Rafi and Benny Fine, the YouTube power couple, were at the peak of their game until last June. Fine Brothers Entertainment was born out of the brothers’ childhood pastime of creating radio shows and comedy.
FBE, which is most known for its “respond” videos, was founded in 2007 and targeted to digital platforms such as YouTube. It distributed viral videos from a wide range of creators to 30 million subscribers, and by June 2020, it was generating 300 million monthly views. Nickelodeon, 20th Century Fox, and Universal were among the major media giants with which it collaborated.
However, the once-dominant empire has had to cross treacherous ground in the last seven months.
Benny Fine appears in blackface in a grainy 2009 film that resurfaced in June as part of Shane Dawson’s “Degrassi” parody. The brothers suffered a barrage of criticism from fans and staff as a result of their actions, which came amid a national awakening over racism and police brutality sparked by protests following the police shooting of George Floyd. Some of the company’s longest-serving stars left in the two weeks that followed.
Former members of the Los Angeles-based firm, however, claim that the blackface video only scratched the surface. Insider interviewed 26 former workers and contractors about their time at FBE between 2012 and June 2020, the majority before and some after the company’s public pronouncements. They said there had been incidences of racism and prejudice, some of which came from higher management, and that the behavior had created a toxic environment.
Former colleagues said the Fine brothers were skilled creatives who micromanaged everything from pitch meetings to thumbnails on videos, refusing to surrender control over what they’d created. According to these individuals, the management that was brought in appeared to be “yes men.” According to some, the dynamic exacerbated unconscious prejudices.
Requests for the response to the claims in this story were not answered by Rafi or Benny Fine. The brothers “expressed their thoughts at multiple full-time staff meetings,” according to an FBE spokesperson, and “apologized for tonnes of stuff they made throughout their early careers.”
Former employees of color alleged they were subjected to or witnessed racism at FBE
The Fine brothers issued an apology after the blackface video was revived, which was published on the FBE Instagram account. They apologized for their “awful errors of judgment” and attempted to distance themselves from the video by promising to enhance diversity at the firm and donate to the NAACP in a statement.
The apology, however, was insufficient for Kennedy Zimet, one of more than 200 “reactors” – paid cast members of React films who were filmed responding to videos, cuisines, events, and games. She told Insider that seeing the blackface video made her horrified, and she left FBE after eight and a half years.
According to Zimet, FBE would appear to be doing everything right on the surface, such as releasing videos promoting Black Lives Matter last year and recruiting individuals of color as reactors. However, she claimed that behind the scenes, she received racially charged death threats and abuse from fans, which she had to handle on her own despite seeking support from management.
At the company’s request, Zimet and several other Black reactors took part in a Black Lives Matter film at the end of May 2020 to attract attention to the social movement. She claimed she was ignored when she sent an email to the general casting assistant about her safety fears about publicly discussing her experiences as a Black woman.
Across our channels FBE uploaded around 650 new episodes of our series and over 2 billion views in just 2017 alone. Will be posting highlights throughout the day of this amazing year we all had together. Thank you for so much love and support from everyone at the company!— REACT (@react) December 31, 2017
The BLM video, which was released just days before the resurfacing of the blackface film, felt insincere and like “performative activism” to her.
In a leaked Zoom conversation on June 17, FBE management explained what transpired, saying Zimet’s security concerns were neglected due to “fragmented” workflows caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m not sure who was intended to do it,” said Donna Lewis, vice president of development and platforms, who confirmed that she and other senior executives had received the email. “However, one of the three persons who have traditionally responded to skill has dropped the ball.”
“Unfortunately, some people will encounter hostility on the internet because the internet is the internet,” she continued.
Former employees claimed they were subjected to racial slurs and jokes
Following Kennedy Zimet’s video, other former FBE employees and reactors — mostly people of color — went on the record to recount their experiences working there.
A message from our founders. pic.twitter.com/VJNvxKXVXf— REACT (@react) June 11, 2020
After nearly six years as a reactor, Jonathan Rosario-Price, who identifies as Mexican American, left FBE last summer. He told Insider that he complained to management about the abuse he received from another reactor, who was Caucasian and had a higher status than he did. During a party at the reactor’s residence, he claimed this reactor made nasty remarks about Mexicans and “justified slavery by determining that unemployment was extremely low.” Although the party was not a company event, employees were in attendance.
While the guy was making jokes, Rosario-Price said he felt “powerless” since no one else at the party stood up for him. On a phone call, he said he reported the event to Hustvedt, the CEO, who rejected it as “bar-room banter.” On the phone, Hustvedt also indicated he couldn’t “publicly out someone as racist,” according to Rosario-Price.
In his experience, Rosario-Price stated, “You’re disregarding individuals of color.” “It’s awful that as a person in power, you don’t do everything you can to make it safe for others. There’s no other way to describe it.”
According to Hustvedt, an HR investigation into the situation was initiated, but Rosario-Price left the company before it was concluded. He said that he had never used the term “bar-room talk” before.
Fine Brothers Entertainment Net Worth
Fine Bros’ net worth is estimated to be $12 million. The brothers earn the majority of their money working as online producers, directors, and writers.
This duo has built an empire with over seven billion cumulative views, and by the year 2017, their net worth was at a level that only a few can match.
With 15,840,157 subscribers and 5,507,195,876 views, its React segments have exploded in popularity.