 investigation pushed by UCP reportedly cleared Blackman of the accusations. However, most of the employees in question argued they were never contacted to discuss their side of the story. Eventually, a spokesperson for the showrunner also majorly denied the allegations listed in the complaint, rubbishing them as “entirely untrue” and “completely absurd.” Blackman’s representative also credited Blackman for championing such a “beloved series with devoted fans, enthralling stories, and a dedicated team making it all possible.”

“These allegations from a handful of disgruntled employees are completely false and outrageous, and in no way reflect the collaborative, respectful, and successful working environment Mr. Blackman has cultivated,” they told Rolling Stone.

Blackman also maintained that he never “retaliated against anyone” and that no writer was ever fired during the show’s four-season run. “At the end of contracts, as is standard practice, a decision is made about whether to renew those contracts for an additional season… Those decisions are made solely based on performance and available budget, and any allegations to the contrary are false. Mr. Blackman worked with HR on all employment matters — from hiring to contract renewals to leaves,” his spokesperson said.

As for his response vis a vis the Elliot Page Season 3 arc, Blackman asserted that he was referring to the “tremendous undertaking” and complete rewrite that would follow despite the compressed timelines “and the responsibility to handle this with sensitivity and care.” “Mr. Blackman commented on his stress level related to this and other responsibilities of managing a show and a large team,” his spokesperson said.

Among the claims made against Blackman, UCP’s investigation only substantiated one, addressing Blackman had made “inappropriate and unprofessional remarks” and used “foul derogatory language.”

Additionally, a writer-producer and two senior producers – all women – provided by Blackman’s team claimed they’d never heard the boss use sexist, homophobic or transphobic language. On the contrary, a female writer agreed with the others, saying, “I found it to be an incredibly sexist environment. If you were female, you were treated with hostility, or like you were stupid.”