Gabrielle Union Shines In Almost Christmas — & IRL, Too

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
In a year that's been particularly trying, disheartening, and difficult, a movie filled with pure, sparkling Black joy is exactly the gift that we need right now. Sitting in a theater watching the delightful Almost Christmas while hatred, uncertainty, and bigotry spiraled through the air outside felt like a much-needed respite — and a reminder that no matter how bad things can get, at the end of the day, family, friends, and good food can give almost anyone a little bit of hope.

David E. Talbert's latest film is funny, heartwarming, and at times cheesy, but in that acceptable, jolly holiday movie type of way. Danny Glover plays Walter, the patriarch of a family of four children mourning the loss of their mother as they come together for their first Christmas since her passing. There are many highlights, including an edge-of-your-seat family-drama moment involving a mistress and a '80s prom throwback moment. But the biggest highlight is, of course, Gabrielle Union.

Oh, Gabby. She's glowed on our screens for over two decades, from her first gig as a "mall girl" on Family Matters back in 1993 (!) to her stint in one of television's most underrated shows, Being Mary Jane (Which returns to BET this spring. Hallelujah!). In Almost Christmas, the 44-year-old plays Rachel, a divorced single mother struggling to finish law school — and make amends with her sister Cheryl, played by Kimberly Elise. She also reconnects with her old neighbor and high school friend, Malachi, played by the never-aging and perfectly cast Omar Epps, with whom she shares one unforgettably romantic love scene.

I chatted with Union about the film, as well as the current state of Hollywood, equal pay for women at work, and of course, her "BFF and bae."

I loved this movie for so many reasons, but I'm curious from your perspective: Why do you think Almost Christmas will resonate with viewers?
“People are going to see themselves and their family members in this movie. From the very beginning of the film, you see how madly in love Danny Glover’s character is with his wife and how that love endured and actually grows even after her death. That sets the foundation for the whole film and you see how families have their conflicts with each other, but how, ultimately, they have that conflict resolution. But at the end of the day, there’s so many awesome, fun, iconic scenes in this movie that you’re gonna be talking about for a long time.”

I'm adding this to my list of favorite Black holiday movies, along with This Christmas and Best Man Holiday. Why do you think it’s important for us to have holiday movies specifically centered on Black families?
“We tend to see very specific kinds of Black families in movies, but the reality is there’s so much diversity within our families, within our people. There’s no one way to do a Black film or to portray a Black family, because we just come in so many different incarnations and they’re all beautiful and perfectly imperfect and they all deserve a moment to shine. If you don’t see that diversity, not only does it send a terrible message to people who are not as familiar with African-Americans, but it limits us as a people. And to not be able to see yourself reflected on screen, even around the holidays, is so disheartening. Images are incredibly important.”
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
When it comes to imagery, thanks to social media in particular you and your husband, Dwyane Wade, have become one of the gold standards for #relationshipgoals. Does that ever feel like a lot of pressure to live up to?
“It doesn’t, because I think we’ve been pretty honest that our love has not always been perfect. People generally respond well to the truth and can see when you’re full of shit. We’re madly in love and we enjoy being married, but the world has seen our ups and downs, ins and outs, and I think that's what people respond to. We don’t hold ourselves up to any standard, we're just open about the fact that we’ve endured, that it’s family over everything, and that if you marry your best friend, you’re already ahead of the game."

What is Christmas like in the Wade household?
“It's usually in the arena, actually. He plays on Christmas, so our holiday is pretty much determined by whether or not his team wins. There was one year when he played the Lakers and they were up by two and the last second, you know Kobe hit a three-pointer which was a game-winner. So yeah, Kobe Bryant killed Christmas that year.”
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"There’s no one way to do a Black film or to portray a Black family, because we just come in so many different incarnations and they’re all beautiful."

Gabrielle Union

Do you have an all-time favorite Christmas memory?
“Two years ago, D’s team had won, so we had a party after at our house. There was this moment where I looked up and Fat Joe is singing Christmas carols with the carol singer we had hired and everyone is just having a ball. We had just built this home in Miami that we were able to open up for the holidays for our family that was in town and our friends and our neighbors. We had great food, we were just all laughing and singing, and it was pretty awesome. By the way, Fat Joe can carry a tune!”

He was all the way up! That's amazing. So after the holidays, next comes Oscar season. As an actress, do you think things have gotten any better since Hollywood's race problem finally got some attention last year thanks to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag?
“What I’ve seen more than anything is the diversity of films centering around people of color this year. I mean everything from Birth of A Nation to Southside With You to Hidden Figures to Loving to Moonlight — and they’re not all telling the same story. That, first and foremost, is huge, though whether or not those movies will be recognized by the Academy remains to be seen. But what I love is that there’s been more diversity in the stories being seen by the audience.

"Can we do better? Hell, yeah! To even be able to only name the five or six films that I just named, there’s millions and millions and millions of people of color across the world, which means there’s millions and millions and millions of stories that deserve to be told. Everyone wants to see themselves reflected on screen, and a lot of that has to take place behind the scenes, particularly when it comes to who chooses to green light, who chooses to finance, and how we give out marketing dollars.”

"I would rather go broke fighting for what’s right then feel taken advantage of just to get a fat check."

Gabrielle Union

Yes, and it's interesting, because there are so many talented Black actresses like you, Regina Hall, and Sanaa Lathan, who are so talented and have been in this business for so long, and then I have to wonder why you each aren't considered for major roles. And then a certain type of media finds out about you and suddenly you're a "breakout star." But moviegoers like me have been fans of yours for years now!
“I find that both so interesting and annoying. I rarely read articles about myself, I’m much more apt to read an article about my friends like Regina or Sanaa, and it’s always interesting how people feel like they’re 'discovering' them. It’s like baby, they’ve been discovered for 25 years! They’ve been doing amazing work for a long time; you are new to the party.

"To me, it’s a much more interesting article to say, 'It’s crazy that I’m just now discovering the beauty, the joy, the talent of all of these actresses who’ve been marginalized for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they have more melanin than some of the other ingénues out there.'"

Speaking of being a woman in this industry, you recently sued BET because they attempted to avoid giving you your contracted raise for Being Mary Jane. I know you can’t really talk about it legally, but when I heard the news, I was proud of you for standing up for yourself, especially when women often don't get the pay they deserve. What's you’re advice for women on how to go after the pay — or simply the respect — they deserve in the workplace?
“I definitely recognize that I’m in a different position than some in that I’m well-compensated to begin with, so I’m in a slightly different position financially to be able to step out on a limb and ask for things to be more fair and equitable and reasonable. We don’t all have that luxury.

"But for me, I would rather go broke fighting for what’s right then feel taken advantage of just to get a fat check. I always try to remember that there are friendships and, then, there is business. The two don’t always go together, which is unfortunate, but you have to trust the words of your contract versus the words of a friend. For a lot of us, there just comes a point where if you believe you are right, then you have to stick up for yourself. So you have to know your worth, know your value — and trust yourself!"

Almost Christmas hits theaters Friday, November 11. Watch the trailer, below!
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We're celebrating the biggest movies of the year with a series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry, and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!
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