Former Hallmark Channel Actress Hilarie Burton Says She Was Fired for Insisting on Diverse Casting

Hallmark Channel is taking heat for airing — and then pulling — an ad featuring a lesbian couple. The network began airing the ad for wedding registry website Zola in early December, then yanked the commercial after complaints from the conservative group One Million Moms. But after backlash (including criticism from Ellen DeGeneres), Hallmark reversed that decision.

Now, an actress who has appeared in Hallmark Channel movies is speaking out about her own failed attempt to get the network to embrace diversity. 

Hilarie Burton says ‘the bigotry comes from the top’ at Hallmark

Hilarie Burton Morgan, who has appeared in Hallmark movies like Summer Villa and Surprised By Love, didn’t seem too shocked by the network’s decision to pull the ad. She said that when she pushed for more inclusive casting on a Hallmark movie earlier this year, she was fired.

“Just going through some old emails from a #Hallmark job I was ‘let go’ from back in January. I had insisted on a LGBTQ character, an interracial couple and diverse casting. I was polite, direct and professional. But after the execs gave their notes on the script and NONE of my requests were honored, I was told ‘take it or leave it’. I left it,” she wrote in a series of tweets on Dec. 15. 

“The bigotry comes from the top and permeates the whole deal over there,” she added. The actress went on to praise Lifetime for its more diverse slate of holiday movies. 

The ad that caused the controversy 

The Zola ad that caused the uproar features a lesbian couple discussing their wedding planning and ends with the two women kissing at the altar. One Million Moms, which describes itself in its Twitter bio as “a network of Christian moms and grandmothers taking a stand by letting our voice be heard” took issue with the commercial. 

“Family entertainment is not the outlet in which to be politically correct by forcing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality – a sinful lifestyle that Scripture clearly deems as wrong,” the group said in a statement that urged people to sign a petition protesting the ad. More than 31,000 people signed the petition, according to the group. On Dec. 13, Hallmark’s parent company Crown Media Family Networks responded by pulling the ad. 

But removing the Zola ad from the airwaves prompted a new wave of criticism. 

“Advertisers on @hallmarkchannel should see this news and question whether they want to be associated with a network that chooses to bow to fringe anti-LGBTQ activist groups, which solely exist to harm LGBTQ families,” tweeted LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD. 

“Isn’t it almost 2020? @hallmarkchannel, @billabbottHC… what are you thinking? Please explain. We’re all ears,” DeGeneres tweeted

Zola CMO Mick Chi told Fast Company that it has aired ads featuring same-sex couples on Hallmark Channel since 2017 and that they had “never heard anything about it” prior to this year’s controversy.  

Hallmark says it’s committed to diversity

After a wave of criticism over the decision to stop airing the ad, Hallmark reversed course. 

“[T]his was the wrong decision,” Mike Perry, President and CEO, Hallmark Cards, Inc., said in a Dec. 15 statement. 

The network said it was “committed to diversity and inclusion” and would be reaching out to Zola about reinstating the ad. It also said it would work with GLAAD on how to better represent the LGBTQ community. Hallmark has yet to feature an LGBTQ main character in any of its programming. A Crown Media exec told The Wrap earlier in 2019 that the network was looking for pitches with more diversity, including same-sex couples. 

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