When Monae Alvarado heard that Netflix’s Queer Eye was coming to film at the Old Navy store where she works at 16th and Chestnut Streets, she was so excited that she signed up for an overnight shift to help clean the store before the crew was scheduled to arrive on the morning of Aug. 21.
“A lot of us volunteered to come help clean up the store,” said Alvarado, who has worked at that Old Navy location since February 2018. “We made it look nice and neat, like a brand-new store. We put new clothes on the floor, and removed most of the clearance clothes and old clothes that had been there for a while.”
So when Alvarado, who is Cambodian American, came in the next morning at 7 to start her regular shift, she was shocked to see 10 to 15 employees from other Old Navy stores in the area. She said they were all white.
"My mind was like, 'What are they doing here?'" Alvarado said.
The Queer Eye crew arrived about 9 a.m. with Tan France, the fashion guru on the show, to film during store hours. Alvarado said she, along with seven other employees of color who work at the location, were pushed to the back of the store by managers and told not to touch anything or move around. The employees who had been bused in took over their regular areas on the floor.
Alvarado said she usually handles online orders. When she moved to the front of the store to fulfill customers’ requests, she said, managers told her to go back to where she had been. After leaving at 11:30 a.m., Alvarado was so perturbed that she posted on Facebook about it.
"It was weird that they had pushed us away and had [the workers from other stores] standing there being seen," Alvarado said. "We had other workers from our store who could have stayed in the front, too."
Queer Eye is a reality series where LGBTQ experts in fashion, grooming, interior design, food, and culture give people nominated by loved ones a makeover. The show, produced by Netflix, has been filming its fifth and sixth seasons in Philadelphia, featuring businesses around the city, including the Old Navy store.
Over the next few days, her post caught the attention of multiple media outlets, including Philadelphia Magazine. Eventually, France chimed in.
“I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, or overnight, but what I can tell you is that there no way I would ever have allowed production to move POC to the back,” he wrote as a comment on Alvarado’s post. France later verified that he made the comment by posting it on his Instagram account.
The cast member also mentioned that he had an African American woman, an employee at the store, join him on camera for the segment. An Old Navy spokesperson said she was selected for being a team leader and her appearance had been coordinated with the show in advance.
“We’re very proud to be a company built on equality,” the spokesperson said. “We see this as our greatest asset. We brought in other associates to provide excellent customer service because the show was filming during store hours, but we would never hand-select employees to appear on camera based on race or anything like that.”
Marjorie Williams, an Old Navy employee who was also at the store when filming happened, corroborated Alvarado’s account.
“Our whole staff was whitewashed,” said Williams, who has worked at that location for a year. “It was only me and two other black girls in the back. They just kept telling us to go back there, even though there was nothing to do.”
Williams said that she didn’t think of it as racial until she saw managers push Alvarado back to where the cash registers were. She said she doesn’t blame the show — she said they came to do what they needed to do and left.