The American actress Gabrielle Union graces the cover of Variety magazine this morning with a new interview that sheds light on her unceremonious departure from the hit television series America’s Got Talent as well as the inner workings of NBCUniversal, which has grappled with workplace criticisms ranging from sexual abuse and harassment to inclusion and diversity.
“I had a professor [at UCLA] who told me that racism is an issue for people who have to experience it every day. If you don’t have to experience it every day, it’s a nonissue. And that was never more true than in this case,” Union tells Variety’s Matt Donnelly, citing the mixed reception of her feedback on the AGT filming environment. “When you talk about diversity, there is very little diversity behind the scenes to match all of the diversity that is in the audience on-site, at home watching, and the contestants. There are so many blind spots.”
America’s Got Talent, also known as AGT, is produced by FremantleMedia and Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment and has aired for 15 seasons on NBC. Union (Bring It On, 10 Things I Hate About You, Top Five, The Birth of a Nation) became a guest judge on the program in summer 2018 and lasted one season before she and fellow judge Julianne Hough (Dancing With the Stars) were given the boot. In the wake of their departure, news reports—citing several incidents of racism—suggested that the show fostered a toxic work environment.
Fremantle, Syco, and NBC engaged an outside investigator to review the issues raised by Union. “While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity,” the companies said in a statement, “it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved.” For their part, AGT’s producers said their ongoing investigation has so far determined that “no one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union’s appearance, and that neither race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time.”
In the new Variety article, Union—speaking for the first time since her departure—recalls how the production team responded to her complaints of on-air racism, specifically a joke allegedly told by comedian Jay Leno that perpetuated the stereotype of Asian people eating dog meat.
They were more focused on fixing the result of the problem than the problem itself, she says: “You cannot edit out what we just experienced. There is not an edit button in my brain or in my soul. To experience this kind of racism at my job and there be nothing done about it, no discipline, no companywide email, no reminder of what is appropriate in the workplace?”
Since AGT, Union is staying busy running her production company, I’ll Have Another, alongside development head Holly Shakoor Fleischer. According to Variety, she’s got irons in the fire at Universal, Netflix, Sony, Quibi, and HBO Max, the cable-TV pioneer’s new streaming platform.
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