4 years ago, Dakota Johnson confronted Ellen DeGeneres. Now let's re-examine what really happened.

The opinion that Dakota Johnson single-handedly destroyed Ellen DeGeneres' career is one held by many.

Before their controversial interview, Ellen was most known for her incessant dancing, pranking celebrities, giving cash to charities, interviewing small children, and for lending her voice to a perpetually confused big blue fish.

Oh, and for having her '90s sitcom Ellen cancelled after she came out as gay.

But these days, Ellen is forever tainted by a five-minute interview. An interview with Dakota Johnson about the actor's 30th birthday party; or, more specifically, Ellen's insistence that she wasn't invited to the actor's 30th birthday party.

Watch the now-infamous chat below. Post continues after video. 

Video via The Ellen DeGeneres Show. 

Ellen invited Dakota to appear on The Ellen Show on November 27, 2019, to promote her then-upcoming film The Peanut Butter Falcon.

"You turned 30," Ellen innocently began. "How was the party? I wasn't invited."

This was the wrong thing to say to Dakota Johnson.

"Actually, no – that's not the truth, Ellen," she sniped back playfully.


This is the line that launched a million memes, but it was the next part that spoke volumes about the truly frosty dynamic between Johnson and the talk show host. 

"Last time I was on the show, last year, you gave me a bunch of s**t about not inviting you, but I didn't even know you wanted to be invited," the actor said. "I didn't even know you liked me."

Ellen shakily replied, "Of course I like you. You knew I liked you! You've been on the show many times and don't I show like?"

Dakota got back to the subject at hand: the party.

"I did invite you and you didn't come... ask everybody,” she said, before getting confirmation from Ellen's producers that Ellen had been invited and she couldn't attend.

After some back and forth, Ellen finally admitted defeat and simply said, "I had a thing!" 

There's a lot about this entire scene that has taken it from a mere awkward moment and elevated it to the realms of pop culture history: the coy smile from Dakota, an unflappable Ellen getting clearly frazzled, and the fact that the entire conversation went down in front of a backdrop of Christmas trees and festive decoration.

It was perfect. No notes. Merry Christmas. 

And oh boy, it caused quite a stir online in 2019.

Now, four years on, it still stands as one of the most quoted celebrity phrases of all time. 

"Actually, no – that's not the truth, Ellen," will never stop being funny.


Image: The Ellen DeGeneres Show

But it was the beginning of the end for Ellen DeGeneres' career in TV. 

In March 2020, comedy writer Kevin T. Porter posted on Twitter that Ellen was "notoriously one of the meanest people alive". Then in July 2020, Buzzfeed News published a scathing article about the 'toxic' experience a number of current and former employees claimed to have had working on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. 

Not all the allegations were aimed at Ellen – there were several claims of racism, sexual harassment and misconduct levelled at producers, too. But Ellen bore the brunt of the controversy, as the story painted a picture of a manipulative woman building her brand around being 'nice' when, in fact, the article suggested she was anything but.


The wave of Ellen hate had begun, as people she had met or interviewed, such as NikkieTutorials, Brad Garrett and Lea Thompson, shared their own unpleasant encounters. On Twitter and Instagram, online users became obsessed with digging up old interviews of Ellen being less-than-kind to her interview subjects.

In one particularly viral clip, DeGeneres pressured Mariah Carey to confirm she was pregnant by offering the singer alcohol.

In response to the Buzzfeed report, Ellen sent an email to her staff announcing changes.

"On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness – no one would ever raise their voice, and everyone would be treated with respect. Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry."

Image: The Ellen DeGeneres Show. 


By August, three executive producers on the show were fired. Ellen announced via a video call with her staff that the talk show had parted ways with executive producers Ed Glavin and Kevin Leman, and co-executive producer Jonathan Norman.

The show went on – but not for much longer.

DeGeneres announced she would air the final episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show on May 2021, after 19 seasons and years on air. 

When the news that Ellen's show would end was announced, the reaction was one of joy online. And of course, the Dakota memes flooded everyone's news feeds, with the 50 Shades actor being credited as the catalyst for the host's cancellation – both on TV and in the public eye.


