Gabrielle Union Talked About Standing Up Against Racism and Holding People Accountable in Hollywood

Gabrielle Union spoke about systemic racism in Hollywood and what's needed to dismantle it with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.

gabrielle union
(Image credit: Dominique Charriau)
  • Gabrielle Union spoke about racism and the comprehensive changes needed to dismantle racist systems during an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
  • She spoke about the murder of George Floyd and Amy Cooper's false 911 accusation against Christian Cooper, saying, "You realize how far anti-Blackness and the weaponization of whiteness—how far it can go."
  • Union also talked about America's Got Talent, saying, "We have been so committed as an industry—and every industry's facing the same thing—with going along to get along," she said. "We have to dismantle the whole thing. We can't put a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound."

Gabrielle Union spoke about racism, accountability, and the vast changes that must take place to dismantle racist systems during an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Tuesday. She also shared her experiences on America's Got Talent, and claimed the subsequent investigation conducted by NBC was not impartial (NBC denies this).

"The Amy Cooper/Central Park situation happened on the same day as George Floyd lost his life, and you realize how far anti-Blackness and the weaponization of whiteness—how far it can go," she said, as the Los Angeles Times reports. “We saw what happened in that park that day. Amy Cooper did not believe that the rules and laws applied to her, and she believed that, in her wrongness, she would be able to weaponize the police against the Black man—she just happened to choose the wrong Black man. And in that same vein, you see how anti-Blackness and profiling led to George Floyd’s death."

Union spoke about the investigation launched by NBC and America's Got Talent products Fremantle and Syco, after she called out incidents including: a white performer who wore black gloves to portray a Black celebrity; a racist joke made by Jay Leno; and contestants of color receiving poorer quality hair and makeup. "They were like, 'We're going to commission this independent investigation.' Well, silly me. I thought independent was independent, but when NBC and Fremantle and Syco pay for that investigation, they control it," she claimed. (NBC, Fremantle, and Syco insist that the investigation was independent and unbiased.)

"They turn over what they believe to be inflammatory things, or things that are not advantageous to me, over to the head of NBC, Paul Telegdy, who uses those things that he thinks are smoking guns to shoot down my claims," she continued, as Entertainment Tonight reports. "He then threatens my agent, 'Gabrielle better watch who she calls a racist,' in the middle of an investigation about racism and discrimination. This is what's happening from the top of the company."

In a statement to Entertainment Tonight, NBC said, "We took Ms. Union's concerns seriously, and engaged an outside investigator who found an overarching culture of diversity on the show," saying it was "categorically untrue" that she was threatened by Telegdy.

Union spoke about Simon Cowell smoking indoors—despite her severe cigarette smoke allergy. "Day one, Simon Cowell is smoking cigarettes inside," she said. "So, when your boss, the person who has the ability to determine who gets opportunities and who doesn't, doesn't believe that the law applies to him, or the rules apply to him, and he does it in full view of NBC and Fremantle and Syco, and no one cares about Simon Cowell exposing all of these employees to secondhand smoke—that's day one, that's within the first hour—what message do you think that sends to anyone that has an issue with the very real racism and the lack of accountability?" (A spokesperson for Cowell told Variety that he "immediately changed his behavior" after a complaint was made about his smoking.)

Change, Union said, has to be comprehensive, with a significant focus on representation and accountability. ""We have been so committed as an industry—and every industry's facing the same thing—with going along to get along," she said. "Trying to figure out how you work around the bad apples, as opposed to addressing and making those bad apples accountable and there being real consequences."

"In front of and behind the camera, there has to be an increase in representation across the board, from the top to the bottom," she added. "Who gets to make the decisions of which projects to green light? Who is a part of those development processes? Who gets to determine budgets? Who gets to determine who gets opportunities and why?"

"We have to be able to be OK with change that doesn’t always benefit us. Some people believe that...the only way to lead is to center yourself in every argument," Union said. "What I’m learning throughout this whole process is sometimes the best way to lead is to get out of the way and make room for someone else. You have to dismantle the whole thing. You can't put a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound."

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paris, france january 19 gabrielle union attends the lanvin menswear fallwinter 2020 2021 show as part of paris fashion week on january 19, 2020 in paris, france photo by dominique charriauwireimage

(Image credit: Dominique Charriau)
Emily Dixon
Morning Editor

Emily Dixon is a British journalist who’s contributed to CNN, Teen Vogue, Time, Glamour, The Guardian, Wonderland, The Big Roundtable, Bust, and more, on everything from mental health to fashion to political activism to feminist zine collectives. She’s also a committed Beyoncé, Kacey Musgraves, and Tracee Ellis Ross fan, an enthusiastic but terrible ballet dancer, and a proud Geordie lass.