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Gabrielle Union Paid the Price of Speaking Truth to Power

Gabrielle Monique Union-Wade is NOT the one to mess with.

Last week, it was reported that actress, activist, icon, and captain of the Compton Clovers Gabrielle Union was fired from her job on America’s Got Talent, which led to a lot of confusion about why she was let go. Slowly, it was revealed that Union had spoken up, often, about the toxic work environment, racism, and sexism that existed at the company, while still going out and doing her job so well that she was one of the most popular judges on the show.

Variety initially broke the news, saying that Union asked producers to speak with human resources after Jay Leno joked that “the pets looked like something one would find ‘on the menu at a Korean restaurant,'” according to four people who had been present for the taping. It was a request that sources told Variety was not fulfilled, although it was a line that was cut from the taping. In addition to that, the sources also said that Union was told multiple times that her hairstyles were “too black” for the show’s audience. These are just some of the things that Union stated were part of her experience at the show.

What the network did not count on is that Gabrielle Union is an icon. She has been part of film and television for most of our lifetime. Plus, she’s been an active part of social media, something that helped America’s Got Talent, especially with its most recent season that generated 25 million social media impressions, approximately half of which engaged directly with Union.

Due to all the support she has gotten online, producers Fremantle and Syco have released a new statement saying that they are committed to “ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees” and that they are “working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”

All of this, while encouraging and important, also speaks to the reality of what it means to be a Black woman in media while being loud and outspoken. Union was being an ally by calling Leno out, advocating for herself, and taking all the appropriate channels to make her grievances heard. For that, she was fired. Regardless of what she gains back or how much NBC “apologizes,” the reality is that, despite being one of the best judges, being a social media asset, and being Gabrielle Union, they still viewed her as expendable enough to cut rather than change the climate.

This is one of the reasons why people do not speak out, for fear that they will find out that, despite the good work they do, they are expendable in comparison to their white male counterparts—the idea that your 20-plus years in the industry is not enough, and it takes the near-universal support of your peers and fans to help correct something so clearly foul.

I have always had nothing but respect for Gabrielle Union. She is one of the people who I have always seen as a leader, a builder, and a truth speaker. From her own experiences as a survivor to being very honest about helping other women get paid their due, all the positive karma has come back in full. I am overjoyed that she is getting this support, but it doesn’t erase the fact that she was put in this position in the first place.

Right now, there’s an investigation going on with SAG, which released the following statement through a spokesperson:

We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously. We immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light. It is our practice to work closely with members who reach out to us and their representatives in instances like this, as that usually affords the best protection and best resolution for the affected member.

For certain matters, our investigation and enforcement needs to happen independently and we are prepared to handle this issue accordingly, as warranted.

Our enforcement action is usually handled confidentially to protect the member involved, and we typically do not publicize these matters unless the member requests that we do so.

While we have taken steps to investigate this matter, we have nothing to report now.

All I have to say to NBC is that y’all goofed, and it’s about to be very cold in those offices.

(via Variety, image: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Glamour)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.