The Fight Over Bob Ross: Netflix Documentary and Bob Ross Inc. Go Head to Head
Netflix documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed, has come under fire for being an “inacurrate and heavily slanted portrayal” of the late artist’s personal life and business dealings. Bob Ross Inc., the company responsible for Bob Ross-related paraphernalia, has complained that the filmmakers acted in bad faith, claiming in a statement that “while the producers of the Netflix film did contact Bob Ross Inc. twice, in late August and October 2020, each request arrived replete with a confounding lack of transparency,” continuing to say, “at no time did they pose specific questions to Bob Ross Inc. or ask for any form of rebuttal to specific assertions they had decided to include in the film. Nor was it stated that they had a distribution deal with Netflix.”
Bob Ross’s series The Joy of Painting was previously a popularly streamed show on Netflix, leading to a renewed excitement in his work years after his death in 1995. However, the show has since been removed from Netflix, still under the control of Bob Ross Inc.
The company is currently under the full control of the Kowalski family, headed by Walt and Annette Kowalski. According to Esquire, they have been involved in Bob Ross Inc. from the beginning, as they had found Ross early in his career and suggested he “bottle” his magic and sell to the masses. The Kowalski’s each held a quarter of the company’s ownership, while Bob Ross and his wife each held another quarter. Upon the death of the Ross couple, however, Bob Ross Inc. ownership was extended to the surviving partners, resulting in full ownership by the Kowalski’s.
Directed and produced by actor Melissa McCarthy, her husband and filmmaker, Ben Falcone, and director Joshua Rofé, known for Lorena and Sasquatch, the documentary takes a deep dive into how the Kowalski’s asserted authority over the business amid a struggle with the Ross family, particularly with the famed artist’s son, Steve Ross, who sued the couple in 2017. However, Steve lost that suit this past June. Extensively interviewed in the documentary, he asserts that he was wrongfully denied control over his late father’s image, and furthermore, claims that Bob Ross Inc. has cheapened the legacy of the artist. In an earlier email interview, he said “I also believe the film will open people’s eyes to the exploitation of artists around the world.”
In a statement, director Joshua Rofé said, “our mission has always been to tell a truthful story about the life and legacy of Bob Ross. And we stand by the film we made. We would have loved for the Kowalski’s to participate, as we had hoped to hear from all people closest to Bob, but they declined on more than one occasion. Once the film was completed, the Kowalski’s agreed to answer questions in writing, and we included those specific answers at the end of the film.”
The drama of this documentary is ongoing, as it was just released on August 25. It can currently be streamed on Netflix for viewers to decide on their own which side they believe.