Gabrielle Union breaks her silence over her controversial layoff from America’s Got Talent last year and her mission to pave the way for a more inclusive Hollywood.
The 47-year-old actress and producer opened in an interview with her abrupt dismissal from the reality game Variety, revealing that she was forced to report Simon Cowell’s smoking on set, the use of blackface by contestants, and racist jokes cracked by guest judge Jay Leno, but when she spoke out, she was taken off the show.
Union was offered a seat on AGT’s coveted jury in the spring of 2019.
“I signed up for the experience to be part of a show that considers itself the largest stage in the world. Super diverse, and one to give people the chance to shine where they probably wouldn’t be otherwise. What can go wrong? “”
But Union’s problems started on the first day when she discovered serial maker Simon Cowell was smoking on set. Union, who has been allergic to cigarette smoke since childhood, fell ill.
“I couldn’t escape. I remained ill for two months in a row. It was a cold that lingered and turned into bronchitis because I couldn’t shake it. It affected my voice, which affects my ability to do my job, “said Union.
Gabrielle Union breaks her silence about her controversial layoff from America’s Got Talent last year and her mission to pave the way for a more inclusive Hollywood in an interview with Variety Magazine
“There were so many areas in this industry where I had to split myself up to feel like I was worthy of work. When I was in my forties, I hugged myself exactly the way I am, ” she said in her cover story
When Union fell ill, she made fellow judge Howie Mandel uncomfortable and concerned about her germs.
Union revealed that it was a nasty choice for her to bring Cowell’s smoke to the producers.
“When you get on a set, you are literally faced with the definition of a toxic work environment, and it is performed by the most powerful person in production,” she said.
Producers told her that there had been complaints about his smoking in the past, but in fact nothing would change.
“It was a challenge to treat my illness without feeling that I am responsible for my own illness. From day one it put me in a position where I felt different. I felt isolated. I felt marked difficult when I asked to follow basic laws. I want to come to work and be healthy, safe and listened to, ‘she added.
After her complaint, Cowell said that he changed his smoking habits and that the problem was not raised again. He said he didn’t want many people uncomfortable and as soon as he heard about her concerns he smoked outside, a source told DailyMail.com.
Union was offered a place on AGT’s coveted jury panel in the spring of 2019. In her time on the panel, she complained about Cowell’s smoking on the set, racist jokes made by guest judge Jay Leno, and contestants’ use of blackface. Shown with fellow judge Howie Mandel, Julianne Hough and Cowell
However, a person familiar with AGT’s internal investigation says that while the matter was being addressed, it has not come to the conclusion that Cowell’s smoking cessation has completely stopped.
Weeks later, guest judge Jay Leno was on the show, joking that Cowell’s dogs were similar to foods found on a menu at a Korean restaurant, and led the stereotype that Asian people eat dog meat.
My first major interview in this industry, the first person to allow me to join their talk show, was Jay Leno. I have always held him in high esteem, but I was not prepared for his joke, “said Union.
“I gasped. I froze. Other things had already happened, but at the time it was so wildly racist, ”she added.
Producers said they would edit his comment.
“You can’t edit what we just went through. There is no edit button in my brain or in my soul. To experience this kind of racism at work and nothing is done about it, no discipline, no company-wide email, no reminder of what’s appropriate in the workplace? ‘ she said.
AGT Makers released a statement saying they took Union’s concerns seriously and launched external research that found ‘an overall culture of diversity’ but admitted there was room for improvement
Union said AGT’s set was culturally and racially insensitive.
She claimed that the production workers told her that her haircut and clothes were “too black.” She also said the show was ill-equipped to give all participants the same amount of attention on the hair and makeup chair, which she says is a recurring problem for minorities.
“Some participants get full Hollywood treatment, and then a few more have to dangle,” she said. She said that Hollywood sets that don’t hire different departments to meet the needs of all backgrounds create “an uneven and discriminatory experience.”
Blackface is also an issue on the set from guest appearances to the jury itself.
Union said she was appalled when a white male contestant used black spheres to represent a black artist and that any expression of black face, historically offensive caricatures of black and brown people, was not rejected by producers.
The contestant’s act was identified as problematic before his performance, but he was still given the right to take the stage before judges and an audience, Union said.
Furthermore, AGT judge Julianne Hough had come under fire in 2013 for wearing a black face at a Halloween party and trying to be African-American actor Uzo Aduba from the show Orange is the New Black.
“I’m part of a show that hires one of my colleagues who had an unfortunate blackface incident,” said Union.
“I would like to trust her to say that she has learned her lesson and trained herself amid the consequences she has experienced and hopefully be a better person. But you’d think the show and NBC might be more conscientious about denouncing that, and it would be taken seriously. I took it seriously, ”she added.
She noted that the show had no set policy of using contestants’ favorite sayings.
AGT judge Julianne Hough had come under fire in 2013 for wearing a black face at a Halloween party, trying to be African-American actor Uzo Aduba from the show Orange is the New Black. Hough and Union together on the judging panel
That hits a personal note for Union and her husband, NBA star Dwyane Wade’s 12-year-old child is transgender and identifies as a woman named Zaya.
Thinking about her 25-year career in Hollywood, Union says she no longer wants to please directors and producers, but focuses on projects she finds meaningful.
“There were so many areas in this industry where I had to split myself up to feel like I was worthy of work. When I was in my forties, I hugged myself exactly the way I am. I wanted to create projects and be part of things, have personal and professional relationships that brought me peace, joy, grace and compassion, ”she said.
In response to the story, NBC, Fremantle and Syco, who produce America’s Got Talent, released a statement saying they took Union’s concerns seriously and initiated an external investigation involving more than 30 interviews.
“While the study has shown an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas where reporting processes can be improved,” the statement with DailyMail.com said.
America’s Got Talent responds to Gabrielle Union’s all-telling interview
We have a shared passion to make America’s Got Talent a positive, inclusive and diverse show open to all individuals from any country or background. We are proud and grateful that our participants and audience support our ongoing mission, which is represented by the incredible people who participate in the show every year. We have heard from both participants and talent that their experience with AGT has had a positive impact on their lives. When we heard that Mrs. Union was concerned about her time on the show, we took them very seriously.
NBC, Fremantle and Syco immediately brought in an external investigator who conducted more than 30 interviews to discuss the issues raised by Ms Union. While the study has demonstrated a general culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas where reporting processes can be improved.
During the investigation process, it was revealed that no one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory comments about Ms. Union’s appearance, and neither race nor gender was a contributory factor in the progress or elimination of participants at any time. The investigation has shown that the objections raised by Ms Union did not affect the decision not to exercise the option on her contract.
NBC, Fremantle and Syco share Ms Union’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the industry. We remain committed to providing an inclusive environment for everyone on the show and maintaining AGT as one of the most diverse programs on television.