Months before three dancers sued Lizzo for sexual harassment, 14 of the singer’s dancers received a separate settlement relating to footage that appeared in the 2022 documentary Love, Lizzo, the Los Angeles Times reports. The dancers’ manager raised the dispute in January, saying the dancers’ intimate discussion of how misogyny, weight-shaming, and racism affect them was used unauthorized. The manager, Slay Smiles, said the documentary had “truly exploited these women and violated the emotional safety they had in those moments.” A group including the co-production company Boardwalk Pictures and a “Lizzo entity” settled the dispute in February after a dancer hired an attorney, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Documentary makers shot the footage in 2019, when Lizzo and the dancers were rehearsing for the MTV Video Music Awards. Smiles has said no contract was offered to the dancers for the behind-the-scenes footage, which was not covered by their union contract for the VMAs. Alan Brunswick, an attorney for the co-producer Boardwalk Pictures, countered that the footage in the documentary “was captured openly” and with consent. He told The Times, “They all knew the cameras were there. I don’t think the documentary was even contemplated at that point.” The dancers were unaware that the behind-the-scenes footage would be used in the documentary until a clearance producer emailed to offer each dancer $350 plus a 10% agency fee to appear, sources close to the dancers told The Times.
Smiles said he advocated for the dancers and helped secure a total payout of $109,551: between $7,092 and $7,545 for each dancer. Lizzo’s attorney, Martin Singer, told The Times, “Lizzo had nothing to do with it and knew nothing about it.” None of the 14 dancers who received the settlement are involved in the harassment lawsuit. As well as the Lizzo entity and Boardwalk Pictures, the settlement was signed by Greenway Pictures, Warner Music Group Productions, and Live Nation Productions, The Times reports. It included a non-disparagement and confidentiality clause barring the dance artists from discussing the settlement with third parties.
Some six months after that settlement, Lizzo’s recent legal troubles began. Three dancers filed a lawsuit early this month alleging they were sexually harassed and weight-shamed. Lizzo said the “false allegations” were “as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous to not be addressed.”
The original lawsuit—which names Lizzo, her Big Grrl Big Touring production company, and her dance captain Shirlene Quigley as defendants—cites instances of racial discrimination and disability discrimination. In Amsterdam, Lizzo allegedly pressured a dancer to touch a nude performer’s breasts and urged dancers to “catch dildos launched from the performers’ vaginas and eat bananas protruding from the performers’ vaginas,” according to the complaint.
Lizzo responded, in part, “Sometimes I have to make hard decisions but it’s never my intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable or like they aren’t valued as an important part of the team. I am not here to be looked at as a victim, but I also know that I am not the villain that people and the media have portrayed me to be these last few days.” Attorney Martin Singer added in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that the claims are “provably false and without merit,” alluding to “significant documentary evidence and witness testimony.”
In an article published by the Los Angeles Times yesterday, Crystal Williams, a dancer in the lawsuit, said, “I felt the need to even come forward publicly because this is not only her that does things like this. This is normalized in the entertainment industry in general.” Singer claimed the dancers lack credibility, citing an audition tape in which Arianna Davis, another dancer in the lawsuit, praised Lizzo this April, after harassment and mistreatment allegedly took place. The same month, the dancers signed on for a third leg of Lizzo’s tour, NBC News reports.
In a statement, Davis responded to the audition tape claim, “Right up until the last minute, I didn’t realize how bad it was and how much I was being taken advantage of. I just genuinely wanted to save my job.”
A group of Lizzo’s current dancers, the Big Grrrls and Big Boiiis, posted a statement last Thursday celebrating their experiences on the tour and avoiding reference to the controversies. It read, in part, “Our collective gifts have authentically powered the type of energy, love and that support can physiologically help heal the world. We are a unit of unicorns, undeniably resilient and SPECIAL AF.”