LOS ANGELES -- Comedian Richard Pryor, who promised to create job opportunities for minorities in a $40 million production deal with Columbia Pictures, has fired four black employees of his company, the studio said.
A NAACP spokesman said the real villains were Columbia Pictures and its parent corporation, Coca Cola.
A studio statement said Pryor, who signed the production deal with Columbia last May, fired actor Jim Brown and three other black employees 'due to creative differences.'
The firings surprised and angered many blacks in the entertainment industry who believed Pryor was backing down on a commitment to minority hiring.
Willis Edwards of the NAACP Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch said it was a 'slap in the face because we were working very diligently with Jim Brown.'
Brown ran Pryor's Indigo Productions and Edwards said Columbia and Coca Cola thought too many black-oriented projects were being developed by Brown at Indigo.
'Richard Pryor couldn't just fire Jim Brown by himself when a major company is putting up $40 million,' Edwards said. 'I think they are using Pryor as a scapegoat, making everybody think he did this when in reality it was Coke and Columbia making the move.'
The highest ranking black employee on Columbia's public relations staff, Stan Robertson, denied Edwards' allegations.
'Pryor is his own man. His deal with Columbia gives him the right to hire and fire as he sees fit,' he said.