But did Dakota Johnson actually do... anything? 

Let's go back to where this all began and reexamine the interview in full.

As a meme, the interview has become condensed into a snappy comeback, but in fact, the entire chat was awkward for another reason: Dakota Johnson is quite an awkward person.

There was several stop-and-start moments, as Ellen kept trying to keep the conversation moving.

At one stage, Dakota said that Tig Notaro was her "favorite comedian" to Ellen... who is... a comedian.

Watch the scene here. Post continues after video.

Video via The Ellen DeGeneres Show

In another part of the interview, Dakota awkwardly defended her controversial co-star, Shia LaBeouf, after he was arrested while filming The Peanut Butter Falcon in Georgia.

"I felt very protective of him and I felt very like, that's a really terrifying and difficult journey for somebody to experience. And I felt really aware of that," Johnson said on the show.

"I don't condemn people for their mistakes, I want them to get through it, so that's what I tried to do," she added, as Ellen responded, "As we all should."

This isn't quite representative of the PR disaster that it became. And Ellen wasn't the complete monster she's been made out to be.

In comparison to her male counterparts, Ellen really doesn't seem that awful.

For instance, David Letterman spent decades mocking, objectifying and slut-shaming women on his talk show. In 2009, it came out that he had sexual relations with multiple women working on his late-night program.

Jay Leno built his career punching down and targeting young women and Asian communities.

This year, Jimmy Fallon was faced with a slew of allegations about his erratic behaviour and outbursts.


"Nobody told Jimmy 'no.' Everybody walked on eggshells, especially showrunners," a former employee told Rolling Stone. "You never knew which Jimmy we were going to get and when he was going to throw a hissy fit."

Jimmy apologised and has moved on with his career, seemingly unscathed. 

It's interesting to note that a similar situation to the Dakota moment unfolded between Fallon and Rami Malek in 2018, when the host was caught out lying about not having the Bohemian Rhapsody star's phone number – the video went viral briefly, but it certainly didn't birth four years' worth of meme material.

Image: The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. 


At the time, Fallon wasn't someone people wanted to make the villain.

In contrast, the Dakota interview came at the perfect time – the stage was already set for Ellen's reckoning. 

A year before Dakota's fateful appearance, New York Times published a profile titled 'Ellen DeGeneres Is Not As Nice As You Think.'

I assume 'David Letterman Has Been Telling You All He's A Jerk For Decades' was taken. 

Despite the salacious headline, the article contained little proof that Ellen was 'not as nice as you think'.

When asked about her response when people say she's not that nice to her employees, DeGeneres responded, "That bugs me if someone is saying that because it's an outright lie. The first day I said, 'The one thing I want is everyone here to be happy and proud of where they work, and if not, don't work here.' No one is going to raise their voice or not be grateful. That’s the rule to this day."

This reply was blunt, sure, but if it came from a man, no one would blink an eye.

Then came a slew of other controversies. 

First, in January 2019, Ellen defended Kevin Hart on her show after he stepped down as Academy Awards host due to homophobic tweets and jokes resurfacing.

Then in October 2019, DeGeneres was photographed with former president George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game.


Ellen responded to the controversy, but she didn't say what people wanted to hear.

"Here’s the thing: I'm friends with George Bush. In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have," she said in her opening.

"We're all different, and I think that we've forgotten that that's okay that we're all different."

This comment meant that Dakota's episode aired at the perfect time for an already wound-up mob of people to get even more incensed.

Of course, it also helped that Ellen was no longer the success story she once was.

Her TV show's ratings had been dwindling, and more likable women in daytime TV – like the sing-song charm of Kelly Clarkson and the chaotic big sister energy of Drew Barrymore – were getting more attention.

Ellen's show was losing relevance, as was her place in the pop culture landscape, and there's nothing the masses love more than an unlikeable woman failing. 

Whether Dakota soured her reputation or not, Ellen and her old-fashioned talk show had an expiration date. 

"When we started this show in 2003, the iPhone didn't exist. Social media didn't exist. Gay marriage wasn’t legal," Ellen tweeted in 2021.

"We watched the world change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not."

Feature image: The Ellen DeGeneres Show.