Two months into her tenure as a judge on the NBC competition show America’s Got Talent, Gabrielle Union was suddenly let go. But the actress did not leave without a fight, making sure to expose a hidden culture of discrimination on the show and on the network at large in the process. Months after her initial allegations against AGT and NBC, Union is finally sharing more about her experience.
Union sat down with Variety to reveal more disturbing information about the "toxicity" she faced in her time on AGT. She revealed that she signed on to work on the show because she believed that it existed to give platforms to people who would've never had a chance to share their gifts — what she actually discovered was a workplace culture that seemed not to value inclusivity or diversity. In addition to receiving constant criticism about her hairstyles being "too Black" (whatever that means), Union also became ill after repeatedly inhaling cigarette smoke from fellow judge Simon Cowell.
When she spoke to higher ups about what was going on, she gained the reputation of being difficult to work with.
"It put me in a position from day one where I felt othered," Union told Variety. "I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult, when I’m asking for basic laws to be followed. I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to."
Outrage over the circumstances surrounding Union's firing exploded on the internet, with everyone from husband Dwyane Wade to Ariana Grande speaking up in defense of the actress. As a result, the production companies behind the series launched an internal investigation into its workplace culture.
"While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved,” said Fremantle and Syco Entertainment in a statement following the conclusion of the investigation.
Union isn't fazed by the lackluster efforts to address the problematic nature of the AGT set — instead, she's forging her own campaign for change using her own platform and resources as a Hollywood power player. Through her production company I'll Have Another, Union plans to elevate the voices of marginalized people in a way that is well overdue. The company already had a full slate of projects in the pipleline, many of them starring Black women and other people of color in the lead as a push to tell new stories.
The actress has inked deals with Netflix and Universal Pictures to produce (and star in) several feature films. She's also got contracts to spearhead developing series on HBO Max, Amazon Studios, Freeform, and Quibi. And to top it all off, season two of her Bad Boys spinoff series L'.A.'s Finest is making its way to FOX in the fall.
Being let go from AGT was a disappointment, but Union doesn't believe it was a setback — it was actually setting her up to do exactly what she needed to make progress in the television and film industry.
“I know it’s scary to stick your neck out, and get an ounce of power and have to share it,” she told Variety.. “It’s not what we’re taught, but you don’t have to sacrifice your soul to do it. There’s another way, and I’m committed to finding it.”
"[I'm] so much more excited and motivated to put other people on and create opportunities to get their stories told," Union continued excitedly. "And to get paid! And actually be effective and listened to.”