Gabrielle Union’s been one of the foremost voices in Hollywood for structural change in not just movies, but in entertainment in general.
It was her conviction to this cause that led her to give up a lucrative gig as a judge on America’s Got Talent due to the racist and culturally insensitivity she experienced while working on the popular show.
Appearing on The Daily Social Distancing Show hosted by Trevor Noah on Tuesday (May 16), the actress and entrepreneur said that people in showbiz need to address problematic practices and people, especially now as Black Lives Matter protests have sprung up all across America.
She also says that between the coronavirus pandemic and seeing the constant “murder of Black bodies,” being a Black woman in the United States is “just one big anxiety attack.”
"The nonstop onslaught of trauma... I don't even know if anxiety is a big enough word," Union said. "It feels like terror in my body. You try to figure out how best you can cope and then help."
Union was let go after she accused employees at America’s Got Talent of creating a toxic culture and said she experienced racial insensitivity. She says that on her first day on AGT, she saw co-host and producer Simon Cowell smoking cigarettes inside, which was something she’d never experienced before at work.
"When your boss, the person who has the ability to determine who gets opportunities, believes law doesn’t apply to him... and he does it in full view of NBC and Fremantle and Syco. And no one cares he’s exposing employees to secondhand smoke — that's day one, that's within the first hour — what message do you think that sends to anyone that has an issue with the very real racism and lack of accountability?" she said.
Touching on the joint investigation launched by NBC and Fremantle and Syco, Union remarked "well, silly me" for thinking the independent investigation would be just that. "When NBC and Fremantle and Syco pay for that investigation, they control it."
For Union, her goal was for employees to be treated fairly at the workplace. "Nobody is asking for anything special, nobody is asking for somebody to separate their Skittles or M&Ms...just treat people fairly,” she said. “Have mechanisms in place for when things happen, there are consequences."
The actress added that amid the investigation, "inflammatory things or things that are not advantageous to me" were turned over to NBC chairman Paul Telegdy. Furthermore, Union says Telegdy used "those things that he thinks are smoking guns to shoot down my claims. He then threatens my agent. 'Gabrielle better watch who she calls a racist' in the middle of an investigation about racism and discrimination. This is what’s happening from the top of the company."
When asked what industry can do to improve on racial equality generally, Gabrielle Union said the notion of "going along to get along" must end.
"Trying to figure out how you work around the bad apples as opposed to addressing and making those bad apples accountable," she said. "In front of and behind the camera, there has to be an increase in representation from across the board, from the top to the bottom — who gets to make the decisions of which projects to green light, who is a part of those development process, who gets to determine budgets."
Union concluded: "We have to be able to be okay with change that doesn’t always benefit us. Some people believe that leadership — the only way to lead — is to center yourself in every argument. What I’m learning throughout this whole process is sometimes the best way to lead is to get out of the way and make room for someone else. You have to dismantle the whole thing. You can’t put a bandaid on a gunshot."
Watch the full interview segment below.
Photo: Toni Anne Barson/WireImage