Gabrielle Union Is Not Here For Stereotypes In Breaking In

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
In the year since Get Out was released, few other films have broken genre tradition by putting Black people at the center of a thriller. But Breaking In, the new movie that sees Gabrielle Union as Shawn, a mother desperate to save her children from a group of burglars, did. And got it right. It’s an 88-minute adrenaline puzzle that leaves any pretense of a damsel in distress behind in favor of a smart, resourceful heroine. There are no unbearable scenes where Shawn makes a nonsensical decision or delivers an unrealistic monologue. As such, the film delivers on a promise that many others have made before it, but failed to live up to: It’s actually good.
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Union put her best foot forward not only as Breaking In’s protagonist, but executive producer alongside Will Packer. This is her fourth time playing the lead role behind the camera, proving that when women of color tell their own stories the final product is always better. I was lucky enough to speak with Union over the phone, and not only was I schooled on her credentials in the industry, I found out why she was drawn to the idea of a woman saving herself, and what her reaction was when she was accidentally photographed in the middle of the Tristan Thompson/Khloé Kardashian cheating scandal.
Refinery29: I saw Breaking In. First of all, I was shook. It was great! What drew you to this script?
Gabrielle Union: “Basically, the fact she saves herself. There's no one that comes to her rescue but her. Through this strength and intelligence and wit and cunning of her and her daughter, they figure out how to save themselves. And actually when the man shows up, when the dad shows up, he's actually a liability.”
Absolutely.
“But I wish there were more projects where instead of pining for the guy or waiting for someone to show up to change your life, we're proactive in our own healing, saving, surviving.”
Right. Why do you think that Hollywood — and I would also maybe argue audiences — are so resistant to seeing people of color, specifically Black women in these kind of roles? I think if a white woman and her children were at the center of this story, it would feel different. Why do you think that is?
“I think we've been given so few leading roles, period, and there's just not a ton of diversity in those leading roles. We would be perfectly okay if my character was a white woman with a strong Black friend who gives amazing advice who she calls as she's on her journey towards self-discovery and saving herself. But we don't often to get to see women of color saving themselves, using their brains and wit. It's just very, very rare. When you see my character, she is pissed. She is technically an angry Black woman, but she's not a damn stereotype. She is the quintessential mother who... you don't fuck with her kids. You fuck with any woman's kids and that's the look you're going to get: an angry woman. An angry mom. We were able to do this superhero. Even though Shawn’s not from Wakanda, she summons her inner vibranium, and she whoops ass when her kids’ lives are on the line. And we gotta somehow get her into the Marvel or DC universe because she's a superhero. And she's probably been a superhero every day of her damn life: magically pleasing herself with not enough resources, not getting paid the same, a lack of recognition, and yet still being excellent.”
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When I saw sis on that roof, I said "She did not come to play."
“She had time today. She had time.”
So you executive produced this film, which is amazing in and of itself. Did you feel prepared to undertake this from a producer standpoint? Was this something that you manifested for yourself?
“I should say this. Most talent, at some point in their careers, has functioned as a producer. We just weren't called producers nor were we paid as producers. We've used our resources and connections and called in favors to make a project better, we just were never given that credit. On season three of Being Mary Jane, I was added as an executive producer. Later, I brought on Will Packer to executive produce with me on BMJ. Then, he returned the favor by allowing me to executive produce my second film. (My first was With This Ring for Lifetime with Nzingha Stewart.) Me and Will did Almost Christmas together. So this is actually our third project that we've produced together. I'm actually not new to this I'm true to this. I've been at this for a while."
You are; you're a vet.
"My desire to put people to work and to give more opportunities to creatives of color so we can have more — or real, I should say — inclusion in front of and behind the camera has just been my driving force for producing."
You've talked about being a spiritual person before. Before the first day of shooting this, what were some of your silent hopes or prayers going in?
"For the last couple years, I've tried to manifest, focus on, meditate on, and pray on anything that comes my way — whether it's a job or friendship or inanimate object — I want to intake joy, peace, and grace. So as long as I focus on those three things, I can never lose. Whether or not people agree that this movie is the best thing since sliced bread, that remains to be seen, and that's really on them. But what I attracted to this project was a lot of joy, a lot of peace, and a lot of grace. So hopefully when people leave the theater and they share this day with their moms or women that they love, hopefully they feel empowered and positive. That's what we looked for and how we looked at it going into this."
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Let me ask you something king of controversial. What was your initial reaction when you realized that you have been accidentally photographed in the back of the biggest cheating controversies of the year?
"Ain't none of my business. Don't know nothin'. Didn't see nothin'. I ain't involved. This shit was my first and only reaction and has remained remarkably the same."
Breaking In is in theaters May 11.
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