Bob Ross, the gentle and permed painter, has caused a posthumous stir after the release of a Netflix documentary digging into Bob Ross Inc., his eponymous company that went into the hands of Annette and Walt Kowalski after his death in 1995. Twitter responded with force, calling for a boycott until Ross’ son, Steve Ross, was given rights to intellectual property. A trending hashtag, #BoycottBobRossInc., was trending on Twitter Thursday, August 26, 2021, the day after the film was released.
Bob Ross Inc. released a statement Wednesday, August 25, saying BRI “takes strong issue with the inaccurate and heavily slanted portrayal of our company in the Netflix film, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed.” The documentary made the Netflix top 10 list in the days after its release.
Bob Ross Inc. was originally owned by four partners: Bob Ross, his wife, Jane Ross, Annette Kowalski and Walt Kowalski. Jane Ross died in 1992, meaning Bob Ross owned only one-third of the company, according to the Daily Beast. After his death in 1995, the company went into the hands of the Kowalski family. Ross wrote in his will that his name, likeness and intellectual property should go to his half brother, Jimmie, and his son, the Daily Beast reported. But after Steve Ross filed a lawsuit in 2017, the article said a judge said that Bob Ross could not transfer the company when he was only a partial owner.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Kowalski Family Responded to Specific Allegations in the Film Calling Them ‘Baseless’ & ‘Unsubstantiated’
BRI released a lengthy statement in response to the Netflix film, saying the portrayal of the company was inaccurate and denied specific assertions made in the film. The statement said their goal has always been to carry on the legacy of Ross in the way that he intended.
It said, in part:
Since the founding of Bob Ross Inc. in 1984, all of its equal partners – Bob and Jane Ross, and Walt and Annette Kowalski – shared the same goal: to promote and support the value of painting around the world. This was the company’s mission from its inception, through the latter days of Bob Ross’ life, and remains the company’s driving purpose after Bob’s untimely death over 25 years ago.
If not for the efforts of the remaining founders and their dedication to this mission, Bob’s artistic and cultural relevance – and his expressed desire to become the world’s most beloved painting teacher and friend – would have been lost decades ago with his passing.
Bob’s presence, inspiring positive outlook on everyday things, and his celebrated ability to provide serenity to audiences of all ages together, as accurately captured in the film, create the phenomenon we see today and are part of a business platform designed to nurture and amplify his gifts and turn them into the world’s treasure.
All of the products and merchandise seen today are just another way to share Bob’s message of positivity with people around the world. Bob Ross Inc.’s hope is that items bearing Bob’s likeness and messages prompt smiles as they remind people of the love of painting Bob shared with all. Bob was especially eager to explore ways to impart his sweet persona and the joy he found in making art with even non-painters, too – especially children – through collectibles, toys and knickknacks, and he was the driving creative force within the company until his passing.
The statement went on to say filmmakers asked them to be interviewed for the film, but said they did not present them with specific accusations. The requests from filmmakers “arrived replete with a confounding lack of transparency,” the statement said. The filmmakers also did not tell BRI the film would appear on Netflix, the statement said.
Had the filmmakers communicated with openness in their correspondence, Bob Ross Inc. could have provided valuable information and context in an attempt to achieve a more balanced and informed film. However, as the director and producers carried on with the production without the perspective of Bob Ross Inc., the final narrative lacks considerable nuance and accuracy and carries a clear bias in favor of those who were interviewed. After seeing media reports about the film’s summer release, Bob Ross Inc. attempted to reach out to the filmmakers in May 2021 to offer comment. They did not return calls or emails and finally responded through their attorney. We provided a comprehensive statement, and the filmmakers chose not to use it.
The statement continued, saying that there was no attempt made to prevent Steve Ross from talking about his experiences.
“Bob Ross Inc. never pursued or threatened legal action against Steve Ross, and, in fact, no one at Bob Ross Inc. heard from Steve Ross for almost twenty years, until 2017 when Steve filed suit against the company without any prior communication,” the statement said.
The statement said Bob Ross may not have shared details of the company with others while he was alive, and said some assertions made in the film were “rejected by a court of law in 2019.”
The statement concluded:
Bob Ross Inc. supports a vibrant, worldwide art community by putting a brush into the hands of more first time painters than any other movement in history. We embrace fans that never intend to paint at all, but still crave Bob’s delightful personality and loving, positive spirit. We enthusiastically support the public television system, a true American treasure; art-related education and charitable projects, including with the Smithsonian and the U.S. Air Force First Sergeant Academy; and the new Bob Ross Experience museum in Muncie, Indiana. The efforts of Bob Ross Inc. and our dozen employees have allowed Bob’s incredible accomplishments and his love of painting to thrive – and we remain committed to enhancing his wonderful legacy well into the future.
Twitter Users Called for a Boycott on Bob Ross Inc. Products, Saying Steve Ross Should Own the Company
Twitter users called for a boycott on Bob Ross Inc. products in the hours after the Netflix film was released, saying that the rightful owner of BRI is Steve Ross. The response on Twitter began a trending hashtag, #BoycottBobRossInc.
“Until Steve Ross AKA Bob Ross:s son receives profit from Bob Ross Inc boycotting their products,” one person wrote on Twitter.
“Still thinking about Bob,” another person wrote. “All stores need to stop carrying merchandise from bobrossinc!”
“I was all excited and happy cloud feeling until I watched the Netflix documentary #BobRossHappyAccidentsBetrayalAndGreed. Now I want everyone to know how horrible the @BobRossOfficial company truly is,” another person wrote. “They have exploited an icon and stolen from his legacy.”
“Shame on the Kowalskis!!! What they did to the Toss family and the Jenkins!!!! We all need to stop buying their products!” wrote another person.
Filmmakers Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, spoke to NPR saying they did not expect to uncover a complex story when they set out to create the film. They wanted to make the film, they told NPR, because they were such big fans of Bob Ross that they own a toaster that imprints his face on their bread. As they started unraveling the story, they realized it was much more complex than they anticipated.
“When someone is an artist, no matter what their medium is … there’s a business behind it,” McCarthy told NPR. “And I would venture to guess that business is always much more complicated than the personality that they lead with.”